MADRID (Reuters) – Antoine Griezmann has taken time to settle at Atletico Madrid but the France forward’s fine hat-trick at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday was more evidence he could be a key man for the Spanish champions this season.
Griezmann is one of several new faces at Atletico, where coach Diego Simeone is attempting to integrate them into the team as they seek to defend the La Liga title they won last term for the first time in 18 years.
The 23-year-old from Macon in central France, who recently appeared sporting a fearsome-looking Mohawk hairstyle, nodded the equaliser just after halftime before finishing clinically after a breakaway in the 73rd minute and tapping home from close range 10 minutes from time to wrap up a 4-1 victory.
The win left Atletico in third place on 35 points going into the two-week winter break, four behind leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand following their Club World Cup triumph on Saturday, and three behind second-placed Barcelona.
Simeone said Griezmann had played “a fabulous second half” which illustrated why Atletico had paid a reported 26.4 million euros ($32.4 million) to lure him from Real Sociedad.
“We have a lot of confidence in his talents and we need him,” Simeone told reporters.
“Hopefully, today’s game will be an important moment for him for his confidence and his work,” the Argentine added. “He has been working hard for a while and when it has been his turn to play he has done well.”
Griezmann, who said the performance had been his best since joining Atletico, moved to Sociedad at the age of 13 and after breaking into the first team helped the Basque club win promotion back to the top flight.