Hamed Junior Traore: an analysis and profile of one of Africa’s most promising midfielders.
Aside from Hamed Junior Traore, Ivory Coast have some excellent young talent emerging through their ranks, including Ibrahim Sangaré and Hamed’s younger brother, Amad Traore. But what makes the Sassuolo midfielder such a unique talent, and how has his development panned out so far?
Traore first joined Italian outfit Empoli at the age of 15 and worked his way into the senior team at a young age. He got his first taste of first-team football in the 2017/18 season featuring ten times for Empoli’s Serie B title-winning side.
The following season did not bear the same fruits as Empoli were agonisingly relegated on goal difference, on the last day of the season, despite a monumental effort to stay up. Nevertheless, Traore was one of the shining lights from the disappointing campaign, making 32 appearances and hugely impressing.
Amongst the teams who he had perked the interests of, were most notably, Fiorentina and Juventus. Both clubs hold an admiration for the Ivorian after witnessing his maturity and talent on display in a high-pressure relegation fight. Juventus and Fiorentina were poised to take the Ivorian on permanent deals, but this did not materialise as he ended up on a two-year loan deal at Sassuolo. The latter has an option to buy in 2021. However, Juventus also have a preferential clause and can take the Empoli man should they choose to at the end of the loan deal.
How did Traore perform statistically during the 2018-19 season at Empoli?
Using the data provided to us by @odriozolite, we can begin to form a picture of the type of midfielder Traore was at Empoli. To give some context, Traore spent the majority of his time at Empoli on the left-hand side of a three-man midfield in a 5-3-2 formation. Traore played as a “number 8”, also often referred to as a box-to-box midfielder.
Immediately the data shows us that Traore was an advanced number 8 who contributed significantly to the attacking play, and liked to carry the ball through dribbles and progressive carries. The data shows us that Traore made a valuable contribution to the creation of chances as well as providing a goal threat with a large volume of shots for a midfielder. Accompanying his goal threat was an impressive number of touches in the box which highlights the advanced positions he finds himself in.
The most useful element of this data is to show us what kind of midfielder Traore was for Empoli. The data shows him to be a player who attempts many dribbles and an impressive number of progressive runs. This is a sign that Traore can use dribbling to escape pressure. It also emphasises his ability to drive long distances of the pitch, carrying the ball and the team forward, an important attribute for a number 8.
Rather than passing around his opponents, Traore lured them out of position to take them on directly, which he completed at a reasonable success rate. More evidence of Traore’s preference of maintaining the ball at his feet is his volume of offensive duels. This shows that Traore has to protect the ball while in possession, showing that he was potentially holding onto the ball for an extended amount of time.
The data flags to us that Traore is weak in possession and does not progress the ball well with forward passes. His overall passing game suffers from poor accuracy and range. We could attribute this to Empoli’s style of play being that of fast transitions and counter-attacks rather than possession-based football which is a fair counter-argument. However, overall, it is undoubted that Traore’s strength lies in his dribbling and ball carrying, rather than his passing.
Defensively, Traore made a valuable contribution to the side. While the success rate is average in some regards, the volume is considerable. This indicates to us that what Traore lacks in technique, he makes up for in tenacity and work rate. Having said that, in this season, his success rate for duels and slide tackles was only just below the median. Considering his size at 5ft 10, it shows that Traore does not shirk his defensive duties, and is also capable of hunting back possession.
Considering he was 18-19 years old at the time, this is an impressive profile, though it does highlight specific weaknesses. Video analysis and the “eye test” is also an essential aspect of profiling a player and can help confirm the numbers. You can find further video evidence of the analysis on our Twitter account: @GenZscouts.
How has Traore performed at Sassuolo?
Traore’s heatmap shows that he has played in a more advanced role for Sassuolo this season. The explanation for this is primarily due to Sassuolo manager, Roberto De Zerbi’s ownness on the value of retaining and keeping possession of the ball in the midfield. A job that Manuel Locatelli and others are better suited to than Traore.
If we refer to Traore’s data profile at Empoli, we can see why De Zerbi would rather he play in a role with more creative licence and less responsibility to retain possession and progress the ball from deep.
Since his move to Sassuolo, Traore has scored three times and made one assist, but how do his other numbers look?
