Premier League

The Cherries are on top, and they deserve to be there

 • by Mark Thompson
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Bournemouth have got off to the season to a flyer, sitting fifth after three wins, one draw, and one defeat.

Although they’ve finished in ninth and 12th in the last two years, they were only six and eight points ahead of 17th place in those seasons – the kind of team who’s always above the relegation battle come the end of the year, but only just.

Their win 4-2 against Leicester City got them back to winning ways after dropping points to Chelsea and Everton, and it makes us ask the question: are Bournemouth legit?

Ticking every box

Cycling through various stats, Bournemouth tick a lot of boxes.

Before the international break they were seventh-best for expected goals and fourth-best for expected goals conceded. So far, so good.

But this is a big jump from last season, particularly on the defensive side. In 2017/18, they only ranked 11th for expected goals for and were fourth-worst in the league for expected goals conceded.

It’s not just in the shot-stats that they’re up near the top of the league. Across the first four games of the season, Bournemouth were getting to the final third in 47 percent of their sequences of possession, the third-highest rate in the league behind Manchester City and Liverpool.

A change in style?

Bournemouth always used to be known as a possession-based side, Eddie Howe seen as a potential successor to Arsène Wenger at Arsenal.

Their share of possession has dropped this season, though, down from 48 to 45 percent, and it’s reflected in their Football Whispers persona radar, which look at how a team or person play stylistically.

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There’s also been an increase in fast attacking, and maybe that’s been a factor in Bournemouth’s bigger threat this season.

Challenging for Europe?

Bournemouth aren’t the only ‘small’ side that are in the top six at the moment. Watford are up there too, despite their loss to Manchester United, but we’ve seen many a time before that these sides can fade away quickly.

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While everyone will be hoping they do a Leicester, or even a Newcastle, there’s almost one example per season where a smaller side will be in and around the European places early on, only to drop back to midtable (or, in Blackpool of 2010/11’s case, relegation).

Bournemouth’s stats are genuinely good though, even if we should take into account the strength of opposition they’ve played.

Their opening two games were against Cardiff and West Ham, who are particularly poor this season, and Leicester under Claude Puel have matches every now and then where they’re particularly out of sorts.

Still, their record gives a decent guide of where they might belong in the Premier League pack.

Losing against Chelsea is a healthy dose of reality, but the consistent wins against bottom-half or lower mid-table sides suggests the Cherries deserve a top-half finish at the very least.

The draw against Everton cements the idea that they deserve to be in that band of clubs just outside the Top Six. And, with a bit of luck, they might even finish a little higher.

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