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How Costa Return Has Reinvigorated Griezmann

 • by David Cartlidge
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Everyone knew that Diego Costa returning to Atlético Madrid would lift the club, but no-one has been boosted more than Antoine Griezmann.

As the Barcelona transfer target bagged his second hat-trick in the space of three days on Wednesday evening against a helpless Leganés it was quite apt the man who supplied the assist for the third goal was none other than Costa.

The Brazilian-born striker peeled away into a wide area, drawing defenders out and away from Griezmann, who lay in wait in the penalty area. It was exactly how Diego Simeone pictured it no doubt, and justification for pining after Costa to come back after three successful years with Chelsea.

“I have no doubt that Costa was the most important player that has played for Atleti in recent years,” said Simeone, speaking soon after being reunited with the striker he believes is vital to his philosophy at the club.

The assist on Wednesday was Costa’s second for Griezmann in the brief period of time there has been since coming ‘home’, and it emphasised that despite their short time together the pair have already struck up an understanding.

No longer is the Frenchman required to carry the burden, or sacrifice his abilities for the team – instead he’s more free than ever to do damage on the attacking end.

Simeone, is of course aware of it.

“Costa’s presence not only improved Griezmann’s moment, but that of the team. For his tenacity, courage and what he transmits to the team,” said the Argentinian following Atleti’s 4-0 thumping of Leganés.

There has long been a feeling that Griezmann, while willing, sometimes gives too much to the team and forgets to be an individual. Blessed with plenty of ability in this sense, it is often lost in the relentless nature of Atleti’s team unit; the requirement to put one’s body on the line and be entirely committed to the cause for the other ten players on the field. It’s an admirable thing, of course, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Sometimes a player like Griezmann can suffer as a result – and he did.

The numbers are striking before and during 2018 – or as some are putting it, before and with Costa. Griezmann played 14 times in La Liga before the turn of the year, scoring five goals and assisting on three occasions.

Hindered by having to also be the creative hub of the team, at times dropping deep to collect the ball off his central midfielders, Griezmann was too far situated from goal. It allowed opponents to regain their shape, and block passages he would normally roam into.

Bring on 2018 however, and the arrival of Costa. Griezmann has scored ten goals in La Liga alone across nine games, assisting on four occasions. With Costa around things are different; both how opponents set up and what Griezmann acts like on the field.

The former Chelsea man is a mobile, aggressive presence on the field who sucks players into areas they shouldn’t be, creating such chaos it disorganises teams. He is, in essence, more than just a single player; a hurricane of sorts, able to devour anything in front of him and clear a path for whatever is behind him. In this case, it’s Griezmann.

Diego Costa's stats since returning to Atlético Madrid

Both against Sevilla, and Leganés, the two best attacking performances of the season for Atleti, the partnership came to the fore. With Koke placed as an attacking midfielder situated off Costa and Griezmann, there is more fluidity and rhythm in the Atleti attack; an ability to function with an idea in mind, and to execute it.

Atleti previously seemed to be in part making it up as they went along, and relied too heavily on a feature of Griezmann doing everything or Filipe Luís marauding forward to associate with the midfield.

It’s no surprise then that the Brazilian full-back is, along with Costa, the most common supplier for Griezmann’s goals. Costa, however, associates with Griezmann off the ball and on it. This has been vital. It means the Frenchman is longer isolated and can himself in turn revolve around and play in the Spanish international.

Costa’s own numbers are impressive enough, and in the ten games he’s been involved in since re-joining the club, the 28-year-old has been involved in eight goals. Five times he’s scored, and three times assisted – two of those to Griezmann, of course.

The partnership has caught the imagination of the Madrid press too, where it has been monikered a la MSN and BBC, with the name AGDC – a nod to the Australian rock band for uninitiated.

While Atleti remain as much of a unit as ever, and Simeone would never allow an individual or individuals to take the spotlight, there is a feeling the duo of Costa and Griezmann can counter many of the problems the team has endured over the course of the season. There’s been plenty of them after all; a transfer ban and those infamous games with Qarabag to name just two.

It’s no use looking back though and now at last, Atleti can go on the attack.

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