Bournemouth have become a role model for the lower league teams of English football. Now entering their fourth season in their only ever run in the top flight, they are now a familiar face for fans of the Premier League, and the club itself has embraced that.
The south coast outfit have never been afraid to grab a hold of each season they’ve spent in the Premier League and have looked confident whenever they need to get out of a sticky situation. But where does the path lead now for Bournemouth? With consistent improvement such a key trait of the club over the last ten years, is it perhaps time to challenge for Europe, or will the Premier League finally catch up with the Cherries and send them to their demise? It’s a tough one to call.
The 2017/18 Season
Last season was another successful one for Bournemouth, comfortably avoiding relegation for the third time in a row. They finished in 12th place with 44 points – only one less point than the previous season in which they finished 9th.
However, if Bournemouth begin this season like they did the last, fans could be in for a frustrating start. The Cherries lost six of their opening eight games, causing some concern within the club. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that some of these losses were against the top clubs, and Bournemouth certainly ironed out these creases throughout the rest of the season.
It’s fair to say that these bigger teams were the ones that stopped Bournemouth from reaching higher up the table last year, so improved mentality and positive attitudes on these occasions could be the key.
Manager and Preferred Tactics
Eddie Howe is the longest serving manager in the Premier League and is also the youngest at 40 years old. Howe has been heavily involved at AFC Bournemouth since he started playing professional football and has spent nearly half his life at the club. For that reason, the fans know him well, and are very proud to have him as their manager.
And for good reason. The job he has done is nothing short of phenomenal. When Howe began his first managerial spell at Bournemouth, the club were in a League Two relegation battle, mostly due to the deduction of 17 points for going into administration. Under the management of a young but acquainted new manager, the team pulled themselves out of the relegation zone, and were promoted the following season.
After a short time managing Burnley, Howe found himself back at the Cherries in 2012, and a string of promotions steered Bournemouth to the top division, where they now stand fully integrated into the modern Premier League.
In terms of his tactical approach, Eddie Howe leans towards the possession side of football. If his team loses the ball, wherever this may be on the pitch, he wants them to get it back, and do their best to keep it. Passing is therefore just as crucial, and with that the players need to have a strong understanding between them, enforced by the team spirit that Howe tries to create as the boss.
Dutch defender Nathan Ake had a tremendous season at Bournemouth last year and won both the supporters’ and players’ votes for their player of the year. The 23-year-old began his senior career at Chelsea and scouts had their eyes on the young prospect from very early on. After loan spells at Reading, Watford and then Bournemouth, the Cherries signed the centre-back permanently last summer. One of the best interceptors around, Ake doesn’t lunge into unnecessary tackles, and has learnt to be in the right places at the right times. If he performs again this year, we could expect to see growing interest from some top clubs.
Up the other end, Joshua King has become an accustomed figure in the Premier League. At Bournemouth since 2015, the Norwegian has made exactly 100 league appearances for the club and scored 30 goals in those matches. Perhaps not one of the most prolific strikers in the league, one thing the forward does not lack is pace, and at almost six feet tall, he is certainly a force to be reckoned with. His teammates are constantly looking for his runs and with excellent ball control, King has remarkable ability to bring the ball down and finish the job off.
Captain – Simon Francis
33-year-old Bournemouth captain Simon Francis has been at the club for just short of seven years. Able to play as either a centre-back or a right-back, Francis isn’t the most glamorous player in the world, but he certainly knows how to defend. As a no-nonsense defender, he has been known to lose his head on occasions and has never gone through a Premier League season without being sent off.
Having said this, he clearly knows how to lead a team that he has seen rise to the top division and knows the kind of mentality that works best for both the team and the manager. After the end of the 2017/18 season, Francis signed a contract extension, meaning that he should remain at Bournemouth for at least another two seasons.
Bournemouth have made three new signings so far this transfer window – their first being Diego Rico from Spanish outfit CD Leganés. The left-back has an attacking mentality and desire to win the ball back, which will clearly suit Eddie Howe’s style of play at Bournemouth. Rico will be eager to make those overlapping runs and with his pinpoint crosses should be able to pick out someone in the middle. At 25 years old, he may have his best years ahead of him.
The Cherries have also acquired young attacking midfielder David Brooks from Sheffield United. The 21-year-old has been capped three times for Wales and was a key part of Sheffield’s return to the Championship. Brooks has shown promising passing ability as well as astute confidence and agility on the ball, meaning he could be one to look out for at Bournemouth.
Lastly, Bournemouth have signed Jefferson Lerma from Levante for a club-record £25m. The Colombian played all of his nation’s World Cup games, including the penalty shoot-out defeat to England, and is expected to add serious steel and quality to the Cherries’ midfield.
What’s Expected This Season?
A slight lack of signings could be a worry for Eddie Howe’s men, but the already established team are beginning to get used to comfortably surviving in the top flight. With a lot of teams inspired by recent successes of some of the lesser clubs over the last couple of seasons, Bournemouth can’t take their foot off the gas by any means. The desire to stay up is higher than ever, and the competition could be a tough one this year.
That’s not to say that Bournemouth don’t have that desire. They clearly do, as they have been on the up for pretty much successive seasons over the last ten years. So why should they break this trend? With Burnley reaching the Europa league spots last season, is it time for Bournemouth to move up a gear and aim for the top seven or eight themselves?