Capable of sheer brilliance at times, but also an incredibly frustrating player at others, Bertrand Traoré is somewhat of an enigma to Aston Villa.
He without a doubt has incredible talent and has shown this at stages throughout the season, most notably on his debut for the club scoring a wonder goal with his right foot against Bristol City in the Carabao Cup.
But for every marvellous goal or bit of trickery moving past opposition defenders, there is a corner failing to beat the first man or a hashed clearance which ends up closer to his own penalty area than the halfway line. Traoré is a bit of a mystery, as you really can’t quite be sure what you will get from him each game.
Filling the void with big-game experience
The right-wing position was one that many Villa fans felt was the area that needed strengthening the most going into the 2020/21 season. Anwar El Ghazi hadn’t fully kicked on from his initial period with Villa in the Championship and despite late season heroics. Trézéguet had also struggled to make much of an impact. Something was needed to change the recurring joke of the Anwar El Ghazi for Trezeguet (or vice-versa) substitution on the 70th minute of every game.
Villa flirted with the prospect of Milot Rashica for the whole summer, but Traoré’s transfer, which came somewhat out of the blue, was meant to bolster Villa’s attack and creativity.
He was a name the majority of fans were familiar with through his previous spell with Chelsea, before loans to Vitesse Arnhem and Ajax and eventually a permanent move to Lyon. Traoré had no lack of big-game experience with these teams. At Ajax he was part of the team that reached the UEFA Europa League final, scoring two goals in the semi-final first-leg. Then at Lyon, he had 13 appearances and two goals in the UEFA Champions League. So, despite his age, Villa were signing a player with experience at the highest level.
Just 14 minutes into his Villa debut, Traoré scored an unbelievable right-footed volley which looked almost too casual. Despite this fantastic start, he struggled to make it into Dean Smith’s side in the Premier League. His first start came against Wolves in December. Once he had found his place in the starting 11, he then enjoyed a brilliant patch of form that showed what he was capable of. He was absolutely superb against West Brom, setting El Ghazi up with a lovely cross before scoring arguably an even more casual goal than his at Bristol, with a delightfully cool stroke of the left foot to pass it past Sam Johnstone. His current total of five goals and three assists is a respectable return, especially given his lack of playing time at the start of the season.
One thing that has let Traoré down at times this season is his defensive work. In numerous games Matty Cash has had to deal with opposition wingers and full-backs with little help. Particularly during the defeat to Manchester City, Joao Cancelo and Phil Foden caused Cash problems. Despite playing almost 500 minutes less than Traoré, Trézéguet’s defensive statistics surpass Traore’s. Trézéguet has made more interceptions, tackles, clearances and headed clearances. While creating and scoring is obviously what Villa fans want Traoré to do, a slightly higher emphasis on defensively tracking back to deal with overlapping defenders would help his all-round game. Otherwise, Smith may be tempted to opt to start Trézéguet in matches against teams with attacking full-backs, such as Leicester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Time to push on
Although it feels like he has been a known-name for quite some time, Traoré is still just 25 years old, so he has room to grow. Coming towards the end of his first season with Villa he has shown glimpses of the quality he possesses, but to convince the fanbase he doesn’t need upgrading in the summer; instead, he must start to show his quality on a more consistent basis. It’s incredibly exciting to have a player on the opposite side to Jack Grealish who is capable of some magic moments. It would be even better to be confident that more often than not, these magic moments will come off, rather than causing Villa fans further frustration.