Eddie Howe must get best out of Jermain Defoe to fend off relegation
Eddie Howe needs to coax the best out of Jermain Defoe if Bournemouth is to fend off relegation.
The Cherries are by no means struggling. They aren't in the midst of a crisis. They aren't spiralling towards certain relegation, unlike West Ham United and Swansea City, who both seem destined for England's second tier.
They sit five points ahead of the relegation zone, above Newcastle United, Huddersfield Town and West Bromwich Albion, before Crystal Palace who currently sits 18th. Yet they're living precariously.
Newcastle United, one would think, will pick themselves up under the savvy management of Rafa Benitez; West Brom should be revitalised under Alan Pardew, who is the master of the manager bounce, only if his tenures inevitably slip into irrelevancy; Palace, under Roy Hodgson, are showing signs of improvement and should have enough quality to rid themselves of such danger. That leaves just Huddersfield, who will presumably be fighting until the last few weeks, and the two sides currently rooted to the bottom.
Stoke City and Brighton Hove Albion, who sit one and two points above Howe's side respectively, shouldn't be sucked into a scrap, either.
So, relegation is not exactly imminent. But the prospect lingers on the periphery and a dip in form will surely see the be menacingly pulled into the quicksand.
This was supposed to be a season where the Cherries cemented their impressive first two years with gradual signs of progression. Could they be safe in the league and mount a cup run? They may well achieve these things, but at the moment, it is looking unlikely.
No wins in three, a tricky trip to Selhurst Park and a daunting pile-up of fixtures mean they need Defoe to start firing. He has not hit the form he displayed at Sunderland and, suddenly, the investment in the Premier League veteran is not looking so shrewd.
Bournemouth will travel to Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, while hosting Liverpool in the four fixtures following the trip to Palace. If ever there were games where Howe needed a clinical striker to firing, it will be in the coming weeks. Bournemouth will not be presented with a plethora of chances against these 'Big Boys' nor may they be granted opportunity against Palace - they need someone who can bury his shot instantly, a ruthless finisher who can take one chance.
Currently, they do not have that. Defoe fits the mould, but he has been stale so far. One goal all season is not the return Cherry fans were hoping for. The Englishman scored 15 goals last season, and the one before that, in a dire Sunderland side. Yet in a team who likes to play slick, vibrant football, Defoe is struggling.
Defoe is averaging just one shot per game. This is lamentable for a striker; either the service is not good enough or Defoe is simply not getting shots off.
Defoe is rumoured to be on a club-record salary, and while wage is never truly an indicator of quality - take a look at flops such as Radamel Falcao, who's salary was staggering at Manchester United - Defoe has not lived up to expectation.
Howe must find a way to get the best out of Defoe, and fast. Fail to do so and the Cherries could be, conceivably, looking at five straight defeats and that would likely put them in the bottom three.