France are back in the semi-finals thanks in no small part to Antoine Griezmann’s excellence in a new midfield role.
With Antoine Griezmann in such stellar form, France are entitled to think big. The Atletico Madrid man turned in another sparkling performance against England in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, teeing up Aurelien Tchouameni for the opening goal of the night before swinging in a pinpoint cross for Olivier Giroud to nod in the winner.
Serving up assists comes naturally to Griezmann, who provided four of them at Russia 2018, including two in the final.
According to a number of media outlets, the brace against England made the former Barcelona player France’s all-time most prolific provider of assists with 28, two more than Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane.
Yet, in contrast to four years ago when he scored four goals, Griezmann has yet to find the back of the net at Qatar 2022. There is a very good reason for this: in the absence of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante and having chosen to revert to a four-man defence, coach Didier Deschamps has come up with an entirely new role for the 31-year-old, slotting him into a three-man midfield alongside Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot.
Adopting a less attacking position than in the past, in more of a hybrid role in which he also has to defend more, Griezmann has become France’s link-up man, a job he has excelled in at this World Cup.
“I’m pretty free in how I link up with defence and attack,” said the player in a press conference a few days ago.
“When we’re defending, I have to help out my team-mates. And when we have the ball, I have to try to play it as well as I can. It gives me more choice. Physically, I feel great, and when I’m feeling good my head’s a lot better too and it’s easier to keep doing it over and over again.”
In the eyes of many, Deschamps’ decision to take a player who impressed just behind the main striker at Russia 2018 and deploy him in a more withdrawn position has proved a masterstroke.
In a recent interview with French sports newspaper L’Equipe, former Uruguay international Diego Forlan was full of praise for Griezmann. “He links the midfielders and the forwards up perfectly,” he said. “He has a very important job to do in the team. He’s France’s key player if you ask me.”
Those views are echoed by Argentinian midfielder Javier Pastore, who plays for Elche in La Liga and has come up against Griezmann on the pitch. “He gets everywhere,” Pastore told French football magazine So Foot.
“He’s such an important player for Les Bleus. Griezmann has a more attacking brief for his club and plays in an area where he’s expected to score and make decisive passes, whereas for his country, he does the lot, even if it’s not exactly beautiful to watch.” If France come home with the World Cup trophy in their hands and Griezmann has still not got his name on the scoresheet, French fans will not care in the slightest. They will, however, have every reason to thank him for his amazing adaptability.