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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Adama Traore’s return to Barcelona could give Xavi Hernandez exactly what he needs

Despite only making one La Liga appearance in his first stint as a Barcelona player, the Camp Nou is a place Adama Traore knows well. After all, the winger spent the first 11 years of his youth and professional career on the books of the Catalan club before departing in 2015. Now back at Barca, Traore is expected to play a more important role.

Traore is an eye-catching player to say the least. His physical frame coupled with his technical ability on the ball and lightning pace makes the 26-year-old a unique threat. While Traore’s attacking output has been questioned, there is widespread belief that he could be an elite level attacker in the right system.

Xavi Hernandez is counting on his system being the right one for Traore, and on Traore being the one to make his system the right one for Barcelona. Under Xavi, the Catalans are still finding their way. The hope at the Camp Nou is that the additions made in January, of which Traore was one, will help Barça take the next step forward.

Progress has already been made in some aspects. Barcelona are controlling more possession now than they were earlier in the season under Ronald Koeman. There is greater dynamism to their play through the centre of the pitch with their style more closely aligned with the principles of Barca as a club.

At times, though, Barcelona have struggled to break down opponents, particularly those who sit in a low defensive block. They have been accused of passing without a purpose and have dropped points in a number of matches they had the individual quality to win. This is where Xavi hopes Traore will be a solution.

In essence, Xavi wants Traore to play a similar role to the one Pedro played for Pep Guardiola’s great Barcelona side a decade ago. The former midfielder has recognised the need for wingers in his team to stretch the pitch and open up space for others. Even when Traore doesn’t have the ball, the idea is his positioning will help Barca play their game.

As a dribbler, Traore will also give Barcelona a different outlet when their possession-based approach isn’t working. The Spanish international is in the 99th percentile for dribbles attempted (7.06), dribbles completed (5.10), and players dribbled past (5.50) per 90 minutes this season, illustrating the threat he will pose opposition teams in La Liga.

With Traore back at the Camp Nou after seven years away, it’s likely Ousmane Dembele will be on his way out at the end of the season when his Barcelona contract expires. The French winger has stalled on signing a new deal with the Catalan club and it now appears Barça have moved early to replace him before he has even departed.

Of course, Traore wasn’t the only new signing to arrive at the Camp Nou in the January window. Ferran Torres signed from Manchester City and has already succeeded in giving Barcelona a sharper cutting edge in the final third. 38-year-old Dani Alves has also added depth to Xavi’s squad in the right back position.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s arrival isn’t so easy to explain given that the 32-year-old plays in a position where Barcelona are well-stocked for options, but there is a sense that the Camp Nou outfit are on the road to recovery after an extremely difficult period. They are certainly stronger now than they were at the start of the January transfer window.

The business done in January underlines how Xavi must build for the future while delivering results in the short-term. Barcelona have a core of young players to rival any other group in European soccer right now, but the Catalans must finish in the top four – and qualify for next season’s Champions League – to consolidate their progress.

As a La Masia graduate, Traore was never given the chance to prove himself in the Barcelona first team. He is, however, a more complete player now than he was then – even if the Spaniard could do with adding a sharper final product to his play. Traore has demonstrated in the Premier League that he can perform at a high level.

Barça have made the bet that Traore can add goals and assists to his game, that he can fulfill his very obvious potential at the top of the sport, and even if he doesn’t there is a purpose to his return to the Camp Nou. Barcelona might not have needed the winger seven years ago, but they do now.

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