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How Adama Traore can fit into Conte’s Spurs

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. With Alasdair Gold tweeting about buying baby oil on Amazon, and multiple journalists stating that it’s a matter of when, not if, Adama Traore will be joining Tottenham Hotspur, there certainly seems to be division amongst Spurs fans.

Some see the Spaniard as a pace merchant with little technical ability - at best, a semi-reliable player to progress the ball. At worst, a one trick pony.

Others are excited about the potential signing and what he brings to the table. The one thread that seems to unite all is a desire to for Conte to be backed in the transfer market. If Conte truly wants the player, then we should do everything possible to acquire him.

With that there’s room to explore how Conte would best utilize Traore at Tottenham. Him slotting in at right wing back sounds like a foregone conclusion as his ability is compatible with what Spurs need on that flank, but that’s not the only way he may slot into the team.

It should be noted that neither set of Spurs fans is completely in the wrong about Traore. The first half of Wolves against Burnley showed the best and the worst of his ability. Most obviously, his decisionmaking simply must improve if he’s serious about staking a starting XI claim for a team competing for a Champion’s League spot.

Traore uses his explosive pace to create a dangerous 2v1 against Burnley. This type of move should result in a goal for Wolves. Instead of making the easy, sensible pass for Jimenez to run onto Traore takes his man on and rockets the ball off of the goalpost.

However, the fact that Wolves even found themselves in the situation above was due to Traore’s individual skill. His progressive ball carrying is second to very, very few - he’s in the 94th percentile according to FBRef.

Adama Traore is one of those players that lacks nuance - his ability and role in a team is fairly straightforward, and even someone who has never watched soccer can identify his strengths and weaknesses after a game. The real question becomes how would Conte utilize his strengths and mask his deficiencies.

Most seem to think that Traore would replace Emerson as a right wing back, and there’s plenty of evidence to back that theory. Multiple sources claim that right wing back is position Conte is looking to improve on as Emerson doesn’t quite fit the role being more defensive minded. Representing the proverbial square peg being pushed into a round hole, Emerson’s defensive strengths have shined but his attacking output has been found lacking. This is most obvious with his final ball but can be seen through Tottenham’s general buildup as well.

Lucas’ and Emerson’s quality of link up play varies wildly from game to game. Often they find themselves against a brick wall and needing to go backwards after slow ball movement and being closed down. Here Emerson receives the ball and runs toward the Everton fullback - instead of taking him on he checks back, allowing the Everton midfielder to cover him as well. Lucas is the only passing option available but due to his body position/Everton’s press he’s forced backwards.

Through, frankly, no fault of his own, Emerson is forced to play a safe pass - he has a reluctance to commit to 1v1s, which to be fair can be attributed to his relative lack of pace, power, and close control. A player like Traore would relish the opportunity to isolate an opposition fullback - creating more of a threat for both himself and his supporting winger/forward.

Below is another example, this time against Chelsea.

Bears reiterating that Emerson is not doing anything wrong here, he’s merely playing to his strengths (not to mention that moving the ball backwards when outnumbered is general best practice in soccer.) But bringing in a player that has a different set of strengths could be extremely useful, as situations like the above occur often.

With the way Conte’s wingback system works, players on both flanks fulfilling the role can expect to be found in dangerous areas, with space, regularly. When Conte says that he is looking for an improvement on the right flank, there’s little doubt that he’s looking for increased attacking output.

Conte’s system is so fluid that wingbacks can often find themselves higher up the pitch than Tottenham’s forwards. Unfortunately, Emerson rarely executes in this area. In this particular example he sends the ball sailing past the back post for a goal kick.

Traore’s crossing is better (38.6% completion rate to Emerson’s 32.9% [Wyscout]) but not nearly good enough to warrant an acquisition by itself. Rather, his unique combination of traits lead to him creating 3.82 shot creating actions / 90 (FBRef). Although Traore might perform better in crossing and be more willing to take on his man on the counter, we’ve completed disregarded the other half of the wingback coin - defensive ability.

Emerson is beating the average when it comes to successful defensive actions at 11.69 / 90. For all his limitations further upfield, Emerson has been nothing short of great in helping Spurs shore up their right hand side, which casts doubt on how well Traore would do in that regard. Committing 2.99 successful defensive actions in the same amount of time he is nowhere close to what would be required of him.

Taking into account that he currently plays as a winger, and not wingback, at Wolves does little to help his case. Son and Moura achieve 3.59 and 5.38 defensive actions / 90 respectively. Clearly Spurs would be missing some defensive stability if Traore were to come in and replace any of the players mentioned above.

Where Else Can Traore Fit?

Perhaps a reduction in defensive busyness and an increase in guile, pace, and literal sheer power would be a net positive for Spurs - not in the wingback position, but further forward in the place of Lucas.

Somewhat surprisingly, there’s been a ton of talk of Conte turning Traore into an excellent RWB, but little talk of Traore replacing a Tottenham forward in a 4-3-3 (a system that Conte has time and again gone to in the middle of games - most noticeably and recently, against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.)

There’s three main reasons that lead me to believe this might be Conte’s plan.

First - as effective as Traore might be on the wing, he is limited by the ever shrinking amount of space he is afforded. This is due to the sideline acting as an extra defender. With his good, not great, crossing and cutbacks, restricting Traore to the right wing would severely limit his output.

Second, Traore and Lucas are statistically extremely similar offensively.

Red circles highlight main similarities. (Credit: Wyscout)

Both Lucas and Traore can be regarded as two sides of the same coin - the Brazilian more well-rounded but fails to be a constant game changer, whereas the Spaniard shows much more invention with the ball at the cost of finishing chances and defensive solidity. Either way, Conte would have two great players at his disposal for different game situations.

Finally, what Conte is asking his forwards to currently do is something Traore would excel at. Kane and Lucas have both been excellent this season in dropping deep to make themselves available for a vertical pass from Tottenham’s midfield or defensive line.

In his brief cameo against Chelsea, Lucas executed what he’s always asked to do - provide support in the build up as a vertical passing option. The very intentional effect of this move is twofold - that this disrupts Chelsea’s defensive line by dragging out a defender while the player on the flank is isolated with the defender due to the vertical pass bypassing the opposition fullback/wingback.

As we explored in the beginning of the article, Traore can create extremely dangerous situations when he plays down the middle. Under Conte’s system, he would not only work to open space up for others but could use his unique skillset to run into the space created himself, something he does every game for Wolves.

Although there’s certainly a case for Traore to be deployed as an RWB, his strengths are better suited for a forward position in Conte’s system.

Conclusion

Barring a black swan-esque drop in form Traore coming in for Conte would add much needed dynamism in Tottenham’s attack. His limits - specifically his defensive contribution and finishing - are as glaring as his immense pace and dribbling ability. Far from being a player that can carry Spurs back to the upper echelons of Premier League football, he is moreso another tool in Conte’s tool belt that would be useful in specific situations - namely driving attacking intention.

Given how difficult it is to do any meaningful business in January, this - a strong rotation option that would add a dynamic that’s currently missing from the starting XI - is probably the best that Spurs fans can hope for this transfer window.