Bournemouth: Eddie Howe goes back to attacking roots to boost survival hopes
The Cherries boss deservedly scooped the January Manager of the Month award after guiding his side to a seven-game unbeaten run.
Such is the nature of the current Premier League table, Bournemouth sit in the top half yet are only five points clear of the relegation zone. Across the next two matchdays with specific sets of results, it is possible for the South Coast side to drop into the bottom three.
With this in mind, it is perhaps premature to assume that the club’s recent resurgence in form is enough to ensure their continued presence in the top-flight but has undoubtedly had a huge impact on their fight for survival.
Picking up the Manager of the Month award for January, then, was entirely deserved on the part of one of the Premier League’s youngest coaches.
A massive test
This season appeared to represent a massive test of Howe’s coaching methods and his squad’s credentials in England’s top division with a harrowing opening two months.
Bournemouth lost each of their first four outings and won only one of their first eight – scoring a meagre four goals in the process.
Under the English manager – a long-serving former central defender of the club – they had risen through the lower leagues playing a brand of attractive, attacking football and were a side not afraid of taking risks.
Often that had cost them in the top flight, with elementary mistakes both individually and collectively often leading to big defeats. Yet their status in the Premier League has not looked under serious threat since their promotion in 2015, with this season presenting the most issues.
A change of approach
It was a marked change in approach from Howe, attempting to make his side more street-wise, tougher to beat and with more backbone.
Three wins from four, including the concession of just two goals, had appeared to lift the club but a terrible run of form yielded an eight-game winless run in the league with just four points as they plummeted into the relegation zone at Christmas.
Four goals in seven was worrying yet equally were 4-0 defeats against both Manchester City and Liverpool, hinting that Howe’s attempts at more conservative football have just not worked.
On the up
A thrilling 3-3 Boxing Day draw with West Ham, kickstarted a run of ten matches in which 36 goals have flown in during games involved the Cherries with plenty of pulsating end-to-end matches among them.
The recent seven-game unbeaten strike included coming from behind to defeat Arsenal before recording a sensational 3-0 victory at champions Chelsea. The run also included coming from behind twice to draw at Brighton and securing a late win at home to Everton.
This was a side now brimming with self-confidence and belief, headed by a bright attack with Callum Wilson, now fully fit after several long-term injury setbacks, netting seven goals in that unbeaten run.
Along with Jordan Ibe, Joshua King and Junior Stanislas, Howe had forged a fluid and well-drilled attacking unit who were proving a handful for defences.
Concerns at the back
There are still concerns at the back – highlighted by a 3-0 FA Cup defeat at third-tier Wigan and a 4-1 loss at Huddersfield – which could prove a long-term issue going forward.
However, Nathan Ake seems increasingly assured alongside long-term servants Charlie Daniels, Adam Smith and Steve Cook.
With no cup distractions and a squad close to full fitness, fans of the Cherries should be comfortable that come the summer, they can be looking forward to a fourth successive season in the top flight.
For Howe, he may be more minded in future to stick to what he knows but he will be acutely aware that his defence – who have shipped three goals or more on six occasions this campaign – needs restructuring over the coming years.
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