The Season So Far
2017-18 threatened to be the season when all of Bournemouth’s good work in recent years, and Eddie Howe’s in particular, came undone. They never quite fell to pieces, but it certainly became apparent that many of Howe’s long-serving players, and more worryingly Howe’s ideas, appear not to be relevant anymore. This remains a small, family club with heartfelt ties between fans and club stalwarts and it has been agonising for all concerned to realise that so much of the squad will have to be overhauled in the summer.
To his credit, Howe is doing the absolute best he can and he’s getting the absolute maximum out of what he has, and it’s also worth stating that significant upgrades to the squad have happened this season: the additions of Asmir Begović and Nathan Aké are statements as well as canny additions and if the Cherries can add more quality and further evolve their playing style, they should be fine for years to come.
As ever, credit for Bournemouth’s mid-season recovery, just when it looked like they were going to be sucked into a relegation battle, must go to their manager. Just when it looked like Howe had run out of ideas, he sprung a change of system on the rest of the division and finally reinvigorated Bournemouth’s tired, predictable attack, inspiring a mini-surge up the table, out of the relegation zone and into relative safety in the now-perpetually relegation-threatened bottom-half. A recent comeback win at home to Arsenal and a mind-boggling demolition of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge demonstrated how successfully Howe has rejuvenated his side, and confirmed why he has been so well respected and highly rated for so long.
The Season Ahead
If there’s reason to belief Bournemouth can stay up it’s because Eddie Howe knows what he’s doing and because the squad definitely has goals in it: the likes of Callum Wilson, Josh King, Jermain Defoe, Junior Stanislas, Jordon Ibe and Ryan Fraser can most certainly produce the goods for the Cherries, especially under Howe’s able guidance, and the rest of the squad would run through brick walls to avoid relegation.
Furthermore, Bournemouth’s fixtures between now and the end of the season are actually pretty favourable. Of the nine games that remain, only three are against Big Six opponents and only one is away from home. That’s an awful lot of winnable games for them to take points in. While their season has had more than its fair share of agony, there’s light at the end of the tunnel and they should be able to reinforce over the summer and return stronger than ever.
In terms of tactical objectives, Bournemouth have stuck resolutely to their template from previous seasons, almost always playing a positionally conservative 4-4-1-1 aimed at closing off passing angles and protecting territory without the ball, while also providing their attackers with space to play in in the opposition half.
For a while Howe switched to an Antonio Conte-esque 3-4-2-1, aimed at solidifying their often-exposed defence, and getting their attackers the ball in more promising and exploitable central zones rather than driving them wide all the time, but in recent weeks Bournemouth have returned to their tried and trusted 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 with renewed confidence.
While the defence remains basically symbolic – they’ve kept one clean sheet since November – their attack has woken up, and even with a defence as porous as this they’ve only lost one of their last ten league games, with wins coming against Everton, Arsenal, Chelsea and Stoke.
Their level of tactical organisation is always impressive and it’s worth bearing in mind that without the scaffolding and support that Howe gives his players with his set-up and his instructions, most of his players would look out of their depth at this level. In that sense their biggest strength is, at it has always been, their manager.
Aside from that they have the aforementioned hot-shot finishers, with Callum Wilson leading the scoring charts with seven and overperforming admirably against Expected Goals. In recent weeks they’ve looked much more dangerous than in the first half of the season: Spurs should be wary of allowing their attackers too much space in which to receive the ball and if the ball falls to Wilson or to Josh King in the penalty area, it’s probably going to end up in the net or at least work Hugo Lloris.
Bournemouth’s primary aim has always been very simple: to create more high-quality chances than their opponents can, while allowing their opponents to discernibly outplay them. Being out-passed or out-shot has never mattered all that much – what has mattered and what still matters is the quality of the passes their opponents were allowed to make versus the quality of Bournemouth’s passes, and consequently the quality of the shots created by both sides.
Over the first half of this season that looked to have gone to pieces. Bournemouth were getting hugely outshot, which was nothing new, but crucially, they were performing worse than their opponents in both boxes: in simple words, they were making bad chances and shooting inaccurately, while at the same time giving away good chances and being punished by them.
Their performances over the last couple of months have gone some way to righting that wrong and the stats make much better reading than they did in October and November, but it’s still not great: Bournemouth have the fourth worst Expected Goals ratio in the Premier League; they still have a below-average conversion rate for the season as a whole; it’s still the case that only two teams have played more football in their own half this season.
It’s also true that Spurs’ record against Bournemouth is excellent. They’ve won three of their five Premier League meetings by three goals or more and the Cherries have only ever scored once against them – in the first minute of the first game. That means they’ve played 450 minutes of football against Tottenham without scoring.
We shouldn’t expect too many surprises.
Spurs are a wounded animal after a painful Champions League exit and they’ll be looking to bounce back with a vengeance. I wouldn’t want to be a Bournemouth fan on Sunday.