Traore sets tone as Barca look to sustain La Liga momentum
Adama Traore will look to cement his status as the new darling of Barcelona this weekend after an impressive start to his Nou Camp career.
Last weekend, he delighted fans in the 4-2 win over Atletico Madrid.
One particular moment stood out when he nipped past Mario Hermoso, tumbled to the ground and a roar surged around the ground.
Some stood to applaud, others yelled and pumped their firsts, convinced a free-kick earned a few metres into Atletico Madrid’s half, with only two minutes gone, would set the tone for what was to come.
For Traore, it was the opening note of an hour-long recital, the winger terrorising and harrying the Atletico defence, Hermoso in particular, until finally he began to fade.
In the 61st minute, he was replaced and the Barcelona fans stood again, this time to give him a standing ovation.
By then, Traore had set up a goal for Gavi, his drive to the line furnished with a perfectly lifted cross for the smallest player on the pitch to head in.
He had run and crossed, defended and tackled. At the very least Traore was a key component in a rejuvenating victory, which propelled Barcelona two points above their opponents and back into La Liga’s top four. Arguably, he was its driving force.
“It was a great debut for Adama,” said Barca coach Xavi Hernandez.
“We want him to go at people and he’ll give us a lot. He’s a great signing.”
There were circumstances that meant supporters were particularly eager to get behind Traore, who was playing his first game after signing on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Traore was seen as the replacement for Ousmane Dembele, not least because the club had said so in one of its many failed attempts to persuade Dembele to leave or extend his contract, which expires in the summer, when he will be able to go for free.
Traore was the perfect antidote, a counter-point to Dembele’s perceived disloyalty as a former La Masia graduate coming home, the player born in Llobregat Hospital only two kilometres from the stadium.
Resentment of Dembele gave way to elation, for the injection of Traore’s pace and threat into a Barca team that is better-organised under Xavi but has still lacked cutting edge.
And for the thrill of the unpredictable, a sense of relief that a club consumed by debt and decline for the best part of a year could now begin to make football fun again.
“The fans have enjoyed themselves and that’s the important thing, to restore belief,” Traore said.
It is not inconceivable the 26-year-old is a fleeting presence in Barcelona’s recovery.
His loan deal expires in the summer, when a less punishing salary limit and the security of Champions League qualification could mean the club feels ready to pursue more accomplished targets.
But for Barcelona, it was an uplifting performance in a pivotal victory that has now created an opportunity, with third place, let alone the top four, suddenly within their sights.
The challenge will be to sustain the momentum, starting away at local rivals Espanyol on Sunday, when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be given his first start since having his contract terminated by Arsenal.
Atletico Madrid, with two wins from eight games, will be seeking some respite when they face a resurgent Getafe on Saturday, shortly after Real Madrid, now six points clear at the top of the table, play away at Villarreal.
Real Betis, in third, travel to bottom-club Levante on Sunday while Sevilla, in second, host Elche on Friday.