Every Monday, theScore's Daniel Rouse breaks down the weekend that was in English football. Welcome to the "Eye on England."
A couple of strides, and he was gone.
Jonah Lomu's four tries against England in the 1995 Rugby World Cup semifinal propelled the All Blacks winger into a different stratosphere. His 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame could flatten but also flutter. Wingers weren't meant to be built like that; wardrobes weren't meant to glide like that.
"I was left horizontal on the ground, grasping at him," Rob Andrew, a former England fly-half, recalled in Mitch Phillips' Lomu obituary for the Telegraph. "He ran over most of the team. I was just pleased he chose to run around me instead of over me."
The same spectacle is happening in the Premier League. Ask Jetro Willems. Ask Matt Targett. Ask Aaron Cresswell. Ask Tottenham Hotspur - especially Jan Vertonghen. Ask Benjamin Mendy.
Ask the growing pack of left-backs what it's like to be duped by the Premier League's most-improved player, Wolverhampton Wanderers' Adama Traore. When he moves, his supreme athleticism is now melded with a clear plan. He can be unstoppable. He's Lomu-esque.
Lomu was 20 when he crushed England. At the same age, Traore couldn't muster more minutes than Scott Sinclair and Kieran Richardson at Championship-bound Aston Villa. He was largely written off; he couldn't devise ways for his stocky build and berserk pace to consistently terrorize full-backs and create chances. No one seemed to believe in him.
No one, that is, until a certain Welshman's tracksuit squeaked its way into Rockliffe Park. Normally, under Tony Pulis, strikers perished and wingers were nudged back to construct six-man defenses, but the notoriously conservative manager recognized Traore's promise soon after his Middlesbrough unveiling at the end of 2017. Pulis worked on tactics with the winger every couple of days and tried to lift a player whose confidence was shattered after failing to establish himself at Barcelona, Aston Villa, and through 16 months on Teesside.
That's not to say Traore didn't irritate Pulis. The veteran gaffer constantly barked "Adama" from the touchline, instructing his player to move wider or simply ensuring his team's finest yet flawed asset was ready when a counterattack arose. Traore's flank was often changed at halftime so he could stay close to Pulis' dugout and hear orders. "He can be frustrating at times, but I'm telling you, if he works it out, then he could be anything," Pulis said after Traore tormented Queens Park Rangers in January 2018.
Traore failed to score in his first 42 appearances as a Middlesbrough player but, thanks to Pulis, his transformation was well underway by the time he left. Pulis called him his "best buddy." When Traore joined Wolves for a then-club-record £18-million fee three days before the 2018-19 Premier League campaign, the Teesside Gazette's Dominic Shaw described the Spanish-Malian attacker as Middlesbrough's "most exhilarating player since Juninho." Praise doesn't get much higher at the Riverside.
Traore remains a perpetrator of pandemonium at Wolves, but he's more refined. After being used sparingly in his first season in the Black Country, he's been deployed as a wing-back, a secondary striker, and has steadily forged a thrilling tandem with Matt Doherty down the right. Traore has acclimated to the movement and greater attacking impetus demanded by Nuno Espirito Santo, and his boss believes he can eventually become a regular striker.
Not bad for a player previously ridiculed for lacking an end product.
"I spend a lot of time talking to the coach about where is the best position for me to be able to explode, because at Middlesbrough, the wingers played open," Traore explained to the Guardian's Paul Wilson last February. "At Wolves, it has been more inside and I have even played as a striker, but I like the challenge. If I can adapt to different tactics I think I will be a better player."
With his bodybuilding physique, Traore isn't your average footballer. He's also over half a foot shorter than rugby legend Lomu. But, with the tactical schooling from Pulis and Nuno, he is now making the most of his elite technical footballing ability and his rare combination of clout and capriciousness that evokes memories of Lomu, one of rugby's first global superstars.
Traore is only 23 and his potential is boundless. Soon, we might be discussing the time we realized Wolves possessed their own global superstar.
Watford failed to act on the warning signs from the back end of last season, so the club idled into this term carrying a hangover from their FA Cup run and with Craig Dawson as their only senior defensive recruit.
Somehow, Nigel Pearson is making it work since his appointment earlier in December. In the 15 matches under Javi Gracia and Quique Sanchez Flores, Watford conceded two goals per game. Since Pearson was brought aboard, that average has plummeted to 0.6 per game - and the Hornets have faced Liverpool, Manchester United, and Sheffield United over that period.
On Saturday, Watford were down to 10 men from the 57th minute against Aston Villa but scored two more to fashion a precious 3-0 win, moving them from the bottom of the Premier League table.
"We showed good intensity. We showed incredible unity on the pitch and bench. We have to make sure that remains high on our agenda - to keep the players together," Pearson said after the match.
"Having taken stock of the situation and reflected now the campaign is complete, we feel that it is right to move in a different direction."
Those were the words of West Ham United co-chairman David Sullivan in May 2018 when the club decided to part ways with David Moyes after little over six months in charge. The odds are the former soft-porn peddler will be digging out his thesaurus to pen a similar statement at the end of this season.
Moyes took over the ailing Irons again on Sunday, providing an unsubtle indication that West Ham didn't progress at all during Manuel Pellegrini's spendthrift reign or, indeed, this decade.
West Ham are in an identical position - 17th in the Premier League - as when Sullivan, David Gold, and Karren Brady took over in 2010. There has never been a semblance of a philosophy under their leadership and the team is an unbalanced cast of misfits.
Moyes will probably keep them up, but what happens next season is anybody's guess.
Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, the discordant midfield pair during a disappointing era for England's national team, are now vying - somewhat inadvertently - to discover who is the better manager.
And right now, Gerrard is probably edging it.
Lampard has operated admirably through Chelsea's transfer ban, using it as an opportunity to field youth-team products and gradually phase out senior members like Olivier Giroud and Pedro. His tactical tweaks in Sunday's match at Arsenal were also impressive, with the 34th-minute introduction of Jorginho helping Chelsea gradually find their feet.
There was, admittedly, some fortune in the 2-1 win - Jorginho was lucky not to receive a second yellow seven minutes before his leveler and Arsenal failed to capitalize on their first-half dominance - but fourth place is a decent return considering the Blues' circumstances.
But Gerrard, who oversaw Rangers' first win at Celtic for nine years in Sunday's fiery Old Firm derby, is displaying impressive managerial traits. Little by little, Gerrard's taming Alfredo Morelos' temper and theatrics to let his goal-scoring ability - he's netted 28 times in all competitions - come to the fore; shrewd deals for players like Ryan Kent and Connor Goldson have paid off handsomely; his selection policy looked first-rate when he recalled Steven Davis for the weekend's clash in Parkhead.
Rangers are now two points adrift of table-topping Celtic with a game in hand. It's quite possible Liverpool legend Gerrard could win the first league title of his career as a manager.