With Eddie Howe’s side riding high, are any additions needed this January? We take a look at where they might need to strengthen, and who could be up for the job.
After 17 games last season, Bournemouth found themselves on 16 points. This year, they’re sitting much more comfortably on 23. The side have been on a very poor run since the start of November, losing six of the last seven games, but an outstanding start to the season still keeps them well ahead of last year’s pace. While the attack has remained largely the same, generating 1.18 expected goals per game compared to last year’s 1.15, Howe has been able to run a tighter ship on the defensive side of the ball, with Bournemouth now conceding 1.31 xG per game against last season’s 1.52. As seen on the radar comparison below, Bournemouth have turned the high press down a notch, and are allowing the opposition to have longer spells of possession before attempting to win the ball back. The improved form of Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser, along with the quick impact of new signing David Brooks, has helped the attack keep ticking along while the team have gone to a more conservative approach.
Though variants of back 3 systems have been employed in certain games, for the most part Bournemouth have gone for broadly a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 shape. The attacking quartet of Brooks, Fraser, Wilson and Joshua King have been able to form a good relationship in possession while working hard off the ball. King, Brooks and Wilson are leading Bournemouth in terms of pressures per 90 and while Fraser has been much less aggressive in that department, his attacking play has gone some way toward compensating. When it comes to xG assisted per 90, the Scotsman is behind only Eden Hazard, Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Mohamed Salah this season. Most would agree that those players are fine company for Fraser to find himself in.
It’s in central midfield where things have been a little less settled. Though Lewis Cook had something of a breakout season in the role last year, Howe sprung a surprise early in this campaign by leaving him on the bench in favour of Andrew Surman and Dan Gosling. With Cook seemingly not trusted and new signing Jefferson Lerma not yet integrated into the side, Gosling and Surman formed not exactly the most exciting of partnerships, but presented a more solid block in front of the back four, and were a big part of Bournemouth’s fairly dramatic defensive improvement. Though, as can be seen from the radars below, these two don’t really offer much beyond solid positioning and improved midfield stability.
Howe thus had a conundrum. The club set themselves a new transfer fee record in acquiring Lerma, and as such he would need to be brought into the side. Lerma is largely a conventional holding midfielder, so his inclusion did not pose a huge threat to the team’s defensive stability. That he leads Bournemouth in tackles and interceptions per 90 is enough indication of what he is about. The slightly more complicated issue sat at the feet of Cook. The Englishman was a crucial player for Bournemouth last season, leading the side in deep progressions. Generally alongside either Surman or Gosling, it was Cook who had the ability to really move the ball forward in midfield, either through his adept passing or comfort in dribbling through central areas. The problem was that Bournemouth were far too porous last year. The Cherries’ 1.52 expected goals conceded per game was the second worst in the whole of the Premier League. Howe’s instincts were right in that he needed to better protect the back four. The plan, thus, seemed to be to wait until Lerma was ready to start games, in the hope that the Cook/Lerma combination would be able to provide attacking impetus without sacrificing defensive protection. This has been the preferred option since October, and while it should be stressed that harder fixtures have played a notable role, Bournemouth’s xG conceded has seen a worrying uptick since the midfield changes were made.
In the meantime, Cook has suffered a horrible stroke of bad fortune with a season ending injury. This is obviously a huge blow, and it is entirely reasonable to think that, over time, he could have found the form of last season once again. But in the games he played this campaign, he looked a long way off his past swagger, unable to progress the ball like he once did while also offering less on the defensive side.
So the solution is to stick with Lerma, Surman and Gosling and keep things compact, right? Well, Bournemouth may have some trouble getting the ball into dangerous areas that way. So far this season, none of the central midfielders have been able to provide much in the way of deep progressions. The players most involved in moving the ball into the final third are the full backs, Charlie Daniels and Simon Francis. Relying on these players to move the ball forward is never ideal, but the problem is exacerbated as both are in their thirties. Having them consistently move high up the pitch could come to haunt Bournemouth as their legs tire later in the season.
So what Bournemouth should be looking for is a central midfielder who can move the ball forward in Cook’s absence, but without a huge cost to the side’s defensive structure that has often been vulnerable in the past. This is a fairly hard criteria to find players to fill, especially given that for a club like Bournemouth, who are trying to move up the Premier League food chain, they should be targeting players who are on the younger end of the spectrum so there can be surplus value in future transfer sales. Someone like Thiago Mendes, who has been quite good at Lille and fits a lot of what Bournemouth are looking for, would have been an interesting target. However, he’s turning 27 in March so he doesn’t quite fit the timeline that Bournemouth should be working with. Also, despite the major advantage of being a Premier League team in 2018, Bournemouth still have to contend with other clubs in their own division with greater financial power.
There are young midfielders who fits the type of profile that Bournemouth are looking for, but a fair number of them aren’t realistic targets. Players like Fabian Ruiz, Adrien Rabiot and Tanguy N’Dombele are either at elite clubs or destined to move to elite clubs in the near future. Yves Bissouma could have potentially fit what Bournemouth are looking for, but he moved to a Brighton over the summer and even with some of the struggles Bissouma has experienced this season, it’s hard to see Brighton giving him to a midtable rival so soon after acquiring him.
Armed with that knowledge, it makes shopping for potential targets a challenging task, but it isn’t impossible, and there are some players that bring skills to the table that should be of interest to Bournemouth
It doesn’t take much effort to see the appeal of Hamed Junior Traorè. In today’s age, having a midfielder who can both pass and create space individually off the dribble on a consistent basis is a necessity if you want to compete on a higher level. At this point, Traore shows flashes of being a high level zone mover from the midfield position more than consistently being that type of player, but the flashes certainly are tantalizing.
