Bournemouth survived their maiden Premier League campaign by five points. Eddie Howe steered The Cherries to 16th place and did so having lost key players to devastating injuries. Record signing Tyrone Mings, striker Callum Wilson and winger Max Gradel all suffered season ending torn ACLs by September.
Last season was about survival for Bournemouth. They hit several icebergs on their voyage yet refused to be sank. Such icebergs included playing so openly against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs in back to back games – shipping ten goals in the process (a lot of seafaring analogies).
Howe’s side also dropped 14 points from winning positions with only Liverpool dropping more. Some very harsh lessons for the coastal outfit.
Their first year of being a Magikarp in a sea full of Gyarados saw them survive in an impressive manner. Now the question is: Can they push up the table? Can they in fact achieve a top ten finish in just their second season in the Premier League?
The proposal does not sound as preposterous when their season as a whole is put under the microscope. Bournemouth finished on 42 points, just eight behind Chelsea who finished tenth. Had Bournemouth collected those 14 aforementioned points they dropped from winning positions they would have placed an astonishing ninth. In context – if they manage to secure three more wins in the 2016/17 season they will crack the 50 point barrier and be well in the running for a top ten finish.
To do that, Howe will have to bring more joy to the Vitality Stadium. Bournemouth triumphed just five times at home last season with eight losses including 1-0 defeats to now Championship sides Aston Villa and Newcastle United.
Howe is presented to many of us as England’s great new managerial hope. At just 38 years old and successfully managing in the Premier League many tip him for greatness. With such hype comes forgetfulness – we forget that he is still a very young manager with a lot to learn especially at such a high level. Howe’s arrow is pointing upwards but one area of improvement – as well as Bournemouth holding onto leads – is their need to turn games around after conceding the first goal. The Cherries collected a lowly four points when they were breached first.
Howe will have much better personnel available to him when the season ambushes us in just over two weeks with Mings, Wilson and Gradel all available as well as the addition of exciting winger Jordan Ibe from Liverpool and engine room Lewis Cook from Leeds. That brings Bournemouth’s total of English players to 13 – for that reason alone we should all root for them to succeed.
The way to turning draws into wins and losses into draws is down to goals. Bournemouth lost six games by one goal last term. The firepower will be much improved with Ibe and Gradel supplying the ammunition for Wilson, Joshua King and January signing Benik Afobe to put away. The strikers will also have to come up with the goods as between the three of them they only managed to find the net 15 times combined. Afobe started well but soon tapered off as supply dried up and he failed to take the precious chances which fell to him.
Howe’s men found the net 45 times a very acceptable rate for a team looking to survive but if Bournemouth want to crack the top ten they will need more – but they are in pole position to score more with the added fire power.
While their number of goals scored must increase the number of goals they concede must decrease – by a lot. Only relegated Aston Villa conceded more than the 67 goals The Cherries shipped. Their central defensive partnership should be a pairing of Mings and the very capable Nathan Ake whom they have acquired on loan from Chelsea. Last season saw them lose five games by more than two goals including their October thrashings by Man City and Spurs.
To concede around 15 less goals would be a big ask but not an impossible one with the gain in experience and a reinforced defensive options.
Looking ahead to their season in 2016/17 Bournemouth open the season in difficult fashion. Starting at home to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United before travelling to West Ham’s new home hoping to crash their house warming party. They end August with a tricky trip to Crystal Palace.
Once the early season rust is out of the way October presents some very winnable fixtures for Howe’s squad with away days at Watford and Middlesbrough sandwiching a home clash with Hull City. Teams gunning for the top ten will need to collect at least six points from nine – a very achievable target for such a talented club.
December may be a month to batten down the hatches as a turbulent December lays in wait for the plucky underdogs. Bournemouth square off again champions Leicester, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, Liverpool and Southampton – who are undergoing their annual permanent trip to Merseyside. Bournemouth may consider themselves fortunate to collect one win from those games but have shown in the past that they can beat the big boys securing back to back December wins over Chelsea and Manchester United – albeit a very stale Chelsea and Man United.
The closing fixtures are much kinder to Bournemouth and present them with ample opportunity to push into the top ten. They face just two sides who finished in the top six last season – Spurs and Leicester both away – with very winnable games against promoted sides Burnley and Middlesbrough both having to visit the south coast.
The order is tall for Bournemouth to obtain a top ten finish but since Leicester ushered in an era of anything being possible the notion that the underdogs could rise into the top half of the table is not in the realms of fantasy. Like Leicester, Bournemouth have made a habit of defying the odds.