Leicester City’s extraordinary season has hogged the vast majority of the limelight this season and deservedly so, but the praise and attention they have greedily gobbled up has unfortunately left a couple of Premier League clubs without their fair share. Watford for example have had an incredible first season back in England’s top flight, but Bournemouth in particular deserve to be showered in haughty praise and back slapping for their Premier League debut campaign.
Even now in late April, with Bournemouth’s Premiership survival all but confirmed, plenty of football fans would be hard pressed to name their entire starting XI or even recognize some of their players if they passed them on the street. It’s testament to just how far under the radar they have flown and how underappreciated their efforts have been. Their crest may look like a woman playing football in the shower, but Bournemouth have been nobody’s soppy bitch this season.
What has made their achievements even more noteworthy has been the style of play employed by Eddie Howe. Trusting a squad largely assembled in England’s lower leagues to play a technical passing game takes plenty of balls. Their considered, ultra-calm precision passing almost looks out of place in the 11,000 capacity Dean Court – and I mean that in an absolutely complimentary way. It would be easy to imagine that the team in black and red was some polished continental side playing on the south coast by invitation.
Howe, who looks more like a work placement student than a tactical professor, will be understandably thrilled that his approach has helped Bournemouth achieve safety relatively comfortably, but he mustn’t stand still. Consistently adhering to his footballing principles is commendable, but Bournemouth’s lack of tactical flexibility could also prove to be their undoing next season when they are tasked with repeating their trick.
There is no shame in playing a more cynical, counter attacking style in certain games when that alternative is required. That wouldn’t be an abandonment of principles, but more a necessary development in variety – another string to Howe’s tactical bow. Sometimes idealism can almost lead to tunnel vision in terms of a football team’s direction.
I’m sure Bournemouth would prefer more points instead of praise following games against the leagues better sides. You can’t always go toe-to-toe with teams of considerably higher quality. Bravery can only get you so far.
Playing 4-4-2 against a 5 man midfield, especially when Bournemouth’s central pairings tend to be more technical and subtle rather than athletic and aggressive, will always prove extremely difficult. It can often lead to a soul destroying game of chasing shadows. It’s something Howe has yet to address properly, although the current midfield options at his disposal leave him little room for improvement as things stand.
That’s why identifying a ball winning central midfielder or two with bite and stamina will surely be top of Howe’s summer transfer wish list. Bournemouth have made the 6th fewest tackles per game (18.6) this season which seems incredibly low for a team in 14th place.
Defensively overall, conceding 61 goals so far is bound to be a major concern. Only the bottom two clubs (Aston Villa and Newcastle) have conceded more. 15 of those have come in the last 5 games, a tough run that included games against Spurs, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but tough as those defeats will be to take, their timing could prove oddly positive.
With the transfer window fast approaching, the string of heavy defeats brings in to firm focus the need for defensive reinforcements. Silver linings and all that. That’s not to say the Cherries are stuttering over the line either. In fact they have had a stronger second half of the season statistically speaking.
At the other end of the pitch, there is plenty of pace, if a little similarity in terms of their attacking options. A lot will rest on Callum Wilson’s form next season when he returns fully from his cruciate ligament injury and Bournemouth will hope he can be the striker to provide what would be a most welcome 15+ goals next season. Josh King and Benik Afobe offer speed without the requisite end product however and Howe will surely be in the market for an alternative.
That market will be a tricky one to navigate for Bournemouth who now have the financial capability of shopping in some very different departments. There will be bundles of lovely TV cash to throw around and Bournemouth will have to be clever enough not to fall into the same traps as Aston Villa, Newcastle and others by being duped into signing substandard players with fancy names overseas. They must aim for quality over quantity.
It would be remiss of me to finish this article by poking holes in what has been an overwhelmingly positive season for Bournemouth. Their target of Premier League survival has been achieved with impressive and comparative ease. Their squad will only need a little tweaking here and there to be competitive again next year. And even though Leicester have been dominating the column inches, their unlikely success allows Bournemouth fans to dream big – maybe next season’s Premiership will finish with a Cherry on top? I’m sure they will be happy just to be there.