(Writer’s Note: This is the ninth of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on Aug. 10. Links to previous teams’ previews can be found at the bottom of the page)
Manager: Eddie Howe (Hire Date: Oct. 12, 2012)
Tenure Length: 1st/20 in Premier League and 4th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 11-11-16, 44 points, 12th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 45
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-16
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 4 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2015
Last Relegation: 2008 (League One to League Two)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Quarterfinal loss (Chelsea)
2017-18 FA Cup: Third-round replay loss (Wigan Athletic)
Crystal Palace was not the only Premier League that had trouble igniting last season as Bournemouth scored just one goal while losing its first four matches. The Cherries were second-bottom through 10 contests before finally showing a pulse with back-to-back wins over Newcastle and Huddersfield Town.
Eddie Howe’s team, though, had another seven-match winless spell after those victories, getting run through by a combined 9-0 scoreline in a brutal three-match gauntlet of Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City. With the turn of the new year, however, Bournemouth finally found its groove, beating both Arsenal and Chelsea while taking points in nine of 10 matches (4-5-1) and climbing to ninth in the table after a 2-1 victory over Stoke City on Feb. 3.
The Cherries then endured another rough patch, claiming just one win in 10 contests over the next two months, but with the stratification of the Premier League in two distinct groups, they were never in any trouble of being relegated as they slipped no lower than 13th over that period. Bournemouth completed its season with wins over relegation-bound Swansea City and Europa League-bound Burnley for a 12th-place finish, three spots below its club-record mark of ninth from the 2016-17 campaign.
POTENTIAL STARTING XI
Bournemouth’s 3-4-3 set-up will have a lot of familiar faces, but it would not be surprising to see some changes after the first few matches. Diego Rico brings an elite ability pump in crosses from the left, and while Daniels has seen off multiple challengers for his spot out wide over the years, Rico’s signing was a clear indication Howe wants to get younger at the flanks.
David Brooks, a one-time England youth product who is now a Wales international, will push to be Lewis Cook’s midfield partner, but there is also talk the Cherries are trying to bring Colombia international Jefferson Lerma on board from Levante. Such a signing would make Harry Arter surplus to goods, though the oft-injured Arter had already engaged in talks with West Ham during the summer.
Though Howe has yet to rule out midfielder Junior Stanislas being available for the season opener, it seems more likely he will miss the first few matches to finish his recovery from a knee injury suffered in April.
THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS
It has been a relatively quiet summer thus far for Bournemouth, which let Benfik Afobe go to Wolverhampton for £10 million. The Cherries have made a small dip into the transfer market, landing Welsh midfielder Brooks for a reported £10 million from Sheffield United and recently signing Rico from Spanish side Leganes for nearly £11 million.
“Diego is a player we have been tracking throughout the summer, and although we had to be patient, it’s great to finally be able to call him an AFC Bournemouth player,” Howe told the club’s official website. “He’s a really nice footballer and someone who will fit our philosophy and style of play. Diego is fast, physical, aggressive in attack and aggressive defensively. He takes an excellent set piece and has a powerful left foot.
“Once he gets used to the way we play, we believe he can be a real force for this football club.”
Many believe Lerma, who appeared in all four World Cup matches for Los Cafeteros, will be on board once a transfer fee and work permit are finalised, and there is also talk Bournemouth is in the hunt for Uruguay wide back Diego Laxalt, who also had a strong showing in Russia at the World Cup as La Celeste reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion France.
THE GUY WORTH SEEING
Lewis Cook (MF)
Howe has a great deal of faith in the 21-year-old midfielder, letting him sit out last season’s finale versus Burnley to increase his hopes of being selected to England’s World Cup squad last May. While that did not happen for Cook, he captained the Under-21 side to victory at the Toulon Tournament, further burnishing a national resume that includes a Euro title with the Under-17s and a World Cup title with the Under-20 side.
The next step is for Cook to deliver offensively for the Cherries. He had only two assists in 29 league matches last season, but showed glimpses of his goal-scoring ability with the winner in a preseason friendly versus Levante.
Per Ladbrokes, punters do not seem too worried about Bournemouth being relegated as it faces the seventh-shortest odds at 9/2, which is longer than Burnley. The Cherries are 1/3 favorites to finish in the bottom half of the table and have 9/4 odds on finishing in the top 10. The odds are significantly longer for a top-six finish at 25/1 and 100/1 for a top-four spot.
FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES
Aug. 11 — Cardiff City (N/A) H
Aug. 18 — West Ham United (13th) A
Aug. 25 — Everton (8th) H
Sept. 1 — Chelsea (5th) A
April 20 — Fulham (N/A) H
April 27 — Southampton (17th) A
May 4 — Tottenham Hotspur (3rd) H
May 12 — Crystal Palace (11th) A
After three seasons in the top flight and a baseline established with mid-table finishes the last two campaigns, it is possible Bournemouth can transition into the next phase of its existence as a solid Premier League team. That may mean a short-term step back without much movement in the standings as it consolidates and moves forward.
Howe is now the most senior of managers in the Premier League, and while there will always be a concern of a top-six side poaching him should things go pear-shaped at those clubs, he is building something lasting at Bournemouth, evidenced by Rico reportedly turning down a higher pay packet and the chance at Champions League play with Borussia Dortmund to play for the Cherries.
Howe claims to have learned the lessons of last season’s slow start and adjusted accordingly this preseason with matches versus Seville, Levante, Real Betis and Marseille around two games versus Championship sides. While the Cherries will be expected to win their opener versus promoted side Cardiff City, the three matches after that will be tricky.
If Bournemouth is to make a climb up the table, it has to start on the defensive end. The Cherries shipped 61 goals in league play, and Begovic had only six clean sheets. Nathan Ake is solid, but Howe needs more from fellow holdovers Daniels and Simon Francis. While Rico fits Bournemouth’s philosophy of going forward, will he help provide what is lacking at the back?
Offensively, Wilson — who signed a four-year deal earlier this month — should reach double digits in goals and King should return there after seeing his production fall off dramatically last season. But they — and veteran Jermain Defoe — cannot be the only sources of goals for Bournemouth.
Youngster Lys Mousset has to take steps to go from promising to proven, and the midfield must help. That means Ibe realizes his potential that made him so highly sought after at Liverpool as a teen and Cook parlays his summer at Toulon for England as a springboard for better things.
It may seem like Bournemouth is stuck in neutral in terms of points and spot in the table this term, but it may also take Howe only this one season to lay the foundation for something larger in 2019-20.
PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS
July 18 — Fulham July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace August 6 — Manchester City
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