The best thing about Traore’s passing is his ability to see when his teammates make runs off the ball and his corresponding attempts to get them open for potentially dangerous scoring chance. His execution isn’t quite there yet, though his passing in short distances is solid. Considering that he’s only 18 years old and he’s playing in a top-5 league, it’s understandable that he’s not the fully realized version. It very well may be that with more reps under his belt, he’ll be able to make some of these passes with greater regularity.
There are questions to be asked about Traore’s fit on Bournemouth from a defensive standpoint. Empoli apply heavy pressure on opponent across the pitch, which ratchets up individual pressure stats for their midfielders. It’s fair to wonder how he’ll integrate into a unit that employs a more orthodox 4-4-2 setup and doesn’t emphasize closing down opponents as Empoli do.
Still, Traore has a high ceiling and would represent the clearest attempt at finding a future star for a club like Bournemouth. If Traore hits his 80th (or higher) percentile outcomes as a player, you could easily envision a scenario where one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs hoovers him up for a sizable fee. It’s perhaps hard to see this being a transfer that occurs in January, given Traore’s age and Empoli need to avoid relegation, and Traore’s destiny might be moving up the Serie A food chain to one of the bigger Italian clubs, but Traore would be the kind of high upside bet that Bournemouth have not done enough of over the years.
The value that comes from finding an average to slightly above average Premier League player on the cheap is huge, especially for clubs like Bournemouth who have to hit on the margins more often if they want to continue moving up the ranks in the league. One can look at how Brighton got lots of mileage out of their signing of Pascal Gross for £3 million, helping them maintain their status comfortably above relegation. Even Liverpool have been helped immensely by getting talented players on the margins like Andrew Robertson and Xherdan Shaqiri. Getting good production from players on cheap fees helps!
Joan Jordán could be someone who fits that bill. With his transfer fee at only €1M in the summer of 2017 and Eibar currently in 13th place in La Liga, it’s hard to see Eibar asking for a premium in a future transfer, which should have someone like Bournemouth interested. Jordan has been productive this season as a swiss army knife player, being deployed in numerous positions while providing quality two-way production.
The best way to describe Jordan’s game would be smooth. He’s a comfortable passer who doesn’t need too many touches to make his next move, he’s not afraid to take risks with his passes and he’s even provided value as a set piece creator this season. Unlike Traore, who is a bundle of energy and doesn’t need much invitation to drive the ball forward, Jordan is much more comfortable getting the near midfield, using his guile to shift away from opponents before getting the ball to an open teammate in the halfspace areas.
Jordan may not have the same upside that Traore does based on their respective skillsets and the fact he’s more than five years older and it’s fair to wonder if Jordan can translate his two-way production to a higher tempo league given he’s not the quickest player out there, but given the probable cheap price and Jordan’s ability to sprinkle in goals and assists as a midfielder, it’s a low risk/medium reward transfer that could conceivably become a net positive.
In isolation, Adrien Tameze has been a quality player since getting regular minutes last season at Nice. We have 1.5 seasons of evidence to suggest that Tameze is the kind of midfielder that has solidly thread the needle between being a midfielder capable of racking up defensive numbers as the base of a midfield three, while also showing proficiency as a passer. That’s a hard balancing act to do, and it makes Tameze a valuable player. The problem with Tameze in relation to Bournemouth is that he probably represents a better version of what Jefferson Lerma was brought to be.
Given that Bournemouth spent a lot of money on Lerma over the summer (though it’s fair to wonder whether they should’ve done that in the first place) it’s safe to assume that they’re going to try and extract as much value as possible from Lerma whenever he’s on the pitch moving forward. Playing a Tameze, Lerma midfied pivot would bring questions about whether there’s enough offensive value being put on the table with those two. The very question that Bournemouth is entering the marketplace to try and solve.
Tameze’s passing may not be dynamic enough to assuage those concerns since he isn’t much of a chance creator, but he can pass the ball. He’s comfortable doing one-touch passes during rondo sequences or helping to maintain possession and slowing down the pace by recycling the ball. Tameze can make functional short passes where a teammate is open between the lines, and he gets the ball to him without the teammate breaking stride. He’s also cognizant of teammates making off-ball runs and attempting to get them the ball in dangerous areas.
If Nice’s asking price for Adrien Tameze is in the £13-15 million range, then it’s probably something that’s still worth exploring for Bournemouth. Tameze is a good player who is still young enough that if he hits big as a transfer and becomes a stud, you can sell him off and make a noteworthy profit. If the price is closer to what Fulham paid for Andre Zambo Anguissa, then things get a bit more dicey. Putting down roughly £50 million on two midfielders who broadly function in similar roles, even if one of them is better than the other, is something Bournemouth perhaps shouldn’t do.
The one major black mark against Eddie Howe’s hugely successful time managing Bournemouth has been in the transfer market. Armed with greater resources than he could have imagined when the club were in the Football League, Howe has too often stuck with the more familiar option of signing players from within the United Kingdom. The move to splash the cash on Lerma represented something of a break from this, though even he had featured notably in the World Cup for Colombia. Players such as Traore, Jordán and Tameze represent the kind of reasonably priced options from good leagues that Howe should be interested in, especially considering his ability to develop younger players. If he were able to develop some of the less complete but talented prospects around Europe, Bournemouth could really push on as a club over the next few years.