Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has assured France World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann that he will continue to play regularly as long as he keeps on performing on the pitch.
Griezmann, 28, joined Barca from Atletico Madrid in the summer for €120 million but has been left on the bench for two of the Spanish champions’ last three La Liga matches.
With Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele all injured earlier this season, he started Barcelona’s first seven league games. However, Dembele was preferred against Sevilla and Ansu Fati was selected ahead of him for the midweek win over Real Valladolid.
Griezmann has scored four goals for the Catalans, setting up three more, but with Suarez and Messi playing in his favoured positions, he has been forced to play out on the left wing most of the time, where he hasn’t always looked comfortable.
“He has been playing regularly,” Valverde said in a news conference on Friday when asked what could be read into the forward being dropped against Sevilla and Valladolid.
“He has [only] not played a couple of games. The other day I made some changes, but I don’t like to speak about whether players are undisputed starters or not. Griezmann is playing regularly and he will keep on playing [regularly] if he continues to fulfil expectations.”
Valverde also said he has no regrets about Ansu’s promotion to the first team with the club now facing a dilemma about how to manage the teenager’s progression.
Ansu, who turned 17 on Thursday, has seen his playing time dramatically reduced since Suarez, Messi and Dembele returned to action, leading to some calls for him to drop down to the B team in order to get the minutes his development requires.
“Of course I don’t regret bringing him into the first team,” Valverde said. “We had a shortage of players in attack and we needed cover — and he has come in and demonstrated a lot of quality.
“He is very young. He has a lot of room to grow. In principle, he’s in the first-team setup, knowing that he could play some games with the B team, but the decision was the right one.
“I know that when a new player comes [out of the academy] and in such a stunning way as he did, it generates a huge amount of exception. But he [only] turned 17 this week. He has still not got used to the [top flight] and it’s a learning process. He has to learn how to manage the rhythm of the games, how to look after his body and he still needs to get stronger.”
Barca’s win over Valladolid saw them return to the top of La Liga and they travel to Levante on Saturday with the chance to strengthen their grip on top spot.
“Levante press high and have a lot of options in attack,” Valverde said. “It is one of those games where anything could happen.
“They looked back to themselves beating Real Sociedad the other day. Away games are fundamental for us right now.”