Adama Traore helped turn the game in Wolves’ favour against Manchester United on Monday Night Football, but could he really fulfil his potential at wing-back? There are signs that Nuno Espirito Santo has found a way to solve the Traore puzzle, writes Adam Bate.
Wolves had barely threatened the Manchester United goal before he was brought on at half-time but Adama Traore soon changed that. Firstly, he shrugged Scott McTominay off the ball and drew the free-kick from which Raul Jimenez headed against the inside of the post. Seconds later, he won the corner from which Ruben Neves expertly curled in the equaliser.
Ten minutes. Game changed. “I think he was able to impact the game directly with his actions,” said Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo. “This is what we expect and this is the idea. The player has an immediate impact, changes the game and gives you what you want. Sometimes it doesn’t happen but you keep trusting him and keep giving him chances.”
Traore’s unique talents are no secret. His reputation goes before him. There might be a buzz right now about Daniel James because of his pace but the Premier League tracking data tells the tale – Traore was the fastest man on the pitch at Molineux on Monday night. They clocked him at over 35 kilometres per hour. There is nothing like the Spaniard in full flow.
His dribbling stats show just how rare it is to see a player so direct in committing opponents. Of the Premier League players to have made more than 50 appearances in the competition over the past decade, Traore completes by far the most dribbles per 90 minutes. He is up near eight per full game. Eden Hazard and Wilfried Zaha have completed just over four.
Still there are question marks over Traore. The flaws in his game are just as obvious as his speed and his dribbling skills. They have long held him back. Nuno talks of trusting in Traore – and clearly he remains a very useful member of the Wolves squad – but he has still only started eight Premier League games for the club. He has been an unused sub nine times.
- Transfer Centre LIVE!
- Get a Sky Sports Day Pass for one-off payment of £8.99
Traore’s final ball has been criticised since his Aston Villa days. So has his decision-making – a curious weakness given his schooling at Barcelona. The perception remains among the wider public that he is a headless chicken, running down blind alleys and infuriating team-mates by doing anything but pass them the ball. But how accurate is this view?
In truth, his delivery is far better than some would suggest, particularly remarkable given the speed at which he travels. Of the 130 Premier League players to have attempted 25 or more crosses from open play since the start of last season, only one finds a team-mate as often as Traore. Statistically, his crossing is twice as accurate as that of Kevin De Bruyne.
Of course, that’s partly because Traore’s dribbling skills put him in such good positions from which to deliver the ball. Even so, the list of Premier League regulars who have created a chance more regularly than Traore in that time is short. He’s in good company too. There are only a dozen of them and they include De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and a couple of Silvas.
His decision-making is not the big issue. The true weakness in Traore’s game is his off-the-ball movement. Even against United, while he had the highest top speed of anyone on the pitch, he actually had the lowest average speed of everyone except Wolves centre-back Willy Boly. Without possession, Traore remains prone to standing still rather than making runs.
Nuno has gone some way to mitigating the problem with the unlikely decision to move Traore to wing-back. Finding a new role for him became a challenge when Wolves switched to a 3-5-2 formation last winter because suddenly Wolves had little need for wingers. The change favoured Diogo Jota but not others and the squad has been reshaped accordingly.
Everton vs Wolves
September 1, 2019, 1:00pm
Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass
The popular figures of Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa, two wide men who played such a key part in the club’s promotion, departed back to the Championship. Forwards have been brought in to take their place with Pedro Neto and Patrick Cutrone more comfortable centrally. Traore could have gone too but instead an alternative solution has been found.
- Find out more about Sky Sports
- Total Football Offer: Just £18 extra a month!
It might appear counter-intuitive to ask Traore to play what is ostensibly a more defensive role but it actually suits him better. At wing-back, the lack of movement is less of an issue. By holding his position out wide, he stretches the game and receives the ball at his feet more often than he would higher up the pitch. Running from deep is his forte anyway.