The race for European football in the Premier League has heated up in recent weeks, with only five points separating fourth-placed Chelsea and ninth-placed Everton, and only 12 games left in the season.
However, one of the surprise packages in this mix is Wolves, who currently sit eighth in the league.
Despite finishing seventh last season, many pundits have been left bewildered by their form in the league this season, as Wolves’ small squad has had to cope with Europa League football. Not only do they find themselves in contention for European football again this season but they look all but confirmed to progress to the round of 16 in the Europa League after a 4-0 demolition of Espanyol at the Molineux.
One player who has shone this season in orange is Spaniard Adama Traore. The winger has provided four goals and seven assists in just under 2000 minutes so far in the league and has been a catalyst in the form of the West Midlands side. Many, though, have been relatively surprised by the form of the La Masia graduate, as he had previously been described by some as not at a standard to be playing in the Premier League.
But how exactly has the 24-year-old improved this season? The explanation lies in the stats. Traore has always been perceived by critics as a player blessed with physical ability but has never been able to pair that with real technical skill. However, this season, that has been proved false.
Many comparisons in his statistics can be compared to his last season at Middlesbrough in the Championship, as Boro finished fifth but were ultimately knocked out in the play-off semi-final to Aston Villa. That season Traore finished with five goals and ten assists in just under 2500 minutes. It is important to note that Traore played a large portion of that season under manager Tony Pulis, who is known for his negative style of football.
His dribbling has ability has generally been seen as an area of strength for Traore, averaging a respectable if not remarkable 2.2 dribbles per game last season. Although this season, his dribble numbers have been supercharged to an exceptional level. He currently sits third across all of Europe’s top five leagues for dribbles at 5.4 per game, only behind Neymar and Lionel Messi and well clear of fourth-placed Wilfried Zaha.
Yet this is not the first time he has achieved such numbers. In the 2017-18 season at Middlesbrough, he made an astonishing 7.1 dribbles per game. To put these statistics into context, Jeremie Boga came second for dribbles per game that season with 3.4, less than half of Traore. It is also more than Lionel Messi, one of the greatest dribblers in history, has ever recorded in a league season.
His dribbling ability has generally been recognised, but his passing and shooting have always been questioned by pundits and fans alike. To the dismay of Wolves fans last season, Traore only managed 0.7 in both key passes and shots per game, which ranked him ninth in the Wolverhampton squad in both categories. These two areas have seen visible improvement, with the Spaniard now delivering 1.2 shots per game (fourth in the squad) and 1.4 key passes per game (third in the squad).
Again, though, these numbers were replicated in the Championship with Middlesbrough. In his last season at the Riverside Stadium, he mustered 1.4 in both key passes and shots per game, which ranked him sixth and third in the squad respectively. This is the only other season in which Traore has averaged over one key pass and one shot per game.
Another area of his game that is particularly valuable to Wolves is the amount of times he is fouled per game. A high fouled rate generally goes hand in hand with players that have high dribble numbers, as defenders tend to hack at those who are exceptional with the ball at their feet. This season, on average, Traore gets fouled 2.3 times a match, more than any player in the squad.
The reason why this is important to Wolves is because of their high rate of set-piece goals. They are ranked equal fifth in the Premier League for goals from set pieces, sitting at nine so far this season. Due to Traore generally playing on the wing, he is usually fouled in and around the box, which provides good positions for Ruben Neves or Raul Jimenez to strike or deliver from.
Adama Traore’s form may have surprised most this season, but it is not the first time in his career that he has produced such astounding statistics. Now that he is fully accustomed to the level of the Premier League, the future looks bright for the young Spanish attacker.