Premier League

Why Bournemouth have become stuck in mid-table no man's land

 • by Mark Thompson
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The Cherries, like the fruit, it seems, are only in season for a short period of the year. Bournemouth were ripe for top-seven contention for the first couple of months of the Premier League campaign but have been slightly ‘off’ ever since.

After ten games Eddie Howe’s side were sixth. They were two points off fourth, five ahead of tenth, and 15 away from the relegation places. Fast forward to mid-April and they sit 13th, 26 points off fourth, eight behind tenth, and only ten above Cardiff in 18th.

So what happened?

Put simply, they became bad. In the first ten matches, Bournemouth averaged around half an expected goal more than their opponents per match. Since it’s been the reverse.

Howe’s team are now taking fewer shots and, on average, lower-quality shots while conceding more shots and higher-quality ones. And on top of that –interestingly for a Howe team – they’ve dropped from having 49 per cent of possession to 45 per cent.

It appears their midfield has tailed off. As a team, the Cherries are getting to the final third less and their opponents are getting there more.

% of possession sequences reaching the final third

August - OctoberNovember - April
Bournemouth44.9%41.1%
Bournemouth's opponents45.7%48%

Bournemouth’s opponents are also managing to have longer periods of possession in matches.

In those first ten games, their opponents averaged 33.1 possession sequences per game where they strung together five or more passes. Since the start of November, those have jumped up to 39.5 five-plus pass sequences per game.

But why all this has changed is harder to put your finger on.

Bournemouth’s fixture schedule was unusually kind in the first quarter of the season, and when their form first dropped off, some said it wasn’t surprising given they had finally hit a tough batch of games.

However, the ship should’ve righted itself after Christmas, once the Cherries started playing the weaker teams again. But it hasn’t.

Injuries may be a factor. Adam Smith, Lewis Cook, and Dan Gosling all went down within quick succession in late November/early December. The injuries could have caused problems in themselves, and perhaps Howe had to juggle things tactically to deal with them as well, which could have disrupted their rhythm too.

Perhaps opponents figured out whatever game-plan was working so well. Callum Wilson has spent time out injured, but he’s also had a lot of time since November when he’s been playing but not scoring.

It’s just fortunate for Bournemouth they’re almost certain of safety. There are four teams, and ten points, between them and the drop zone after all. The story of 2018/19 seems to be that the Cherries were in-season, and then on the beach, far earlier than anyone expected.

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