Eddie Howe, the Golden Boy of British coaching, has led AFC Bournemouth from League 2 obscurity to the Premier League in just six years.
This season will represent a whole new challenge for the 37-year-old and his players, but given the style in which the Cherries gained promotion last season, Howe will be quietly confident his side can take the top flight by storm.
In the course of their meteoric rise, Bournemouth, last season’s Championship winners, have gained many admirers. Manager Eddie Howe has long been tipped for a bright future in the game and his team’s exploits last season re-affirmed those expectations.
Bournemouth often blew their opposition away, with a 0-8 win at Birmingham, 1-5 away wins against Rotherham and Fulham and a 1-6 thrashing in Blackpool amongst their most impressive displays last term.
One of a growing number of young, innovative coaches hungry to learn, Howe’s tactical approach draws on a variety of systems. In recent years, Barcelona’s ‘Tiki Taka’ style under Pep Guardiola, the ‘Gegenpressing’ approach deployed by Jurgen Klopp at Borrussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone’s defensive organisation coupled with direct counter attacking have become the fashionable trends in football tactics.
Bournemouth’s success last season seemed to be built upon their ability to adapt between these approaches as well as adding their own finishing touches to complete a culturally diverse identity at Dean Court.
Eddie Howe’s team rarely looks devoid of ideas. Their playing style is easy on the eye but they are also versatile enough to change approach as required.
At times last season, the focus of Howe’s team was to maintain possession and patiently wait for a gap to appear in the opposition’s defence, the best example being a 31 pass move against Norwich with Junior Stanislas eventually seeing a gap and finding Simon Francis in behind the Norwich defence to cross for a Callum Wilson finish.
On other occasions, Bournemouth defenders chose to play more direct passes to the strikers, either playing down the channels for Callum Wilson to run onto or targeting Yann Kermorgant to knock down for ring-fencing midfielders to get on the end of.
High pressing, another regular feature of their play, has also proved fruitful. Several times last season, Bournemouth’s attacking players scored by forcing the opposition into losing possession high up the field. Opposing teams found themselves with little time on the ball due to the tireless pressure enforced on them by Howe’s men.
Along with the influence of Guardiola, Klopp and Simeone, there are many elements to Bournemouth’s play that further highlight Eddie Howe’s innovative nature and adds to their arsenal meaning they rarely find themselves stifled by opponents.
Good wide play is a crucial part of Bournemouth’s goal scoring prowess, with winger’s Matt Richie and Marc Pugh impressing last term and the overlapping and underlapping run’s provided by the likes of Simon Francis and Charlie Daniels helping to stretch the opposition.
Scotland International Ritchie scored 15 goals cutting in off the right while also providing 17 assists. Marc Pugh’s tally of nine goals and five assists is slightly less emphatic but he was nonetheless impressive and as a duo, Ritchie and Pugh showed that old-fashioned wingers do still exist.
Unsurprisingly, Bournemouth tend to dominate possession and a large chunk of the credit should go to the central mid-field partnership of Harry Arter and Andrew Surman. The latter was voted Bournemouth’s Players’ Player of the Season while the former picked up the award voted for by fans.
Former Norwich player Surman generally pulled the strings from deep as Arter joined the attacks, but the season wasn’t without the odd long-range screamer from Surman. Artur wasn’t shy of striking from distance either with his pile-driver at Watford the pick of the bunch.
In contrast to last season’s Premier League casualties (Hull City, Burnley and QPR), Bournemouth have goals from all over the park. As previously mentioned, Bournemouth’s midfield were regular contributors in front of goal but it was Callum Wilson’s 20 goal campaign that impressed the most.
The former Coventry striker will be hoping for a similar Premier League baptism to that of Charlie Austin and Danny Ings. QPR’s and Burnley’s over-reliance on their respective marksmen resulted in relegation, but if Bournemouth’s extensive goal-scoring plethora can exchange their feats into Premier League currency, Eddie Howe’s side are sure to better the campaigns led by their predecessors.
Bournemouth’s defence was also impressive, with the regular quadrant of Simon Francis, Steve Cook, Tommy Elphick and Charlie Daniels in front of former Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who kept 16 clean sheets from 37 Championship games last season.
It is, however, more likely to be Bournemouth’s attacking play that catches the eye next season. The adaptability and versatility of Eddie Howe’s team should serve them well as they attempt to consolidate their place in the Premier League.
Don’t be surprised if, in 12 months time, pundits and fans alike are waxing lyrical about Eddie Howe and his high achievers.