Last season’s position: 14th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 1,000-1
Eddie Howe is not one to hark back; it is against his better nature to bask in a sense of satisfaction or trade on former glories. But as Bournemouth embark on a fifth successive top-flight season, the fact that it is 10 years since his side overcame a 17-point deduction in League Two with a game to spare is worth acknowledging. “From that moment to this, this club’s unrecognisable,” said Howe, when asked about the anniversary. “As much as we are pleased and happy with today, we have to remain very level-headed. We need to build the football club to make it stronger over a long period of time.”
That last sentence was a nod to not taking this era for granted, and building infrastructure to create a legacy, but there is plenty to address on the pitch too. Walking back into the dressing room on the wrong end of a 5-3 scoreline at Selhurst Park in May, which the Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson described as an “attacking party”, probably typified the good, bad and the ugly of last season. No team outside the top six scored more goals than Bournemouth’s 56, with Callum Wilson and Joshua King as menacing a pairing as there is in the Premier League. But they conceded 70 times – only relegated Fulham and Huddersfield let in more – and that frailty tarnished another positive season, which included memorable wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, the latter leading Maurizio Sarri to say “it’s impossible to lose 4-0 here”.
Implausible, maybe, but when Bournemouth are firing on all cylinders, they are a match for anyone. Nathan Aké is a class act in defence, Jefferson Lerma a hound in midfield, Ryan Fraser a reliable threat from wide and Wilson a pest up front. Then there is David Brooks, a revelation in his debut top-flight season. A 1-0 defeat by Manchester City in April yielded a plethora of headlines and traction because Bournemouth were starved of possession, getting 17.9%, and failed to register a shot on goal, but it showed other, more stubborn, facets of their game and acted as a barometer of progress. In the previous seven top-flight meetings between the sides, Pep Guardiola’s side led by an aggregate of 24-3. Until that game of chess City, as Howe had alluded to, continued to blow them away.
The sales of Tyrone Mings and Lys Mousset, back-up players at the club, for a combined £36m represents fine business. The incomings have an air of familiarity, with Howe again dipping into the Football League to freshen up his squad with the signings of defenders Lloyd Kelly and Jack Stacey from Bristol City and Luton Town, respectively. It is a talent pool they have tapped into on several occasions, with Brooks having enjoyed an outstanding campaign following a £11.5m move from Sheffield United. Wales centre-back Chris Mepham, a January addition from Brentford, has had a pre-season to bed in, and there are no doubts over the quality of former Leeds midfielder Lewis Cook, who has returned to full training almost eight months on from rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament.
How they finished in the past five seasons:
The £15m arrival of Philip Billing is another transfer that is easy to nod along to. The player, who fell out with Huddersfield after being quoted in the Danish press as describing Jan Siewert as arrogant, will add further flair to Bournemouth’s midfield. A gangly but deceptively cute operator, Billing’s presence will be a welcome addition.
Bournemouth, who will be without Dan Gosling until October after the midfielder underwent hip surgery, are not blessed with the biggest squad. This means versatility, as when they signed Lerma last season, is an attractive trait. Kelly, an athletic and graceful defender, has played the majority of his club football at left-back but primarily at centre-back for his country, with the defender part of the England squad at this summer’s European Under-21 Championship. Stacey joined Reading aged eight as a No 10 but staff quickly realised the defender was at home marauding up and down the right flank.
The biggest thing for Bournemouth was keeping hold of their indispensables: Aké, Fraser, who has less than 12 months to run on his contract and, most importantly, Wilson, the England international who has signed a new four-year contract. Fraser and Wilson have been teammates for five years but last season their partnership reached devastating heights: Fraser teed up Wilson for half of his 14 league strikes and the pair combined for 12 goals, the most by a duo in a campaign since Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton linked for 13 in 1994-95.
Last Season’s Stats
Which begs the question: how is their understanding so good? “I guess maybe living on the same road helps,” Wilson said. “Throughout [last] pre-season and the beginning of the season, he was getting into that position down the wing and in his mind he might cut the ball back or didn’t decide to put it across, so after a few little arguments and confrontation he always looked for me when I got into that position and vice-versa. I’d reverse it blind, eventually, knowing that him or Kingy would be coming on to it late.”
It feels like a big season for those with a point to prove, namely Diego Rico, who endured a disappointing first season, Jordon Ibe and Dominic Solanke, who is yet to score a competitive goal for the club following a £19m move in January. The No 1 shirt, meanwhile, remains up for grabs, though Republic of Ireland international Mark Travers, who excelled on debut against Spurs, has a good chance of starting as the first-choice goalkeeper.
There are also young players who could force their way into Howe’s thinking, in the way Travers did last season. A 10-minute video clip of Howe mic’d up during a pre-season training session in La Manga in July went viral and Gavin Kilkenny – a regular for the Under-23s last season – was among those to make an impression. The 19-year-old Irishman arrived from Dublin side St Kevin’s Boys – where Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick started – following a successful trial three years ago.The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.
Howe, not one to rest on his laurels, is hungry for the club to reap the benefits of these times, just as those fans have who reached into their pockets to keep the club alive. The board has conceded plans to move to a stadium in Kings Park next year were “overly optimistic” but have submitted revised plans for a new training ground. “Bournemouth is known as a smaller club, with bigger ambitions and I think over the years to come, it’s going to keep growing,” Wilson said. “I think at some point it won’t be classed as a small club any more – it will grow to a point where people are sort of respecting us a bit more, in terms of not being such a small club, and being an established Premier League team.” They are certainly getting there.
Predicted Position: 13th