The Season So Far
If, at the start of the season, Eddie Howe had been offered 17th place with a last-day escape, he'd definitely have taken it. If he'd been offered the same deal after big money signings Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings, as well as top scorer and potential England call-up Callum Wilson, went down with torn cruciate ligaments before autumn had arrived, he'd probably have sold his soul for it. It's to his immense credit, then, that Bournemouth currently sit 13th in the table, 13 points ahead of the relegation zone and all but safe with two months still to play.
It has been an absolute rollercoaster, full of dizzying highs - victories over Chelsea, Manchester United and a brilliant run of only four defeats in 16 games - and devastating lows - the losses of Gradel, Mings and Wilson, a terrible run of only two wins before December, and the tragic stillborn birth of Harry Arter's child - but Bournemouth have come out the other side. It's easy to see why Eddie Howe is tipped for the very top of the game, but he'll surely feel he has a bit more to do here before he can move on.
The Season Ahead
They're in an excellent position, one of which they could hardly have dreamed of in November: there's no pressure on them at all and now it's all about finishing as high up the table as possible. Howe will doubtless be aware that complacency could creep into his tired team's performances now that their stated aim of Premier League survival has been achieved, but he'll do all he can to stave it off. The fixture list has pit them against most of the big boys in the remaining weeks of the season, so the challenge will surely be for the players to prove that they really do belong at this level by matching the very best around.
They almost always play a 4-4-1-1, with typical aims for that system and a club of their stature: keep things tight, cover the spaces, get down the flanks. The defence keeps a relatively deep, disciplined line, the midfield sits in front of it and looks to cut off the opposition's passing angles, and then supply the wide-men or strikers with quick passes forward when the ball turns over.
Although this may sound like the gameplan of a typical promoted side - all long-balls, physicality and "giving 110%" - Howe's approach is notably different. His side is full of journeyman ball-players and academy products from much bigger clubs, and he uses his squad's good level of technical ability to play a more sophisticated brand of football than the Allardyces and Pulises (Pulii?) of this awful, miserable Premier League world.
They have at times switched to a 4-1-4-1 when looking to neutralise the effect of an opposition number ten drifting around between the lines, or to control a game better by always having a free man in space behind their own midfield, as Barcelona have for the last zillion years. We may see the use of an anchorman at White Hart Lane, given the amount of bodies Spurs play in attack.
Good attacking output: 373 shots in total, of which 198 have been from inside the opposition box, for a total of 122 on target. Their overall conversion rate is 9.2%, matching the league average, and the conversion rate of their shots on target is 28.8%, just above the league average. These are good, solid, respectable numbers, and by far the best set produced by this season's three promoted sides, and markedly better than the teams marooned at the bottom of the table. In an era in which positivity - well, balanced positivity - is rewarded with success, Howe has constructed a positive and productive unit which punches way above its weight, thus ensuring their survival.
It's worth stressing the 'balance' aspect here: this is not a team that goes attacking gung-ho and forgets to lock the gate before the horse bolts, Everton-style: especially for a newly promoted team, Bournemouth have played a very intelligent and progressive defensive game. Their defensive actions numbers are relatively low: 18.6 tackles per game, 16.7 interceptions, and 9.8 fouls make them look pretty meek off the ball. However, their positional play is usually excellent: they sit deep, cut off the angles and keep them cut off, forcing their opponents to play sideways and backwards. Only three teams have blocked more passes than Bournemouth this season.
This means they've faced the fourth lowest number of shots in the league this season (330), the fifth lowest number of shots on target (115), and the seventh lowest shots from inside their own box (200). Allied with their very coherent attacking plan, this is pretty damned good and explains why Howe has come in for such praise of late.
That said, Bournemouth are still a newly promoted team and they have the obvious weakness that most newly promoted teams have: they have a lot of players who simply aren't very good - or rather, aren't as good as the players their established opposition has. While they're undeniably excellent tactically, they are a very limited set of players: not especially fast (bar Max Gradel), not especially strong (bar Benik Afobe), not especially talented technically. On a one vs one basis, they can and have been outplayed at times.
This isn't really something that can be backed up by the stats that are available to me, but it's telling that Bournemouth have recorded the lowest save percentage of any Premier League side: tasked with something basic like 'stop the ball', over a period of time their individuals come up rather short in comparison to those that the other teams have.
To put it bluntly: Spurs have much better players than Bournemouth and, as a team that is equally well organised, should beat them.
Bournemouth's only doubt ahead of the game is Harry Arter. Otherwise, their regular and settled XI will play.
It would be so Tottenham of Tottenham to lose this, so I'm saying they'll win 2-0 and close the gap on Leicester.