In a season that had begun with a notable wobble from Manchester United and a run of four consecutive victories for Watford, Bournemouth’s fast start went largely unnoticed. The Cherries’ success was perhaps initially put down to a relatively simple fixture list (wins against Cardiff City and struggling West Ham United are par for the course), but a dominant 4-2 victory over Leicester City has confirmed that Eddie Howe’s side are playing well above expectations.
Ten points from five matches – seven more than at the same stage last season – is more or less Champions League form, and although sterner upcoming tests will no doubt sink Bournemouth back into mid-table their good form could lead to a top ten finish. Howe, unfashionable at the moment having been at the club for so long, deserves a lot more credit than he generally receives.
We are so used to seeing Howe’s Bournemouth play attractive football in the Premier League that his remarkable achievements can be overlooked. It is worth going through them again and letting the facts sink in. Howe has taken Bournemouth from League Two to Premier League mainstays in just eight years, operating on a shoestring budget and playing in front of just 11,360 fans – a capacity that reflects their meteoric ascent.
But what is most impressive is Howe’s ability to coach his players to rise to the next level. As Daniel Storey highlighted on Twitter, Bournemouth’s matchday squad on Saturday made 279 combined appearances in the Championship in 2014/15; the players are expected to constantly evolve with their manager.
And Howe’s tactics frequently change. Over the last couple of seasons he has moved away from the three-man central midfield that formed the basis of a tiki-taka style possession system when Bournemouth were first promoted, moving with the times to become a quicker, more direct counter-attacking side. Aesthetics are still important, and Bournemouth still play neat passing football, but Howe should be praised more frequently for his ability to adapt.
The defeat of Leicester was the clearest example yet of his new formation’s suitability to the modern game. As in all of their matches this season, Callum Wilson and Josh King alternate dropping into the number ten space to link with the two midfielders while the two wingers cut inside to create a narrow overload of bodies. Unlike in previous seasons Bournemouth are now capable of breaking quickly in numbers through the centre, rushing their opponents like an Unai Emery or Jurgen Klopp team.
Those wingers have been outstanding so far. Ryan Fraser already has three goals and two assists in the Premier League this season while David Brooks, signed in the summer from Sheffield United, has been a revelation. Brooks frequently drifts into central attacking midfield to pull the strings and feed the two strikers, although so far he is yet to record a goal or assist.
At various points over the last few years Howe has been linked with top jobs and yet nobody has made a serious approach. Surely now, with Bournemouth fifth in the league, top clubs will take notice: how many other managers in world football play attractive, modern football with such limited resources?
Bournemouth have Burnley, Crystal Palace, Watford, Southampton, and Fulham before their first trip to a top six club. Manchester United away at Old Trafford in early November could feasibly be a clash between two sides with similar points tallies, and it could even be an early audition for the United job for Eddie Howe.
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