If there’s anything that the Premier League brings apart from a whole new package of drama, delight and despair, then it is the ability to dispel the gloom that football fans are surrounded with during the three month long off-season period. And with the new season just days away from kick-off, it’s time we take a look at what’s coming.
Much like any other season, the focus will not and must not be on the big six or the ones that will fight for their lives down the dreaded red zone. The dark-horses of the league never give anyone a moments peace, be it the small clubs or the big ones. They always look to act as party spoilers and upset the odds.
The likes of Everton, Southampton, West Ham and obviously Leicester have been the dark-horses of the league for sometime now. The newest entrant to that category happens to be Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth. After a finish in the upper half of the league last season, the Cherries did surprise quite a few onlookers and with the work that they’ve done in the summer, they could be making a case for improvement, if not establishment.
They boasted the seventh best attack, but the fifth worst defence. Keeping the back door closed costed them in the long term. And with the club now aiming for consistency, they will look forward to an optimistic season indeed.
Things swung into action as soon as the previous campaign ended, as the club roped in the mercurial Jermain Defoe on a free transfer from Sunderland. It wasn’t as if his deal at the club ran out but a clause in his contract allowed him seek a free transfer from the Black Cats, if the club took a plunge into the Championship. The Englishman brings an assurance of goals more than anything else and due to the fact that last summer’s capture Lys Mousset has failed to settle in, Defoe could form a devastating pairing with last season’s leading goalscorer Joshua King.
The defensive issues are more of a concern though and their ability to keep the ball out of the net will be a major factor in determining where they finish. The Cherries brought in a rather familiar face in Nathan Ake from Chelsea for a 20 million fee to bring the assurance of defensive stability. The club also brought in Asmir Begovic from Stamford Bridge for a 10 million fee and the Bosnian is likely to replace Artur Boruc as a first choice between the sticks. Ake’s performances for the club during his loan spell at the Dean Court last season suggests that he is the right fit to raise the standards.
The signing of Connor Mahoney from Blackburn on a free transfer is certain to be a one that increases the squad depth, with the club now looking to challenge on more than one front.
Leicester did reject Bournemouth’s bid in the region of 20 million for star winger Demarai Gray and there seems to be an intent of adding more flair to the attack, with Max Gradel set to depart the South Coast this summer.
How would they line up?
Last season, Howe fiddled and switched around with the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-4-2, but the capture of Defoe suggests that the club could play two up front more often than they did last season. With Callum Wilson set to be back after having recovered from a knee injury, King could well be deployed wide left and young Ryan Fraser can pump in pace and directness of his own from the right.
Harry Arter has been a consistent performer, not just after the club achieved promotion but even before it. The midfielder was an important player last season. It was often due to his work rate that Howe preferred him over Jack Wilshere. Andy Surman as well has been one of those under-rated players in the side who keeps play ticking and fits the bill of being a box to box, hard working midfielder.
At the back, Ake will slot in alongside the impressive Steve Cook, with Adam Smith and Charlie Daniels at right and left-back respectively. This 4-4-2 can easily shift to a 4-2-3-1, if King partners Defoe up top and either of Junior Stanislas and Marc Pugh slot in on the left flank. And since Howe is known to play around with both of these shapes, this seems very likely.
How do they start the season?
The Cherries will look to do well in the first two games, in which they face West Bromwich Albion away and then host Watford at home a week later. Both of them are sides that finished below them last season and they will look to gain maximum points from a possible six.
That is followed by a home game against Pep Guardiola’s high-spending Manchester City, before Howe will take his side to the Emirates to lock horns with Arsenal, the side they held to a 3-3 draw last season.
The club will look to retain its ability to win games against mid-table sides and relegation sides, but what will matter is their performance against sides like Southampton, West Ham and Everton.
These seem to be exciting times for Bournemouth, a club that has defied a lot of odds to reach where it currently is. And it is always wonderful to see them progress, especially under a brilliant young manager like Eddie Howe, who has transformed unknown players into household names in about two or three years.
The aura around the club is optimistic and that will go a long way in determining where they will finish. The captures of high-profile players has meant that the momentum has hit sky-high, but they will have to do better than they did last season to finish inside the top ten. They have an identity, a style and the players needed to fit into the style.