Just years after he left Spain, Adama Traoré transformed himself into one of the hottest prospects in England. Probably, no one remembers the skinny boy at La Masia, who was regarded as a player not good enough to continue his career in Barcelona.
After two unsuccessful spells at Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, Wolves still spent 20m Euro on Traoré in 2018, he was 22-year-old at that moment, and he was one of the most expensive signings of Wolves already. Despite not having many chances in the first season at Wolves, in this campaign, finally, he made his breakthrough at the team.
In this season, Traoré already played 2147 minutes, almost a thousand more minutes on the pitch than last season. He has handed five goals and seven assists in 28 appearances. The Spain national team have also recognized his talents, and, trying to get him ahead of the Mali national team.
Versatility under Nuno
Traoré tried many positions in Nuno’s team. Last season, he had played on both flanks, as a centre forward, or as a right wingback to replace Matt Doherty. However, the Spaniard hardly produced stable and strong performances in his limited playing time.
In this season, given to the injuries of Wolves centre-backs, Willy Boly and Ryan Bennett, Nuno changed his tactics to cope with the problems. Despite playing the new singing, Jesús Vallejo, or an academy player, Max Kilman, Nuno moved a midfielder, Leander Dendoncker to the defence. The formation of Wolves shifted from a 3-5-2 to a 3-4-3.
The new formation proved Doherty and Traoré can coexist. Below is the heat map of the Spaniard. As Doherty played as a right wingback, Traoré played at a right-winger position as one of the front three, heavily involving the game in zone 15 and 18. In the game at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City, after Doherty came on for Patrick Cutrone. The Spaniard partnered with Raúl Jiménez, used his pace to exploit the exposed City defensive line and scored two goals.
Traoré possesses physical superiority when comparing to most of the Premier League players, he knew how to make good use of his body strengths. After 19 games, he was involved in at least 21 offensive duels every game; his physical strengths and body balance were exceptional, which allowed the Traoré to win 56.3% of his offensive duels.
There was an example to demonstrate these attributes in a very recent game, which Wolves came back from a two-goal deficit against City at the Molineux Stadium. Traoré played a huge part in the equalizer as he pressed Benjamin Mendy in City’s box. First, he bumped the Frenchman from his back but not losing his balance. Even though Mendy tried to resist the challenge (he bent his knees to increase his static balance), still, he lost the duel and stepped out of the pitch. Then, Traoré quickly retrieved the ball and assisted Jiménez.
A possible way to stop Traoré was to steal the ball before it reached the Spaniard’s feet. Usually, when the ball bounced, Traoré paid more focus on the ball and forgot to check his surroundings. Therefore, he could not separate the ball and the defender with his body. This was the best moment to intercept.
As in this example below, Traoré checked his shoulder when the ball first bounced on the ground. Then, when he came closer to the ball, he did not second-check the position of Sam Byram. He had no idea where the Norwich City left-back was coming from, and it resulted in a possession turnover.
The partnership with Doherty
Traoré and Doherty knew each other well, and their partnership has been influential to Wolves’ attack on the right flank. In hopes of occupying more spaces on the pitch, these two players seldom stood on the same vertical line; they depended on each other’s positionings. Usually, they occupied the half-spaces and at the wide-area respectively.
Unlike most combinations, their partnership between was not emphasized on quick one-twos or overlapping runs. Wolves players knew the abilities of Traoré, they were pleased to give him the ball. Doherty tried to give the Spaniard more spaces with unselfish runs.
In this example which Wolves played against Arsenal, João Moutinho tried to switch the ball to the right flank. At the very first moment, Doherty and Traoré created a two v one situation on the left-back.
Doherty continued moving towards Kieran Tierney, hence, prevented the Scottish from stepping out early to close off Traoré. The left-back could not leave Doherty too early, or else Moutinho would find the Irish. With this move, the Spaniard had time to control the ball in the air.
The movement of Doherty had another benefit, it forced Dani Ceballos to follow him instead of defending Traoré. Therefore, Tierney had to deal with Traoré alone, which was a task too difficult for many players in the league, of course, the Spaniard provided a cross.
Pace & dribbling
Everyone knows how quick Traoré is, but, a more important point is, he knew how to use his pace. The Spaniard was always poised to exploit the space behind a high defensive line. He prepared to beat the defender with his pace before his teammate passed the ball.
We try to illustrate this point by an example from Slovan Bratislava. When Rúben Neves picked the ball from Moutinho, Traoré already knew the Portuguese could find him by a long pass. Therefore, he did not wait until the right foot of Neves contacted the ball, instead, before of this, he already prepared for a run.
Traoré slightly bent his knees and adjusted his body orientation (in a half-turn shape) towards the right of the pitch. It helped him to turn quicker and accelerate. Despite Vasil Bozhikov anticipated the pass, Traoré still got the ball ahead of the Bulgarian.
Traoré was very strong at one v one situations. He attempted 234 dribbles this season, completed 70.09% of them; the total number and quality of his dribbles were higher than any other players in the league. When he has left in one v one situations against the left-backs, usually, he could provide crosses to the box. The Spaniard provided 6.22 crosses per 90 minutes, even more than Kevin De Bruyne, just behind of Trent Alexander-Arnold, ranked the second highest in the league.
