Sunday's Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao was in the 133rd league meeting between the two teams. As anticipated, the encounter was an entertaining affair, full of attacking flair and verve.
In the end, Sociedad made their home advantage count, as they were able to secure their 5th consecutive league win and inflict defeat upon Athletic for only the second time in their last 11 outings in Spain's top tier. However, with half-time approaching, the duo looked set to the enter the break at a deadlock.
Yet, as Athletic cleared a Sociedad corner, the ball fell to man-of-the-moment Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman saw his initial effort blocked, but was able to make his second chance count as the hosts took a 1-0 lead into the interval, eventually running out 2-0 winners as Rubén Pardo doubled their advantage late on.
Another impressive performance from Griezmann was the focus following the full-time whistle. The 22-year-old showcased his potential with La Real last season, but has begun to excel further this term, noted in his average WhoScored rating of 7.61, the highest of every player in Jagoba Arrasate's side.
His strike in Sunday's victory means he's either scored or assisted a Sociedad goal in his last 9 league appearances as the club looks to bring Champions League football back to the Anoeta after a disappointing display in Europe's elite competition this season. With the January transfer window now upon us, teams across the continent will understandably be casting watchful glances at La Liga to keep a closer eye on the youngster.
The displays of the wideman mean only 11 players in La Liga, including the likes of Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale and Ivan Rakitic, currently better his average rating in the Primera Division, while only Diego Costa (19) and Cristiano Ronaldo (18) have scored more league goals than him (12) this term. For a player that operates primarily on the left side of the attacking midfield trio in Sociedad's 4-2-3-1, it's an impressive return.
Granted, Ronaldo may play in a similar position, but the level of freedom granted to the Portuguese and the fact that he's taken 69 more shots (123) this season than Griezmann (54), along with Costa being the focal point in Atlético Madrid's attack, accentuate the notable goal return of the Sociedad ace. His 12 goals is already better than last season in half the games and there's no reason, injury permitting, that he can't go on to reach the 20-figure mark before the campaign's end.
Having 3.4 shots per game, only Ronaldo (7.7) and Messi (4.9) are averaging more in Spain's top tier, and that is Griezmann's highest since he made his La Liga debut in 2010; evidently the player and team are beginning to reap the benefits of the confidence placed in him by Arrasate. Having only recently been made available for national selection after being banned for a year following an off-field incident, Griezmann's form must also warrant a look-in from France head coach Didier Deschamps ahead of the World Cup this summer.
The ability on the ball of the former U21 international profits Sociedad with his inclination to cut onto his right foot from the left wing allowing marauding left-back José Ángel to capitalise on the space gifted to him and create another dimension to their attack. Furthermore, Griezmann would also provide adequate cover for Franck Ribéry for France and allow for a seemless integration into the national team should the Bayern ace be unavailable for any reason, with the two's games not too dissimilar.
Even if he is yet to score a goal with his right foot this season he remains a threat coming in off the flank. While 8 of his 12 goals have come from his left foot, the most in La Liga, only Javi Guerra (5) has scored more headed goals (4) in the Primera Division this term. For a player who stands at 5ft 9in, this can certainly be considered a noteworthy return.
Griezmann may not be the biggest of players, but clearly possesses a knack for being in the right place at the right time, as proven with 3 of his 4 headed goals coming from open play crossing situations, with the player seemingly capable of avoiding his marker when breaking into the box from the left flank. While he may have registered a low number of assists (2) this term, his goals are making up for that, with the Frenchman having netted 34.3% of Sociedad's La Liga goals this season.
The team undoubtedly perform better when he plays, netting an average of 2.1 goals per game with Griezmann starting compared to 1 per game when he doesn't, and it's understandable why the club will be loathe to losing the wideman. While there is interest from a host of Europe's big teams, the Spanish outfit will be keen to resist any offers for their prized asset this month.
On the back of the win against Athletic, a return to Champions League football is a realistic aim for the Txuri-urdin and Griezmann will be central to ensuring as high a finish as possible in the Primera Division. The winger is in scintillating form at present and it's expected that he will improve as the season progresses, continuing to showcase his talents to the watching world with a place in France's 23-man squad this summer achievable if he can do just that.
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