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As cliche as it sounds, Eddie Howe has done a magnificent job at Bournemouth. The 39-year-old took them from League One to the Premier League and, not only that, he managed to secure league survival during their debut campaign playing football the right way. It’s a fairytale we’re all familiar with.
Originally, many called him naive and sometimes even stubborn because he stuck with what brought him success, a system which suited his players, and in the end he got his just rewards. Howe isn’t a reactive manager, he’s proactive. He spent the 2016 summer tweaking his system to ensure they could build on their Premier League status. He didn’t go into safe mode but he did make a few conservative changes to the way his team played. It’s not sustainable to concede 67 goals (the amount Bournemouth conceded last season) in the Premier League and hope for a mid-table finish. Of the three relegated clubs last season only Aston Villa (76) conceded more goals than Eddie Howe’s men. Norwich City conceded 67 and Newcastle conceded 65. On average Bournemouth were conceding 1.76 goals scoring just 1.18 per match.
So far this season they’re conceding, on average, 1.46 goals per game. They did concede 10 goals in the three matches against Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United which sounds a lot but looking at the bigger picture it means in the other 10 matches they’ve played in the league they’re conceding less than a goal a game. In the opening 13 games of the 2015/16 season Bournemouth conceded 27 goals. They’re 9 points better off this season already. They still play football with the ball on the deck but they’ve almost evolved into a counter attacking team at times.
The Bournemouth Defensive Shape.
In the two pictures above, taken from matches against Sunderland and Stoke, you get to see how Bournemouth shape up defensively. Bournemouth like to get at least 8 outfield players behind the ball with the four defenders becoming narrow, the two centre-midfielders offering the back four protection with the wide midfielders dropping back. It’s effectively two compact lines of four. The spare man is usually Jack Wilshere, the number 10, who drops back to put pressure on the player(s) on the ball. They look to win it back and play it forward quickly to the striker which, as of late, is Callum Wilson in an attempt to utilise his pace.
However, if the counter isn’t on they slow the play down and look to build from the back.
Building From The Back.
The picture, taken during Bournemouth’s win away at Stoke, shows the positions the Bournemouth midfielders take up when the team looks to play their way out from the back. The centre-backs split, not as far as some for other teams but there is a fair amount of distance between them. The centre-midfielders, Dan Gosling and Harry Arter, both take up positions to receive the ball off either of the centre-backs. They stagger their positions though so the passing lanes aren’t easily blocked off. In this instance the Stoke press isn’t high so the Bournemouth full-backs keep their width and stay higher up.
Taken from the same match it shows Stoke with a higher press. The Bournemouth full-backs aren’t as high up the pitch but if you look at the positioning of the Bournemouth players there are passing triangles all over the show. In theory it’s harder to keep them hemmed in and they won’t be forced to go long.
If Bournemouth successfully build from the back you often see a picture similar to the one above. Both full-backs are high up the pitch and keep the width which allows the wide players, Jordon Ibe and Junior Stanislas, to drift centrally and impact the game there. As shown in the picture the fact Bournemouth keep their full-backs so high and allow their wide players to drift in means spaces appear in the oppositions defence which Bournemouth’s speedsters can exploit.
Jack Wilshere’s Impact.
It came as a shock to many when Arsenal allowed Jack Wilshere to leave on loan and even more of a surprise when he opted to join Bournemouth. But on paper the move made sense; Bournemouth like to play football which suits Wilshere, he’s guaranteed minutes and he’s able to play centrally instead of being shunted out wide. He’s yet to claim a goal or an assist but his influence on the team is there for all to see. Despite his young age he’s an experienced head in what would otherwise be an inexperienced squad in terms of top level quality. His vision, ability and execution give Bournemouth that extra dimension in attack and he unlocks defences with relative ease. It was shrewd on Howe’s part to bring him in.
Wilshere has been starting in the number 10 position. It appears Howe wants him as close to the oppositions goal as possible in an attempt to play those incisive passes he’s capable of. But he’s not shackled to that role and he’s given license to roam. In the picture above he’s dropped back to pick the ball up off one of the centre-midfielders and he’s not been tracked. He’s able to turn on the ball and face the Stoke goal before driving forward. In his absence we see Stanislas has drifted into the space Wilshere vacated and one pass from Wilshere to Stanislas basically nullifies the Stoke press and takes six of their players out of the game.
If he holds his position in attacking midfield Stoke have the ability to press Bournemouth purely because of how many bodies they’ve committed forward.
Wilshere has the variation in his game to do that. To drop deep and turn defence into attack.
In the picture above you see Wilshere pick up space, turn on the ball and thread a reverse pass through to Afobe (a former Arsenal teammate of his). Afobe could’ve left it for Josh King because Bournemouth did have the extra man on that flank. Many would play the pass to the Bournemouth man on the left because he’s 1 vs 1 against player but it’s no means a guaranteed chance. It’s that sort of invention and vision which separates him from other players in that position.
In the two pictures above Wilshere showcases his spatial awareness. In the first picture he drops into the space between the defence and the midfield to receive a pass from deep. He finds a position which isn’t blocked off by the Boro midfield. He picks the ball up, turns on it and plays an outside of the foot pass between left centre-back and left-back for the Bournemouth wide player to run onto. Bournemouth earn a corner because of Wilshere’s quick thinking and this was against a well organised and well drilled Karanka side.
How Could Bournemouth Improve?
Although the midfield pairing of Harry Arter and Dan Gosling have been doing well for Howe recently the midfield area still isn’t as effective as it could be for Bournemouth. The aforementioned duo average 4.9 tackles per 90 but just the 1.9 interceptions. Ideally Bournemouth need a player in that area who can read the game and position himself to make interceptions to start attacks. They’d be much more fluid that way. With this in mind, Bournemouth should be looking at bringing in a new centre-midfielder. One that people may not be familiar with is Eintracht Braunschweig midfielder Quirin Moll.
The 25-year-old midfielder was on the books of Bayern Munich at a young age but has spent the majority of his career in the lower German divisions. He’s currently in the Bundesliga.2 (their Championship) having joined Eintracht Braunschweig in July on a free transfer. Despite only joining recently he could be available for around the £3-5 million mark and he has strengths that would improve the Bournemouth midfield.
In the first picture Moll is circled. He’s positioned himself to stop the ball going to the feet of the Bochum man closest to him. In the second picture you see the player looking around and noticing a Bochum striker has dropped deep and is offering to receive the ball to feet. In the third picture you can see Moll has made up the ground and intercepted the ball. His teammates gain control of the ball and play it forward. It’s all Moll’s work though.
He’s not just a destroyer. He can also play football too and has the ability to carve out chances from deep. In the picture above he’s picked up the ball in midfield and instead of looking to carry the ball forward into space he’s played an early pass inside of the left-midfielder and the left-back which has got Braunschweig in behind.
On average Arter attempts 51.3 passes and completes 86.4% and Gosling attempts 24.6 passes per 90 completing 85.4%. Moll averages 37.3 and has a pass success rate of 70% meaning he would have to sharpen up if he did join the Premier League outfit.