This example from the Villa game showed the influence of Traoré when he stayed wide. First and foremost, he dragged the left-back, Matt Targett, away from the left centre-back. Marvelous Nakamba could not defend the Spaniard with the left-back as he was pinned by Doherty. Also, he created numerical equality in the box. Jiménez and Diogo Jota, two players faced two defenders, Ezri Konsa and Frédéric Guilbert.
Although there was only a small room for Traoré to dribble into. A couple of stepovers and sudden change of direction helped him to get to the byline and crossed.
Apart from taking on defenders wide, on numerous occasions, Traoré also provided progressive runs to help his team to create an attack. The Spaniard had the greatest number of progressive runs in the league, 100 after 19 games, 13 more than the second player, Wilfried Zaha. It was worth to mention that the Spaniard seldom crashed into a bunch of players, instead, he recognized spaces and dribble with purposes.
This was an example from the draw against Manchester United. Conor Coady played long, first Traoré won the aerial duel against Luke Shaw. Then, when Scott McTominay tried to close him off, the Spaniard quickly separate the ball and the opponent with his body.
Usually, when a player turns his back to the goal, he does not know the situation behind him, and the safest option is to return the ball. However, this was Traoré. Before he resisted the challenge from McTominay, he already read space between the United players.
With his physical superiority, Traoré could quickly turn to his left and escape from the opposition and got into the highlighted area.
He continued his progressive run. On this occasion, he showed his agility and pace again. First, he was dribbling the ball towards the goal, it looked like he tried to go between the two centre-backs. Since Jota occupied Victor Lindelöf, Harry Maguire had to came inside to close that gap.
Traoré reacted quickly (maybe, he expected and anticipated this). Once Maguire’s body orientation went wrong (facing his partner), which made him unavailable for a quick turn at that moment, Traoré quickly changed his direction (from the first arrow to the second arrow).
This time, he recognized the space on the right and the gap between Shaw and Maguire. When he arrived in that area, Maguire could not provide instant pressure on him. United could have conceded a goal if Lindelöf did not clear this cross from the Spaniard.
As the season continued, Traoré was regarded as one of the most dangerous players in the league. Teams rarely take risks to let a single player deal with him. Even manager like José Mourinho, who emphasized on the compactness and defensive shape, he also put at least two players to defend the former Villa man.
In other words, Traoré took attention of more than one opposition when he got the ball. Nuno tried to capitalize on this, and he allowed Traoré to get into the centre of the pitch more often.
Therefore, Traoré could create spaces for his teammates, when he was closed off by more than one opposition. It happened in the comeback against Norwich. When Wolves started an offensive transition, the Spaniard came inside to take the ball, soon, he was surrounded by four opponents. Norwich left-back Byram also left his position to put pressure on him.
Traoré did not keep his head down and tried to beat all the players in front of him with his physical superiority. He made the correct decision, passed the ball to Jiménez, who exploited the space left by Byram, and Wolves progressed the ball.
Traoré was a speedy player, when the defenders could not cope with the 23-year-old winger, they fouled him to prevent Wolves from developing the attack. Statistically speaking, among the players in the Premier League, Traoré was fouled 39 times, only four players in the league had a higher figure on him; there was another intriguing record. After his first 26 games in all competitions, there were 24 players tried to stop him, and got himself booked.
With the presence of Traoré Wolves could have some set-pieces on the pitch. They had two good Portuguese freekick-taker, Neves and Moutinho to test the goalkeeper directly, the latter scored a brilliant one against Bournemouth in this season.
When Traoré was on the pitch, Wolves had a secret and unpredictable weapon in set-pieces situations. The former La Masia man utilized his pace, we used the following example, a goal against Bournemouth to illustrate.
On this occasion, Wolves had a set-piece, for most teams, they were going to cross that into the box for a shooting chance. The oppositions were expecting this as well, they committed their players to defend it, leaving Harry Wilson as the only player on the left.
There were huge spaces at zone 17.5 (the half-spaces), where Traoré intended to exploit. However, if we looked at the body shape of the Spaniard, he stood straight when Moutinho putting down the ball. It seemed that he was an irrelevant player in the set-piece. This may explain why Wilson did not pay attention to Traoré.
Nevertheless, just before Moutinho put the ball on the ground, Traoré suddenly sprinted into the area highlighted. Wilson was caught. His teammates also made forward runs at the same time. Jiménez came first to meet the cross from Traoré to double the lead for Wolves.
Mentality & development
Finally, the last point to note is the psychological attributes of Traoré. The Spaniard was even more dangerous when his team was losing. This was reflected in the statistics. When losing, he made more progressive runs, from 5.7 to 8.14; the percentage of his successful offensive duels increased from 56.3% to 59.5%; his crosses were also more accurate, from 33.9% to 39.1%; He seldom panic, maintained his high number and success rate for his dribbling when the team was losing (16.77 / 70.3%).
The teammates of Traoré, Dendoncker and Coady all praised the attitude of the Spaniard. The Belgian said ‘He’s really focused and whenever he’s focused, I think he’s unstoppable’; Wolves’ manager, Nuno, also gave Traoré credit for his significant improvement, said: ‘He puts a lot of energy, dedication, into things and wants to improve.’. These gave hints that Traoré was an eager player to learn.
Traoré has become the hope of the Wolves fans in this season, especially when the team was in unfavourable conditions. He thrived in big matches against Tottenham, City, both games against Torino in the Europa League Qualifying. He learnt and improved quickly in this season, won himself a place in the team. He was just 23-year-old only, there were still huge rooms for him to improve, we did not see the end of his potential yet.