Canaries set to face one of Europe’s most in-form players during Wolves clash
- Credit: PA
Norwich City will be coming up against one of the most in-form players in Europe when they host Wolves on Saturday – leaving Daniel Farke’s team to summon the spirit of James Husband.
Nope, that's not a sentence I expected to be writing ahead of this weekend's game either, but then three Tottenham Hotspur players were booked for cynical fouls as they desperately tried to thwart Adama Traore as the speedy winger kept causing them huge problems on Sunday.
That's the same Adama Traore who used to leave Middlesbrough fans frothing with frustration in the Championship, the forward with incredible pace but seemingly little sign of end product for so long.
It seems the highly rated attacker is finally starting to fulfil his potential ahead of a trip to Carrow Road though, if his unstoppable strike during Wanderers' narrow 2-1 home defeat to Spurs is anything to go by, at least.
That was a fourth goal of the season for Traore, with six assists to his name as well during 26 matches so far, helping his side reach the Europa League knockout stage and to eighth place in the Premier League so far - after seeing an 11 game unbeaten league run brought to an end at the weekend.
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His form has also put him at the centre of an international tug of war, declaring his intention to play for Mali, only to subsequently earn his first senior Spain call-up last month and then have to drop out of Euro 2020 qualification action due to injury.
It's been going so well that the stats gurus at WhoScored.com rate the former Barcelona prodigy as the most in form player during the last six games in the Premier League - and the fifth overall in Europe's top five leagues.
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Their match ratings, based on various performance indicators, averaged out at 8.16 out of 10 for the Wolves star during the last six matches, placing him ahead of Spurs' forward Heung-Min Son (8.03), Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Liverpool striker Sadio Mane (both 7.97) in the English top flight.
When the top tiers in Spain, Germany, Italy and France are included it's just global superstar Lionel Messi (8.83), Red Bull Leipzig's prolific goal-scorer Timo Werner (8.40), Borussia Dortmund and England ace Jadon Sancho (8.37) and Marseille maestro Dmitri Payet (8.25) ahead of Traore.
That's very different to the night that Canaries left-back Husband enjoyed his finest hour in yellow and green, in September 2017, as he marked the speed demon out of the game as City enjoyed a 1-0 win at Boro during the early stages of Daniel Farke's era - thanks to a sublime strike from James Maddison.
That night actually saw a club record of five consecutive league clean sheets set as well, as part of an eight game unbeaten run which would provide a glimpse of the potential success which would follow during Farke's brilliant second season in charge.
That night it was Husband preferred to Marco Stiepermann at left-back - prior to the emergence of Jamal Lewis three months later - with knowledge of Traore from his time with Boro seemingly providing an edge. It worked, with Husband staying close to his man, being physical when needed and doing his best to prevent his opponent bursting into clear space.
"I am really happy," Farke said after the win. "We wanted to mirror Middlesbrough and take away their strengths. A player like Adama Traore is too good for the Championship.
"We did that. We tried to double up on the wingers and close the centre and be there with some counter actions."
Farke was right. The wide man with frightening pace had been signed from Barca for around £7million in 2015, potentially rising to £12m depending on appearances. Just a year later he was on his way to the Premier League with promoted Boro, in a swap deal with Villa that saw Albert Adomah going in the other direction.
A disappointing season saw BBC pundit Martin Keown describe Traore as "like a Ferrari with a learner driver behind the wheel" but after a slow start to 2017-18, he found the accelerator during the second half of the campaign to end up with five goals and 12 assists in 38 games.
That prompted Wolves to break their club record purchase - at the time - to activate a release clause of £18m in 2018. His first season proved unremarkable but now Traore, still aged just 23, has become an important player for an ambitious, wealthy and upwardly mobile club in Wolves.
So whether it's Sam Byram or Jamal Lewis who start at left-back on Saturday, as well as the winger who needs to provide protection when in defensive mode, it might be worth digging out the footage of that 2017 win to see how Husband dealt with a seriously tricky customer.