I’ve spent an hour or two (or three, or four) on the beaches along the Dorset coast over the last few years. And I reckon Alum Chine at Bournemouth is my favorite.
Which is odd because it’s almost smack bang in the middle of my personal football hell.
A few miles down the coast lies Sandbanks, home of Harry Redknapp, maybe one of my least favorite managers of all time. The game’s Donald Trump equivalent, a man who once said:
“Whether it is 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, the numbers game is not the beautiful game in my opinion.”
Before uttering in his next sentence: “It's 10% about the formation and 90% about the players.”
A few miles in the opposite direction stands the Vitality Stadium, the soccer home of Eddie Howe, a manager whose name I’ve physically winced at every time someone mentions it being on the list for the latest Everton boss vacancy.
Unlike Harry, when Howe opens his gob, nonsense doesn’t pour forth. He comes across really well and speaks intelligently. I just don’t like the way he sets up his football team. Eddie Howe couldn’t control a game to save his life.
As a neutral, watching Bournemouth in the Premier League has been a great experience. The Cherries play with great energy both in and out of possession and their games are end to end. Unfortunately for Bournemouth, it’s mostly been at their end.
The expected goals numbers against Howe’s side have been fairly horrendous every season in the Premier League. To the extent that a certain James Yorke of this parish perennially picks them to get relegated. I’ve never been that down on them myself, but I’d never wanted Howe anywhere near my beloved Blues either.
But something changed.
First up, let’s have a look at the shot maps from last season after 10 games (left) and this season after 10 games (right):
Okay, so they’ve had an easier set of opening fixtures this season but the reduction in expected goals against is pretty crazy. And okay, they still concede an above average amount of shots per game, but look at the reduction in shot quality against per shot: 0.104 last season, 0.073 this. That’s enormous.
Not only that, but looking at the team’s rolling expected goal trends at both ends you see that they’re doing better in attack too:
Numbers wise, it’s clear to see why Bournemouth were 19th in the table this time last year and they’re 6th in the table now. But what about what’s happened on the pitch?
First up, with Callum Wilson fully available this season, Howe has committed to having two center forwards on the pitch as much as possible. Bournemouth have regularly played in a fairly traditional 4-4-2 set-up. It’s a bit too simple to say attackers attack, defenders defend and midfielders, er, midfield but you get the gist.
Fullbacks are more and more important in the modern game and Bournemouth’s are no exception. They’re charged with getting forward a lot. How their forays are covered seems to have changed somewhat.
Last season, the side was terrible at preventing the opposition getting into the box in open play. This was particularly the case on the left hand side to cover Charlie Daniels bombing forward. Andrew Surman got the easy job. However, Dan Gosling’s defensive pressure map was nuts considering he played as a center mid for pretty much all his minutes:
Partnering with Jefferson Lerma this season, Gosling has kept shape far more, no longer having all the responsibility to cover Daniels:
Bournemouth’s wide midfielders Ryan Fraser and David Brooks are getting lots of praise for their attacking prowess this season. When I’ve watched them, my pragmatism takes hold and I love seeing them tuck in, making a decent show of protecting their fullbacks. They’re not even that great at it, but just that extra presence makes a difference. Flanks are protected.
The middle is protected. Fraser now mostly on the left, performs a nice solid block in the middle third. A bit less aggressive further up field than last season, he drops off more into a conservative position:
On the other side, Brooks provides a more consistent steady approach to defending his flank than the likes of Ibe gave last season. With the steadier central pairing in place, Brooks isn’t having to drift inside as much to cover the middle either:
Not only do Bournemouth have a more straightforward organisational structure off the ball now, they also have the most fun central striking pairing in the Premier League. In Joshua King and Wilson, the Cherries have the icing on the cake. Two willing workers and runners to harry opposition defenders who dally on the ball. Wilson is off the scale:
With the rest of the team in a more orthodox and conservative shape, any quick transitions when opponents moves break down are ‘dip yer bread’ territory for the pacey front two, often with half a pitch to run into. It’s a sight to behold. You should definitely make room for more Bournemouth in your life, despite the oncoming winter chill.
Header image courtesy of the Press Association