Saturday’s friendly with Augsburg gave us some clues, and saw Patrick Bamford deployed on the right – a position he has played in the Boro red before with some success, and probably not too dissimilar a role to that which Cristhian Stuani played to such stellar effect in the first half of the promotion season.
A look at the current squad suggests that Bamford is in a straight shoot-out with Adama Traoré for that right-sided role. Whatever this says about the lack of obvious creative options behind the striker – though more incomings are apparently expected – this should be a challenge which Traoré is relishing.
It seems a little strange to say that Traoré didn’t set the world alight in his first year on Teesside. Because, to be fair, he did, on many occasions; he just then put it back out again with a poor final ball, a maddening decision, a rash shot at goal.
We don’t need to discuss Traoré’s lack of goals and assists in his first season. Finer players than he have failed to hit the ground running on that front, and it has been talked about to death. With a long slog ahead and a division to smash, that sort of negativity isn’t helpful to anyone.
Instead, we should be focusing on the frankly absurd amount of positives.
With advances from Newcastle delightfully swatted away, Boro look to be starting the new Championship season with one of the finest dribblers in European football. That isn’t an exaggeration; a look at some basic statistics puts him hot on the heels of Messrs. Neymar and Hazard in that department, and there were plenty of times last season when only a crowd of three or four Premier League defenders was enough to knock the ball away from his supercharged feet.
Teams could afford to put three defenders on Traoré last season because Boro posed no tangible threat elsewhere on the pitch. That won’t be the case this time around.
Traoré suffered last season because when he did get the ball into a good position, his only options were generally to try and pick out the depressingly lonesome Álvaro Negredo in the area or go it alone and try and score the goal of the season. That won’t be the case this time around.
Last season, Traoré picked up the ball and saw the fastest, strongest, most technically proficient defenders in the country snarling at him and some of the best goalkeepers in the world looking bored and impatient behind them. Cup runs aside, that won’t be the case this time around.
Consider for a second that Boro are now back in a division in which Diego Fabbrini has been likened to Maradona and Adam Reach to Pelé, and there is palpable reason for excitement about Traoré. That’s not to say that it will be easy – we made that mistake in 2009 – but the La Masia graduate will have more time on the ball, more options, more confidence this year. Karanka improved him, but Monk could be the man to bring him out of his shell.
He is only 21, after all. Now, he has a year at Boro under his belt and he and his teammates know what to expect of each other. At the start of the last campaign, Traoré was a Malian Catalan barely out of his teens adjusting to life in the struggling North East of England, with a fractured football club pinning its hopes on him in the dazzling global glare of the world’s favourite sports league.
This time around, he is one of many exciting attacking options in what will hopefully be an exciting attacking team. Monk has seen fit to turn down a presumably fairly hefty cash offer for him already, and seems a manager well equipped to help a precocious young talent find his best form.
If everything goes to plan, there should be a more positive atmosphere around Boro this season and that should help bring the best out of Traoré. So cheer his name, encourage him when he gets it wrong, and we might just have a sensational footballer on our hands.
Do you agree? Will Traoré be key for Boro this season? Have your say on the oneBoro Forum.