Can Eddie Howe turn in his best Bournemouth campaign?
Background Photo: Ungry Young Man, CC BY 2.0
Friday night’s victory over Southampton in the South Coast derby put Bournemouth in the top six of the Premier League table. The Cherries have (yet again) made a statement that they aren’t a relegation-threatened club anymore.
Well, many could argue that their current league standing doesn’t matter until May, which is somewhat true and it’s still quite early to predict where they’ll eventually finish. However, you have to admire the work done by the whole club. Eddie Howe, the man in charge at the Vitality Stadium, is humble and realistic. The Englishman sets attainable goals, though he would know that nobody is expecting him to carry Bournemouth to a top-six finish. Perhaps the actual target should be to best their ninth-placed finish from the 2016/17 term.
While Howe will hold out hope of securing an unlikely place in continental competition for next campaign, there are problems that Bournemouth will need to fix. One particular concern is their shaky defence. The back line has never been a strong point for Howe’s side since they got promoted, with The Cherries conceding 60+ goals in all their campaigns in the top flight. Last season they let in 70; the third-worst in the division behind only Huddersfield and Fulham.
The reason why Bournemouth kept their heads above the water, eventually finishing 14th, was due to their proficiency in front of goal. Bournemouth struck more than any other side outside the top six - and finding the back of the net with regularity is what Howe's philosophy is built upon. If they can somehow continue scoring at drastically high rates while shoring up the defence, they've every chance at continuing to push up the table.
Perhaps an ageing backline was the reason why conceding goals have been such an issue, though heading into 2019/20, Nathan Ake is the only one who played regularly last term has done so this. Simon Francis and Charlie Daniels are being phased out, while signings Jack Stacey and Lloyd Kelly could be the long-term successors. Going forward, the young pair could well help turn a once-leaky defence into one that's watertight.
If Bournemouth wants to hold any hope of pulling off the impossible, Howe's boys must continue to function as a collective, tight-knit unit rather than their stars trying to play hero-ball. This is something The Cherries have been impeccable at since becoming a Premier League club - particularly on the counter-attack where last season, no team bested their nine goals on the break. A large chunk of that was either scored or created (or both) by a certain headline-making duo...
With 21 goals and 23 assists between them, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser’s telepathic synchronicity almost rewrote the history books of the Premier League last season. And despite interest from several parties during the summer, Bournemouth was able to keep hold of the duo. It's no surprise that the tandem will carry the bulk of the load once more...
Another pivotal factor that could well make the difference come May is Howe's work in the transfer market. Philip Billing, signed from relegated Huddersfield Town, has turned out to be an instant success. The young Dane has started every league game thus far, while excelling in the middle of the park due to his industrious work-rate.
The 23-year-old could prove to be one of the best signings made by Premier League clubs this season, though Jefferson Lerma and Lewis Cook will have something to say about that - while don't forget David Brooks should return from injury within the next month or so...
As they say, consistency is key. This is an area in which Howe will look to improve on, particularly towards the end of the season as Bournemouth's record isn't good enough during the crucial period of the campaign. Picking up points during those final few weeks of the term could be make or break.
All-in-all, we have to remember where Bournemouth have come from. Eddie Howe took over a sinking ship. Not only did the Englishman steady that ship, but he took it towards safety and now The Cherries are pushing their way up the table. Nobody would have thought this possible a decade ago, and whatever happens between now until season's end, you can bet your bottom dollar that Bournemouth fans will relish every single second of the ride.