England

Howe can't afford to ignore Bournemouth's early warning signs

 • by Will Evans
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Bournemouth are rightly regarded as one of English football’s success stories following the south coast side’s rise from the depths of League Two to the promised land of the Premier League.

From staving off relegation from the Football League despite a 17 point deduction in 2008/09, to the scintillating football played under manager Eddie Howe en route to the top flight, Bournemouth’s tale is a compelling one.

But is the widespread admiration for the Cherries’ achievements clouding the judgement of supporters and pundits when it comes to assessing their start to the 2019/20 campaign?

Few people were tipping Bournemouth for relegation prior to the season getting underway, and little appears to have changed in that regard.

That’s despite their opening four games yielding just four points, including a disappointing 1-1 draw with newly-promoted Sheffield United.

There’s no need to be unnecessarily alarmist, of course, and it’s fair to say that a degree of context shines a slightly more positive light on those recent results.

Howe’s men have beaten Aston Villa away from home, were probably never likely to pick up a point against champions Manchester City, and Sheffield United’s recent draw with Chelsea indicates that they should perhaps be considered a better side than many initially thought.

Even Bournemouth’s latest result – a 3-1 defeat at Leicester City – is hardly a disastrous scoreline on the road, against a side that could be in the reckoning for a Champions League spot come the end of the season.

But it’s the underlying statistics that paint a more worrying picture when it comes to the Cherries prospects this term. Howe has been lauded for sticking to his attacking principles since winning promotion to the Premier League, but his team have had limited success in the final third during their opening matches.

Bournemouth are one of the divisions seven worst teams when it comes to big chances created (just one per 90 minutes played), completed dribbles (eight per match) and shots (an average of 10.75 per game).

The Cherries’ cross completion of 2.5 per 90 is the second-worst in the league and they’ve averaged just 16.50 touches in the opposition area per 90, only two sides have managed fewer.

Philip Billing is a new arrival at Bournemouth this season

An average of 143.50 forward passes per 90 (the fourth worst in the Premier League) adds to a sense that Bournemouth are struggling to attack with the same fluidity that we’ve seen in recent seasons, but their defence has looked familiarly porus in their past few games.

Only one team has won fewer defensive duels than Howe’s side (7.50 per 90), and their 8.75 dispossessions per match is similarly poor.

While a low number of tackles could be a sign of good defensive positioning, Bournemouth have attempted the least tackles of any top-flight team (13.75 per 90) – something that could hint at a sense of lethargy in the Cherries’ backline.

These problems have been compounded by a lengthy injury list, which currently includes Simon Francis, Dan Gosling, David Brooks, Charlie Daniels, Lloyd Kelly, Junior Stanislas, Lewis Cook, Chris Mepham and Adam Smith.

The volume of absentees suggests things should improve for Bournemouth once some of those players return to fitness, and that perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom for football fans on the south coast.

Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake in action for the Cherries

Indeed optimists among Bournemouth’s fanbase would point to their four points on the board and present it as a pretty healthy return, considering the number of players who are on the treatment table and the opponents faced.

But it’s hard to ignore concerning numbers when looking back on the Cherries opening matches.

Howe is an astute manager and it seems unlikely that Bournemouth will drop out of the Premier League on his watch, but there are clear warning signs that need addressing if his team are to avoid getting dragged into a relegation dogfight.

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