Adama Traore – a player who divides fans. Some fans think he is brilliant and must play every game. Others think he lacks a football brain and only has pace.
Aitor Karanka, Steve Agnew, Garry Monk – all managers who never really gave him a chance, apart from the odd start or substitute appearance.
When Tony Pulis was appointed, many felt this was the end of Traore’s time with the club. He was not seen as a “Pulis type player” by many. Whilst he has shown his potential going forward, he hasn’t been seen the best off the ball or tracking back – doing the dirty work which many associate with Pulis.
However, three games into Pulis’ reign, Traore has been seen as a key player. A lively substitute appearance at home to Aston Villa, which included a point where he sprinted back to stop a potential Aston Villa goal, despite their attacker having the head start; as well as two consecutive starts at Preston and at home to Sunderland, showed fans different.
Preston away, he did okay first half but he was on the left wing where he wasn’t that effective. However things changed very early in the second half when Pulis changed it, bringing on Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford for Adlene Guedioura and Britt Assombalonga.
Not only were two strikers brought on, a tactical change also took place where Traore moved to the right wing, Stewy Downing went to the number 10 role and Bamford took his place on the left wing. Traore looked far more comfortable and was a lot more effective in his favoured right wing role. Ryan Shotton also came on in the second half which gave Traore the licence to attack more as Shotton is a lot more defensive than the excellent Cyrus Christie. Traore won a lot of free kicks and a lot of attacks were on our right. A very good performance by the jet-heeled winger
Sunderland at home, Pulis plays the team we had in the second half at Preston with only one change: Martin Braithwaite coming in for Bamford. Traore was again effective including his excellent assist for the opening goal. His excellent run past the Sunderland players and inch perfect through ball allowed Gestede to have a one on one with the goalkeeper and he finished it off.
Again, another effective performance by Traore where he was a constant threat and even had a couple of shots on goal which went over the bar, but were decent chances.
Another telling difference to Traore’s starts is the selection of Shotton at right back which allows Traore to focus on his attacking duties. Whilst Christie has been one of the players of the season, he is a very attacking right back which means the right winger would need to track back a lot, which Downing has done very well for most of this season. Traore and Christie on the right may be seen as too attacking by Pulis which probably explains the decision to play the more defence minded Shotton.
An interesting statistic, courtesy of Boro Stats (who can be followed on Twitter on @Boroform), is the most consecutive starts Traore has made for Middlesbrough is five, which was last season in the Premier League.
Ironically it was probably our best run of form of the season. The games were Arsenal away, Man City away, Bournemouth at home, Chelsea at home and Leicester away. A point each at Arsenal, Man City and Leicester plus a win against Bournemouth and an unlucky defeat against Premier League champions Chelsea meant we got 6 points out of a possible 15, with 3 draws, 1 win and 1 defeat. Whilst on the face of it, may look like a poor return, looking at the opposition and peformances, it was a very good return.
If Traore was given a run of, say ten to twelve starts in a row, who knows what he can achieve? It is very difficult to get a run of form going when only given the odd start or odd substitute appearance.
A lot has been made of his decision making and end product, and whilst it is not a great return, if he had better end product, he would be at one of the leading clubs in the world such as Barcelona, PSG or Man City. He doesn’t so I think we have to appreciate his strengths and what he can give us rather than focus on his negatives.
Maybe Pulis is the man to get the best out of Traore by giving him that love and affection which players need. It was very noticeable when Pulis substituted Traore late on against Sunderland, there was a warm embrace where the manager showed his appreciation to Traore. Other managers took a different approach but maybe this is exactly what Traore needs. Some players are confidence players so hopefully Traore will continue his excellent start in the coming weeks.