Soccer  

Adama Traore: No goals and no assists, why is Wolves winger struggling to make an impact?

Adama Traore
Adama Traore scored twice at Manchester City in a 2-0 at Etihad Stadium in 2019

“He is a motorcycle! It’s almost impossible. Nobody can handle this pace.”

When a manager of Pep Guardiola’s gravitas says that about a player, then you know they are special talent.

That is how the Manchester City boss described Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Adama Traore after seeing him score against his side for the third time in the 2019-20 season.

Traore hit a double against the then Premier League champions in a 2-0 win at Etihad Stadium and again in a 3-2 win at Molineux, with City unable to handle his strength and speed.

Both were memorable displays in a campaign where Traore was at his peak. He finished the season with nine assists and four goals and was touted to be worth £70m.

Since then, however, his impact has waned and 17 games into this season he has yet to register a single goal or assist.

With 18 months left on his contract and the January transfer window looming, could Wolves be tempted to cash in on the winger, or does he still have a future at Molineux?

Has Traore regressed or changed as a player?

Traore has always had brilliant pace but for much of his early career he was derided for his poor finishing and crossing. He failed to impress at Aston Villa after joining them in 2015 from Barcelona and similarly struggled in the Premier League with Middlesbrough, who he joined in 2017.

But an improved season in the Championship with Boro convinced Wolves to sign the then 22-year-old for £18m three years ago.

Initially, Traore struggled again but a combination of hard work on the training pitch and careful management and guidance by Nuno Espirito Santo resulted in his impressive 2019-20 season.

But rather than kicking on, Traore appears to have gone backwards. He did not provide a goal or assist last season until March and has yet to make an impact this term.

Adama Traore

His form has seen him increasingly utilised off the bench under current Wolves boss Bruno Lage, but even when he starts he is struggling to exert influence – against Manchester City last Saturday he had fewer touches than goalkeeper Jose Sa (24 to Sa’s 50).

It could be that Traore is changing as a player. In the win at Brighton on Wednesday, he came on for the injured Hwang Hee-chan and caught the eye with his pressing and overall team play.

But a look on social media after the Seagulls victory highlighted how divisive he is as a player, with some fans praising him for a hardworking display and others frustrated that he again failed to contribute with a goal or assist.

“I want Adama more consistent, not just game by game but also in the game,” Lage said last month.

“He is the kind of player that when he has the ball he can do something special, but I want more from Adama during the game, not just when he has the ball.”

Has anything changed at Wolves?

Traore is now playing under a different manager to the one who got the best out of him two seasons ago and while Wolves – eighth in the Premier League – are performing well under Lage, they are providing less of an attacking threat overall.

Under Nuno in Traore’s standout 2019-20 season, Wolves were the seventh highest scoring team in the Premier League after 17 games with 24 goals, but at the same stage of this season they have managed just 13. Only bottom-of-the-table Norwich have scored fewer.

“We struggle with getting enough players into the box,” says Wolves fan Russ Cockburn, who follows his team home and away.

“There is an element that his final ball could be better but as a winger if you only have one or two players to pick out in the box then your crosses have to be pinpoint.”

Adama Traore
Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore have developed a strong understanding at times at Wolves

Three seasons ago Traore also shared an incredible on-pitch chemistry with Raul Jimenez. The Mexican set up three of Traore’s four goals in 2019-20 and the Spain international returned the favour by setting up seven of Jimenez’s 17 goals.

Traore’s form suffered as a result of the absence of Jimenez for much of last season with a head injury and while he has now recovered and is back scoring, the pair are yet to rediscover their chemistry.

“He was starting to click under Nuno prior to Covid and Raul’s injury,” said lifelong Wolves supporter Keith Roberts.

“When Nuno lost his job that was key. You always get the impression with Adama he needs an arm around the shoulder and when Nuno left you could see a change in him.

“I don’t think he fits Lage’s system. He looks lost to me when we don’t have the ball.”

What does the future hold?

The goals and end product may be lacking but nevertheless Traore is a player who gets fans off their feet, with part of the excitement down to being not entirely certain what he will do.

That explosive unpredictability, coupled with the excellent 2019-20 season in which he showed just how devastating he can be if it all clicks, means most teams will always be interested in a player of his calibre.

Is it time for Traore to move on? Or does he still have plenty to offer Wolves?

“I know some supporters are keen to sell but I wouldn’t sell him,” says Cockburn.

“It is almost worth the risk to see if he does kick on in the second part of the season.”

Roberts disagrees, adding: “We were talking £70m a couple of seasons ago and I think if someone offered £30m now many Wolves fans would bite your hand off.

“He is not getting in the Spain squad and he will be desperate to go to the World Cup, so for him he has to get the move. I don’t feel his head is in the right place.”

As ever, Traore divides opinion.

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