Since 2013/14, only two clubs have managed to break English football’s ‘top six’. Leicester, in 2015/16, joined Everton in 2013/14 as the only clubs to finish in these positions. Last season saw seventh place Burnley finish nine points behind Arsenal in sixth. Manchester United’s turbulent start to the season has given hope that football’s status quo could be shaken up once again. Bournemouth currently find themselves ahead of Manchester United in sixth and were only beaten by a late United goal when the sides met at the weekend. The Cherries’ strong start to the season has given them hopes of pushing for a top-six finish and European football.
Can Bournemouth Crack the Top Six?
Bournemouth have enjoyed their strongest start to a Premier League season. Their current sixth-placed position is a fair representation of their performances to date. Eddie Howe’s side are in the rare position of having minimal turnover within the squad. Six of the eleven who started against Manchester United have been at the club since 2014 or earlier and were part of the title-winning promotion campaign from the Championship. Howe is in his sixth year as manager, having previously served for three years before a short period at Burnley. This continuity has generated a strong team ethic within the club; this togetherness has been apparent this season, with several late, game-changing goals. This season, only Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton have scored more goals in the last 15 minutes of games, highlighting Bournemouth’s never-say-die attitude.
Bournemouth’s strong start has been built on the back of a strong attacking threat, scoring the fifth highest number of goals so far this season. Callum Wilson finds himself enjoying his first full Premier League season, after missing large chunks of the last three with ACL injuries. He has rewarded Howe’s patience in him with seven goals to open the season. He has been linked in recent weeks with an England call-up and a transfer move to a bigger club, with Tottenham and Chelsea both reportedly interested. Another big change for Bournemouth this season has been the form of Scottish winger Ryan Fraser. Fraser’s role has changed this season, with more emphasis on drifting infield to be more involved in play. The new role has paid dividends, with Fraser opening the season with four goals and six assists in all competitions.
The other big part of Bournemouth’s attack is David Brooks. Signed from Sheffield United in the summer, the £11.5 million man has quickly settled into Premier League football. Brooks found himself released by Manchester City at 17, largely due to his size. At 5ft 3, Brooks has found himself judged on his stature throughout his career but is now proving the doubters wrong. His biggest strength is his skill on the ball. This, combined with his ability to find pockets of space around the opposition area, have made him a dangerous weapon for Bournemouth. Brooks has played the league’s second most through balls this season and has created several chances on a weekly basis.
Added into the attacking talents are strikers Joshua King and Jermaine Defoe. King, particularly, has been useful this season, scoring four goals, despite rarely playing a full game.
Almost as impressive as Bournemouth’s red-hot offence is their stingy defensive unit. With a clean sheet in over a third of their Premier League games, Bournemouth have been difficult to score against. Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic has been forced into only 28 saves this season, among the lowest in the league. The back four, who have started ten of their eleven games as the same unit, have protected his goal superbly. This continuity tells, with a visible understanding of each other’s roles and mistakes kept at a minimal. Bournemouth have protected Begovic with their all and the numbers reflect this; Bournemouth are within the league’s top five in numbers of blocks, clearances and headed clearances this season.
At the heart of their defence is the impressive Nathan Ake, yet to miss a Premier League game since joining the Cherries permanently. Like his teammate, Wilson, Ake’s form has seen him linked with a January move. Ake spoke to Dutch press last month to refute these links and reassure fans. Bournemouth will hope that Ake continues to prioritise regular first-team football over a big money move.
Can it Last?
Bournemouth showed against Manchester United that they are capable of competing with the bigger teams. Jose Mourinho has admitted his side were lucky to still be in last weekend’s game at half-time, reflecting Bournemouth’s ability to play their attacking brand of football against anyone.
The next five games will be a good test of Bournemouth’s staying power. The Cherries play Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in three of their next five. If they can come out of this run still in the top six and improve their squad depth in January then European qualification should be the aim.