If you were looking for Premier League players who have made the most significant improvements to their game in 2019/20 then Adama Traore would be up there, no doubt. His explosive pace and dribbling ability have always been evident since he moved to England from Barcelona in 2015, when Aston Villa signed the young Spaniard for around £10 million.
The rest of his game however, has often been found lacking as he struggled to convert his skill set into actual offensive production for his clubs. In his final season at Middlesbrough, his next destination after Villa, glimpses of the potential Adama possessed appeared and his performances across that year ultimately earned him their Player of the Year award.
As such, when Wolves signed Traore in that summer of 2018 for roughly £18 million, it was a bet that they could harness his talent and turn him into a player capable of providing goals and assists at the top level of the game. Following an initial season where Traore was primarily used as a substitute, the gamble really paid off for Wolves in 2019/20.
With 27 Premier League starts compared to the 8 he made in his first season at Molineux, Adama Traore has now become a key player for Nuno Espirito Santo. Most of his league appearances have been as a right winger in Wolves’ 523 formation, although he has also been deployed as the right wingback, particularly earlier in the campaign.
It is in that right winger role though, where he has become a nightmare for Premier League left backs. When facing up fullbacks in 1v1 matchups he is borderline unstoppable because of his explosive pace across both short and long distances. As a result he has been able to manufacture crossing opportunities for himself all season long, something that has seen his relationship with Raul Jimenez bloom.
The 7 goals Adama has assisted for Jimenez is the highest of any Premier League duo in 2019/20, with some of those most recent scores being key to Wolves’ battle for European qualification. Against both Bournemouth and West Ham, in the first two games after the restart, Wolves found the breakthrough via Jimenez connecting with Adama’s crosses from the right flank.
His involvement in those two goals brought Adama’s season figures in the league up to 4 goals and 9 assists. On top of that he has created 10 ‘big chances’ which puts him in the top 15 players in the Premier League for that statistic. The clear reality is that there’s been a significant step up in Adama’s game during this campaign, particularly in his final ball, and that is reflected by the fact that opposition coaches now game plan for the Spanish winger by trying to surround him with multiple bodies.
Naturally, when a player sees this kind of improvement to his game, and is producing for a club in the top half of the Premier League, rumours start about potential moves to the elite clubs. Already we have seen rumours of Liverpool being interested in adding him to their squad and of Wolves valuing Traore at over £100 million.
When you see stories like this I think you have to start being realistic about exactly where Adama Traore is as a player, and also how much further he has to go before he warrants that kind of transfer fee. While it’s easy to get caught up by the production that’s been added to his very exciting skill set, Adama is still a player with many limitations when compared to the best wingers in the Premier League.
For instance, I find at times he can be too one dimensional, in the sense that his game relies heavily on one move. That is beating the fullback before launching crosses into the box, typically from near the byline. In isolation that might not necessarily sound like a problem but there are a couple of reasons why it is.
Firstly, his deliveries from crosses are still too inconsistent. Many are over hit, and generally they tend to be rushed as he runs out of room on the pitch or is closed down by the players tasked with closing him down. Also, too often beating his man and getting a cross in appears to be the only option that crosses his mind. Of course when you have Raul Jimenez in the box it can be a very productive route to take, but Adama simply defaults to it too frequently.
That brings us around to the other issue, which is his reluctance to come inside. Again that isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, especially as Doherty can provide underlapping runs, but it adds another degree of predictability to his game, something opposition mangers are trying to take advantage of. Take the game against Arsenal as an example. Kieran Tierney was matching up against Traore very wide, almost goading him to attack the space inside.
Unsurprisingly he still tried to beat Tierney on the outside, and while Tierney can’t continually match with Adama 1v1, it allows the fullback to be closer to him so any cross he does put in will be under more pressure. In the end Arteta’s game plan for Adama worked out well enough as they kept him fairly quiet for the majority of the game.
Despite all of that, I don’t want to sound too negative about Adama Traore. There are still other aspects to his game that have also provided real value to this Wolves team this season. Being able to beat multiple players at will with the ball at his feet is huge for getting Nuno’s team up the field when they’re defending deep.
On top of that, although it’s perhaps something he doesn’t do quite enough, he is more than capable of beating his fullback and driving into the box around the outside. In fact that’s what brought about the second goal against Crystal Palace in GW37. Finally, just on a basic level, having a player like Adama draws in opponents aiming to crowd him out, which then in turn can free up space for other attacking players in addition to forcing opposing wingers to track back after him.
Regarding any potential move away to an elite club, I would say this summer is too early. Player progression is unpredictable and while Adama Traore may continue to develop his final ball and decision making, it is also possible he is nearing his ceiling already. Irrespective of whether he stays or goes, he has already become one of the most exciting Premier League players in 2019/20 and so hopefully he can continue on his current trajectory into 2020/21.
Originally published at http://jackmccutcheon.com on July 22, 2020.