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Sunday brought a special game to the Camp Nou.
As well as being the La Liga season opener, it was FC Barcelona’s first match before a crowd since March 7, 2020 against the same foe that afternoon in Real Sociedad – but it came with one notable absence.
His name chanted in the 10th minute, Lionel Messi’s mark has been left on the Blaugrana forever. Yet the whistles that drowned out such a tribute at the same time in the second half signals that some are ready to move on and subscribe to Joan Laporta’s adage that nobody is bigger than the club.
The 4-2 win was also Antoine Griezmann’s 100th appearance since joining from Atletico Madrid in a $140m transfer two years ago, and whether his tenure in the Catalan capital has been a success until now is a matter of opinion.
Yielding just a Copa del Rey title, the Frenchman has watched ex-teammates at his former club become La Liga champions last season, but his return of 35 goals and 17 assists – or 52 goal contributions overall – is none too shoddy.
Originally shoehorned into the left wing spot that also didn’t work for Philippe Coutinho when trying to step into Neymar’s boots, Ronald Koeman has tried him in different roles and expects him to step up in the Argentine’s absence.
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“It is important to have the best, but we don’t change our ideas or the way we play either. Griezmann has played in his position and he has done well,” the Dutch coach pointed out last week.
Assessing that only Pedri (73), Bruno Fernandes (72) and Mason Mount (69) surpassed him in games played (68) in elite European football last term, Griezmann was lauded by SPORT for his “impressive physical display” against La Real where he “added good chemistry with the rest of the team to combine and be a nexus of enormous value between the midfield and the attack”.
Unlucky to have a strike ruled offside early in the second half, Griezmann looks “fresh and strong” after Euro 2020 with France and has already had – like Messi, Gerard Pique and Pedri – his name chanted by the Camp Nou faithful.
Freed from Messi’s shackles, could he finally become their new idol?