Explained: The key changes bringing the best out of Wolves and Adama Traore
His sale to Aston Villa surprised many, but it was an ominous indicator that he had issues with his game despite his potential.
One year later, he moved on to Middlesbrough, before moving again to Wolves two years later.
Now, though, the 23 year-old finally seems to be valued and understood by those above him. The Spaniard is undeniably talented, but because of the height of his ceiling, many have been inclined to focus on qualities that he lacks rather than what he possesses.
Nuno Espirito Santo‘s usage of Adama has been particularly interesting from a tactical perspective, as he seems to have harvested the useful traits of his game and applied them to certain match scenarios.
This season for example, he’s probably the only player in the Premier League to have accumulated his minutes on the pitch both as a right wing-back and as a centre forward.
Those are traditionally very different roles, but because of the specifics of Adama’s game, he’s applicable to fulfil both.
Fundamentally, Adama is a player with remarkable speed and power. It’s reasonable to suggest he’s the most explosive player in Europe over a relatively short distance, but he’s seemed unable to combine that quality with productive decision-making and real end-product.
Consequently, he’s presented himself as an odd profile. His dribbling proficiency is outstanding, but once beating his man, he hasn’t seemed to offer a great deal.
1585 players have amassed over 1000 minutes in Europe’s top five leagues in the past year, with only four averaging more dribble attempts per 90 than Adama. In addition, none of the top 20 post a better success rate than the Wolves man.
To harness that ability, Nuno has largely deployed Adama as a right wing-back in his favoured 5-3-2 formation, while allowing the Spanish talent the freedom to impact the match in more offensive zones.
Against Everton for example, Adama (no.37) played as his team’s right wing-back from start to finish, with his average position pictured below.
The graphic captures his offensive positioning in comparison to his teammate on the opposite flank, for example. The Wolves boss ultimately seems willing to accept that Adama isn’t the strongest defensively because of the attacking threat that he can provide.
His profile was perhaps used most effectively in the team’s most recent fixture with Manchester City, though, with Wolves running out 2-0 winners at the Etihad.
Adama started the match as a wing-back, and acted as an outlet for his team by driving up the field towards the final third with the ball and relieving the pressure that City wanted to maintain on the Wolves defence.
Then, after 70 minutes of admirable defending with the scores level at 0-0, Espirito Santo introduced Matt Doherty to displaced Adama as the right wing-back. The speedster was consequently instructed to play alongside Raul Jimenez as a centre-forward.
Under Pep Guardiola, City play in an assertive manner with a high defensive line and plenty of space in behind, but that doesn’t usually become problematic because very few sides are able to exploit that space.
Adama’s pace against City’s central defenders signified danger, though, and he scored ten minutes after being deployed further forward.
City had possession inside Wolves’ final third, but once the ball was lost, Espirito Santo’s side broke through Jimenez and Adama, as shown below.
14 minutes later, Wolves again thrived by counter-attacking through Adama, with the space that he darted into pictured below.
Ultimately, despite his flaws, Adama has proved to be a highly useful tactical option for his boss.
Nuno is frequently using the Spaniard on the flanks and benefiting from his ability to carry the ball up the field. Once gaining something to hold onto, he’s using Adama as a rapid threat near the halfway line to counter-attack through, and it’s paying dividends.