Griezmann, De Jong want Champions League gloss on first season

08 Aug 2020 / 10:00 H.

BARCELONA: Barcelona will look to finish the job against Napoli in their Champions League last-16 second leg game on Saturday and go some way to saving their season in the process.

And Antoine Griezmann, whose first leg away goal gives them the slight edge, will be looking to produce the kind of performance that will help salvage his own first campaign at the club.

Griezmann has endured a tough first year with criticism that he has not repaid the €120 million (RM494m) spent on him last summer.

But the statistics suggest he has not been as bad as some have wanted to suggest. His goal against Napoli in February was one of 15 he managed in his first campaign.

Not only does that tally match Neymar’s in his first season at the club but it also leaves Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard in the shade. The forward signed from Chelsea last summer has only scored once.

Griezmann may not have hit the heights he reached at Atletico Madrid where he scored 21 goals in his last season under Diego Simeone, 29, 26 and 32 in the three previous campaigns but he showed his worth in the first leg and coach Quique Setien will want him to do likewise at the Camp Nou.

Setien has defended Griezmann several times this season. Before a game against Villarreal, he said: “Antoine is a great kid and a tremendous professional.”

Referring to the problems he has had in his first season he added: “It’s understandable and it happens to all players.”

And Griezmann’s teammate Luis Suarez, with whom the Frenchman has developed a friendship off the pitch published on social media: “Always positive and always looking forward,” as a direct message to Griezmann after he had been given just three minutes in a match against former club Atletico.

Griezmann is not the only big signing from last summer who has left supporters unsatisfied. Frenkie de Jong has also failed to live up to the high expectations.

He also finished the season injured. And like Griezmann he is fit again and with a final chance to put a gloss on his first 12 months at the club.

De Jong is likely to start in midfield with Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal both suspended. Griezmann should also be in Setien’s eleven alongside Suarez and Lionel Messi.

Both big signings are under pressure from young players ready to take their place.

The 17-year-old striker Ansu Fati has already scored big goals in the league and the Champions League this season.

He won't be 18 until October but Messi has adopted him as a chosen heir to the throne.

The 20-year-old midfielder Riqui Puig was sensational in Barcelona's last game of the season against Alaves and the clamour for him to be given a more important role has grown as the season has progressed.

Whether it’s the young ones or the big summer signings from 2019 Barcelona expect to be going to Lison for the quarter-finals.

The Catalans have reached the final eight of the European Cup in everyone of the last 12 seasons.

They also have Messi desperate to reach the final of the competition he has identified in the last two pre-seasons as the priority for Barcelona.

Messi had a below par season by his standards but still finished as the club's top scorer and top assist provider.

He will not care where the assistance comes from be it from Fati or Griezmann, De Jong or Puig, so long as Barcelona join the other seven best teams in Europe for the quarter-finals in Portugal. – dpa

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