Statistically, Traore has done reasonably well considering the new role he is deployed in, and how he has recently turned 20 years old in February. Once again, the data indicates that Traore is an exceptional dribbler and ball carrier, ranking in the 98th percentile for dribble success. This aspect of his game has clearly not been affected by the positional change.
Traore is still losing possession more than what De Zerbi will want. These dispossessions are mostly a result of poor passing or miscontrol, which happens 1.63 times per 90 (FBREF).
Traore is not the most creative attacking midfielder, and he does lack a clinical edge to his final ball, as well as the tendency to make poor decisions in the final third. His shot creation actions are respectable, and show he is often involved in build-up play. However, the Expected Assists highlight how Traore does not create clear-cut high expected goalscoring opportunities for his teammates.
Here, the black arrow indicates where Traore should have passed to, and the red shows where he chose to pass the ball. The white lines are an indicator of the runs that both Obiang and Traore himself could have made to get into goalscoring opportunities had he made the pass on the right to Boga. This chance came about after some excellent dribbling and ball carrying but the end product and decision making was missing here.
This chance amounted to nothing, but the right decision could have led to, at the very least, a shot on goal. In situations like this, Traore needs to maintain composure and have an acute awareness of his surroundings. Traore’s perception of not only his teammate’s positions and runs, but also who he is passing to, and who is most likely to create a goal in this situation, Boga or Obiang?
Similarly above, Traore, after going on an excellent run, chooses to take a shot on goal instead of playing in his teammate on the right who would have been in a better position to score. He has to lift his head and get a better idea of his options. By doing this more regularly, Traore has a better chance of boosting his assist tally.
Traore will want to add to his goal-count. He is taking a decent amount of shots; however, he could look to try and get into the box and improve his movement to allow for more chances in central zones. The Ivorian is not a natural finisher, so getting in higher xG positions will benefit him greatly. This is easier said than done, nevertheless, the adage; if you don’t buy a ticket you won’t win the raffle, applies here!
Here Traore makes the correct wide pass to Sassuolo captain Domenico Berardi, but, as we see in the photo, he does not then follow his pass to run into the box.
Berardi did not end up crossing the ball, but Traore should have noticed the vacant space that the Inter defence had left for the taking, which would have been the perfect area to receive a cutback.
Defensively, Traore’s new position has resulted in a reduction in his defensive output. Nevertheless, the Sassuolo man still plays a vital role in the press, and continues to look to win the ball back quickly.
Traore is in the 81st percentile rank for possession adjusted pressures. He uses his pace and aggressive approach in duels to try and rob flat-footed and slow defenders or midfielders off the ball.
The anticipation of the defender’s pass and the speed at which Traore pressed here is hugely impressive. He created for himself a great goal scoring opportunity which he, unfortunately, did not take.
This ability and willingness to press is something Traore has carried over from his 2018-19 season as highlighted below.
What does the future hold for Traore?
The remainder of this season and next will be vital for Traore. He has effectively embarked on a two-year audition to convince Juventus to sign him. Sassuolo have given him a reasonable number of minutes. Albeit less than last season, he has played 49.3% of total available minutes. This wasn’t helped by an ankle distortion injury that kept him out for two matches.
Overall, it has been a decent, but not spectacular, start to his Sassuolo loan. We can’t help but feel like he should be developing his game as a box-to-box midfielder, rather than an attacking midfielder. He has the style and attributes of a young Naby Keita. He showed at Empoli that despite his size, he is capable of defending and does not cower from a duel to regain possession in dangerous areas.
Traore has proven to be excellent at carrying the ball and uses dribbling to act as a driving force of play where he can easily ghost past opposing players. Since being at Sassuolo, he has had to learn to create chances and be able to link play in the final third, as well as to learn to be a goal threat.
We must remind ourselves that Traore is still learning and developing his skills and technique. It will be exciting to see whether his role evolves at Sassuolo. However, it doesn’t currently appear as if De Zerbi is confident enough in Traore to control the game and retain possession.
Again, we would like to see him given more opportunities as a box-to-box midfielder in the hope that one day we have a reimagined Ivorian Naby Keita…
Analysis by: GenZScouts – @GenZScouts. Visit GZS’ Twitter account for further video analysis of Hamed Junior Traore and plenty more.
Feature Image: ZICOBALL