Can Eddie Howe and his exciting side avoid an immediate dunking back into the Championship?
Are AFC Bournemouth really a Premier League club? Is the Vitality Stadium (that’s Dean Court, in old money) ever going to be a top-flight stadium? And have a club ever come up from the Championship riding on such a wave of goodwill from outsiders? The answer, in all three cases, is: probably not.
But it won’t stop everybody connected with the top-flight debutants from Dorset dreaming of survival – and more – come May. And, of course, they do have a not-so-secret weapon…
What the fan says
Steve Jenkins, editor-in-chief of Tales from the South End, gives us the skinny on the south coast newbs...
- Artur Boruc (Southampton)
- Adam Federici (Reading)
- Josh King (Blackburn)
- Christian Atsu (Chelsea)
- Tyrone Mings (Ipswich)
- Sylvain Distin (Everton)
- Ian Harte (Released)
- Josh McQuoid (Released)
- Darryl Flavahan (Released)
- Mohamed Coulibaly (Released)
- Joe Partington (Released)
- Miles Addison (Released)
- Ryan Fraser (Ipswich)
- Brett Pitman (Ipswich)
- Jayden Stockley (Portsmouth)
Why they’ll do well
Two words: Eddie Howe. Former Bournemouth manager and Sandbanks resident Harry Redknapp believes the 37-year-old should be made mayor of the town (we’re not sure it quite works like that, ’Arry), he beat the original Special One to the LMA Manager of the Year award and even his own players think he’ll be England manager one day. Most importantly of all, though, Howe himself believes the Cherries can stay up by sticking to their attacking philosophy and with largely the same group of players. “Why not?” he says. It’s hard to use last season as a barometer of how they’ll fare in the Premier League, but confidence will be high – initially at least – they’ll certainly be better than the sum of their parts under the mercurial manager, and most top-flight players won’t be used to playing in front of crowds of 11,700.
Why they’ll do badly
The last team to come up from the Championship all guns blazing were Ian Holloway’s Blackpool. And despite a flying start and scoring as many goals as fifth-place Tottenham, they shipped 78 and were eventually relegated. Sure, the Tangerines couldn’t boast a defensive record as good as Bournemouth’s – the second best in the Championship last season – but facing Gary Taylor-Fletcher is one thing; keeping Sergio Aguero quiet quite another. The Cherries also look painfully short of Premier League experience – and that includes Howe, despite his burgeoning reputation as a tactician and motivator of the highest regard. “Some of the players are ready,” admitted the manager in May. “Others will struggle.” The truth is, never has a Premier League quantity been so unknown.
The big questions...
1) Should they stick or twist?
How do you tell a team who scored 98 goals last season that they might want to be a little more cautious this time around? “I don’t think we’d forsake our principles,” says Howe, who likes his team to keep possession and attack with pace and width. But they need to plan well for games where they won’t see so much of the ball.
2) Is Sylvain Distin the answer?
No disrespect, but the average football fan wouldn’t recognise Bournemouth’s back four from last season if they knocked on his or her front door in full home kit. While the 37-year-old Frenchman may no longer be able to chase Harry Kane down the channels for 90 minutes, his leadership, experience and knowhow will be vital in getting the best from those around him.
3) Just who is Maxim Denim?
So publicity shy he makes Roman Abramovich look like Dave Whelan, Bournemouth’s mysterious Russian owner may have to step out of the shadows – preferably brandishing his chequebook – if things aren’t going to plan by January.
Key player: Matt Ritchie
Bournemouth have players who can score goals (Callum Wilson, Brett Pitman and Yann Kermorgant all hit double figures last season) and players who can create them, but it’s rare for side at any level to have a player equally adept at both. Ritchie, who has reached the top the hard way after being released by Portsmouth, bagged 15 goals and 17 assists in the Championship last season. Anywhere near as good a return from the Scotland international this season and Bournemouth will have safety in their sights.
What we’ll be saying come May
While total football wasn’t a total success in Bournemouth’s first-ever season in the top flight, Howe’s ability to get the best out of newbies, loanees and has-beens was enough to ensure the club’s survival – and earn him the England job after Roy Hodgson’s team crashed out of Euro 2016 at the group stage. Obviously.
To see where FourFourTwo think Bournemouth will finish – along with a bespoke two-page preview – get our special new season issue, which will be out soon.