Traore is the story but wonderful Wolves know Nuno bounds

Date published: Saturday 27th June 2020 3:13

There might be nothing more effective than a game at Villa Park to emphasise just how far Adama Traore has come. It is quite jarring to consider his first tentative steps as a Premier League player were made here five years ago, such is the recency of his consistent brilliance.

The sum parts were always there but Tim Sherwood was never the manager to assemble them. “He’s someone I have been tracking for a long time,” he said when unveiling his £7.1m signing from Barcelona in August 2015. “He’s physically a man – and he has been for some time,” he would add in his own inimitable way.

But Traore was long characterised by a naive, guileless innocence, at least in a football sense. He was a tornado of limbs with the same absence of nuance; a player who only knew how to surge forward with his head down, yet one who lacked direction.

Tony Pulis helped with that journey of self-discovery and Nuno Espirito Santo has refined a rough diamond ever further. Even Sherwood’s message half a decade ago has proven prescient:

“I wouldn’t like to compare him with any player, hopefully he’ll make his own name for himself and everyone will want to be the new Adama Traore.”

His return to this stadium followed what is becoming a familiar pattern: Wolves prioritised caution and stability in the first half before rolling up their sleeves to reveal the ultimate trick in the second. And no matter how often you see it, the effect and impact inspires no less awe.

They have become both the tortoise and the hare, starting slowly in the knowledge they have enough pace, power, skill and strength to close any gaps that might appear.

Since the Premier League’s restart, they are few and far between. They have kept clean sheets in their three games and the only domestic goals they have conceded since February began both came in the victory against Tottenham.

That was the sort of performance and result the world had grown to expect from Wolves. They have earned at least five more points from losing positions (21) than any other top-flight side this season, with their visit to north London the 19th time they had gone behind at any point in their previous 29 games.

Only Norwich (25) had conceded more goals in the first half than Nuno’s side (23), who had allowed the fewest of any team in the second (11). Tottenham led 2-1 at half-time before losing 3-2.

The challenge was always to strike that balance, with three months in tactical isolation helping to solidify a change in approach, execution and fortune that started earlier this year.

Traore will earn the attention, his introduction coming two minutes before the winner. He played his part, a sudden burst creating space for Raul Jimenez to cross for Jonny, who had started the move with a wonderful turn to evade John McGinn. The lay-off for Leander Dendoncker was dispatched with precision.

But the credit has to go to Nuno, who will resist the clamour for Traore to start every game and ignore the consternation when he does not. What he might lack in man-management is accounted for by a meticulous strategy that will always favour the system over any individual.

Rather than force Traore into a narrow 3-5-2 formation that does not suit him from the start, the wait to switch to a wider 3-4-3 to accentuate his skill set is patient, perfect and, right now, premium fuel for a Champions League challenge.

That would have been unthinkable in 2015, when Wolves had just finished their first season back in the Championship, Nuno was months from resigning as Valencia manager and Traore was floundering instead of thriving in the Midlands. As clubs, players and managers go, there is no telling what more they could achieve together.

Matt Stead


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