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Adama Traoré

Wolves, 2018–

Adama Traoré joined his third Premier League team at the age of only 22 when, in August 2018, Wolves paid £18m to recruit him from Middlesbrough. He had spent two years at Middlesbrough after leaving Aston Villa, who invested £7m to sign him from Barcelona in 2015 but then didn’t start him once in the Premier League.

If he improved at Middlesbrough, his then-manager Aitor Karanka – aware of him from the Spanish youth system Traoré entered when joining Barca at the age of eight – routinely demanded he switch wings at half-time to always be on the same side of the pitch as him, so that he could give him instructions. The Spaniard suggested the forward lacked tactical awareness, and therefore required the instructions he gave.

Even during his first season at Wolves he remained a relative luxury, but it is during his second that he has finally appeared capable of adding the necessary thought to the remarkable athleticism for which he is known. At his finest, Traoré is among the most irresistible players in the Premier League. “The way he created, the way he unbalanced the opponents, he can do all this and other things,” said his manager Nuno Espírito Santo of the way that he continues to improve.

Tactical analysis
Traoré is at his finest playing from the right of a front three, from where his pace, power, and ability to dribble one-on-one pose their greatest threat. He regularly attempts to position himself on the outside shoulder of the defending full-back, and close to the touchline, inviting him to run in behind, and to out-run the relevant opponent.

If that full-back responds by withdrawing into a deeper position, Traoré will instead offer an option to feet. Should he receive possession facing in-field he will either accelerate until he is running at full speed, and take larger touches to advance the ball beyond his opponent, or he will run towards that defender before slowing down, sometimes to a complete stop, ensuring that that opponent also slows down and that he can then again accelerate past him.

His attempts to beat an opponent are often predictable (below) – they most commonly involve him using the outside of his right foot to advance possession beyond that opponent before running on to it and playing the ball – but there have been occasions when he has demonstrated greater variety. His preference after beating a defender involves playing an aerial ball towards the back post if he attempts to deliver it immediately after manouevring it outside of that defender.

The variety has also been offered at that stage; he has experimented with then taking a touch diagonally back inside that same defender, to provide a better view with which to play the ball and pick out a teammate instead of optimistically crossing with less awareness. When he receives to feet with his back to goal, and pressure therefore coming from behind him, his response is again more routine – he uses his frame to protect the ball, takes a touch inside with his right foot while using his arm to maintain that protection, and then rolls past that defender.

Role at Wolves
Most regularly deployed as the right-sided attacker in the 3-4-3 formation with which Wolves attack, Traoré’s relationship with Matt Doherty, also on the right side of that structure (below), continues to evolve. They regularly attempt to create two-on-ones against defenders, through one remaining wide and the other – usually Doherty, owing to Traoré’s superior ability in running inside under pressure from fewer angles – targeting the right, half-space and offering underlapping runs.

When he is used on the left of that front three he has far less potential, owing to his desire to drift inside on to his right foot but into more congested areas of the pitch than he can find wide on the right. He has also excelled as an impact substitute and featured as a wing-back in Espírito Santo’s 3-5-2, but when he does so the threat he poses during transitions starts from a far deeper position, and is therefore less influential.

When they are defending Wolves most regularly adopt a 5-2-3, and a mid-block. Traoré is largely passive when they are without possession, but that makes him capable of offering an immediate outlet at the point of a turnover. Similar applies if the ball is towards the left – he remains detached from those also playing in midfield, in more advanced territory, and is only instructed to track back if an attack is unfolding on his side of the pitch.

Transitions also happen to be where he poses his greatest threat (below). The positions he adopts when they are without possession invite his teammates to find him when it is recovered – the ball-playing ability of both João Moutinho and Rúben Neves particularly complements that approach – and have led to him providing both goals and assists, through him playing directly, and with purpose.

If Raúl Jiménez regularly benefits from being one of his teammates – the Mexican’s movement has contributed to the creation of goalscoring opportunities – Traoré is also demonstrating an increased willingness to shoot from distance, and to draw the fouls that offer Moutinho free-kicks from which he can cross into the penalty area. Regardless, for all that he continues to improve and to excite, his productivity can also still frustrate.

With an improved end product and final ball, he would not only create more goals, but score significantly more. He has such potential when running with the ball, but can remain guilty of taking too many touches in too small a space, inviting opposing defences to recover their defensive shape.

If he also continues to show greater intelligence, and therefore an improved understanding of when to play off of one or two touches, or more, then he may even finally fulfil his considerable potential. “He has to improve a lot.” Espírito Santo also said. “We’re building a player.”

Adama Traoré

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