FC Barcelona

Adama Traore shifts focus from Ousmane Dembele debacle in second Barcelona debut

Grey Whitebloom
Adama Traore shone on his second debut for Barcelona in a thrilling 4-2 win over Atletico Madrid
Adama Traore shone on his second debut for Barcelona in a thrilling 4-2 win over Atletico Madrid / JOSEP LAGO/GettyImages

He may not be clinical, predictable or traditional, but Adama Traore and his baby-oiled biceps are emphatically watchable.

The sight of the returning La Masia product tormenting Atletico Madrid in Sunday's hard-fought 4-2 victory provided a much-needed distraction from another forward that has dominated headlines since the turn of the year.

“He doesn’t want to be part of our project. We told Dembele he has to leave immediately. We expect Ousmane to be sold before 31 January,” Barcelona director Mateu Alemany brashly declared with just 11 days of the winter window left.

Having tumbled from the lofty praise of 'better than [Kylian] Mbappe', Ousmane Dembele was being publicly tossed out of the door after refusing to sign a contract extension offered by the cash-strapped Catalans.

Yet, the club’s self-imposed deadline came and went with Dembele still very much a Barcelona player - despite numerous, fruitless flirtations with other clubs.

And Xavi was forced into an embarrassing U-turn amid this dizzying saga for Sunday's visit of Atletico Madrid, naming Dembele in the eagerly-anticipated matchday squad as the coach admitted the club can't 'shoot themselves in the foot' by leaving the World Cup winner in the stands.

On a bleak December day in 2020 when Barcelona were accused of 'committing suicide' for their defensive lapses in defeat to Cadiz, opposition manager Alvaro Cervera highlighted the self-harm leaving Dembele on the bench can do.

“I don’t want to act smarter than anyone, and we had good luck, but if you analyse Barcelona, they’re a team of one-twos, short passes,” the then Cadiz manager explained to Cadena Ser. "We had the good ‘luck’ that Dembele didn’t come on, or any pure wingers. Dembele is one of the few that gets to the byline."

A year on and Xavi was emphatically able to call upon a 'pure winger', but this time in the form of Traore. Upon his presentation the Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee relayed his new coach's simple instructions: "He has asked me to take players on and score goals, like the other wingers."

Within 100 seconds of his second debut Traore could tick that first task of his checklist, skipping beyond Atletico's Mario Hermoso with such a blinding flurry of feet the left-back conceded a free kick.

Traore breezed beyond Hermoso during a sharp riposte to Yannick Carrasco's eighth-minute opener, driving to the byline and drilling a pass that was blocked. Yet, the counter-press that he and Pedri performed swiftly funnelled the ball to Dani Alves in the box as one fullback teed up the other and Jordi Alba spanked Barcelona level.

Holding his width on the right-hand side, Traore stretched Atletico's ever-changing system - as Simeone desperately sought a tactic to nullify Barcelona's winter arrival.

Isolated against Hermoso once more, Traore exploited his twitch-speed change of direction, bursting out of a stationary starting position to the byline - in a move Cervera would have liked - where he delivered a cross so perfectly weighted the 5'8 Gavi nodded Barcelona into a 21st-minute lead.

Just the option of going to Traore adds a layer of unpredictability to a side that often sinks into telegraphed sequences of play. Before Traore’s debut on Sunday, the Catalan giants ignored their right flank more than any team in Spain’s top flight, funnelling just 30% of their attacks down that wing - compared to a league-high 44% on the left.

Some pessimists peppered around a Camp Nou crowd that got to see their team play on home soil for the first time in 50 days will point out that was Traore's first league assist since April 2021.

Yet, whether or not he produces displays as clinical and crucial in their race for top four is beside the point. On a day which began with the cameras trained on Barcelona's latest feat of mismanagement sat on the bench, the victorious hosts were left purring at the utterly engrossing sight of Traore in full flow.