Earlier in the season I wrote that Adama Traore, despite his obvious ability, had the footballing brain of a Sunday League player. It was a bit harsh, but I couldn’t get over how frustrating he was to watch, how poor his decision-making was, and how wasteful he was with the ball.
With Pulis now at the helm, however, I have had a change of heart and believe that he could play a key role for the rest of our season. Traore has always got a lot of press regarding his dribbling statistics. Last season he was something like the best dribbler in the top five European leagues, with a better success rate than even Messi and Hazard. However, all these successful dribbles seemed to achieve nothing, mainly because too often his delivery was not good enough.
But he would often get fouled. And this is where he could be so important to Boro under Pulis. The fouls Traore won with his dribbling has usually counted for little because we have generally been poor at creating chances from set-pieces. But this is one area where Pulis is a master. The Gazette wrote this week in their tactical analysis of Pulis that in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons an amazing 47% of West Broms goals came from set-pieces.
Pulis has his teams incredibly well-drilled when it comes to set-pieces, particularly free-kicks from out wide. And with Traore dribbling in deep in the opposition half, he can pick up free-kicks in dangerous places. With Downing on the ball, and target men such as Shotton, Gibson, Ayala and Gestede to aim at, there’s no reason why Boro can’t turn the set-piece into an as effective weapon as Pulis had in Chris Brunt and Gareth McAuley at West Brom.
Championships defences are already terrified of Traore on the ball. If Boro become deadly from free-kicks the fear of fouling Traore will add to defenders anxiety, and potentially cause mistakes and create holes for Boro to exploit.
Traore’s dribbling can become useful in other ways too. Under Pulis Boro will inevitably have less possession than they did under Monk. We should expect to see more long balls, so naturally the opposition will have more of the ball. This means that our defence , while hopefully being more solid and better organised, will have more to do.
Traore’s dribbling further up the field, even if it doesn’t lead to anything, will give our defence some respite from opposition attacks. It might not sound that important, but over the course of the game, particularly if we are in the lead, having someone who can keep hold of the ball deep in the opposition half can be invaluable.
The Gazette also noted that Pulis is not a fan of attacking full-backs. If Pulis does set-up with defensive full-backs this will also suit Traore as he will be released from the defensive duties that were expected of him under Karanka and Monk who both preferred to play Traore in tandem with an attacking fullback.
I have been a big critic of Traore, and if he is given a chance he will still have so much to prove. I have no idea where he is in the new manager’s plans. But I do think I see a role for him, and I think Pulis has the potential to utilise Traore’s extraordinary, if limited, ability.