Since their promotion in 2015, AFC Bournemouth has established themselves as a top-flight club. After finishing 16th, 9th, 12th and 14th it is a surprise to see them in the relegation zone. After being in the Premier League for 5 years, it could easily be said teams have figured out the way they play and that their problems are not from within. However, this would be heavily misguided as it is clear to see that they are not adapting to the ever-changing league itself. As opposed to previous years whereby they were winning by outgunning their opponents with their firepower, performances this season have been extremely flat and deprived of the fluid attacking football that was seen in their earlier years in the Premier League. Yes, teams around them have improved, however, it seems that they have not made the next step forward and this could be attributed to a lack of ambition. The question, therefore, remains, what’s going wrong?
The job Eddie Howe and his coaching staff have done have been nothing short of sensational. To get a club of the size of AFC Bournemouth to be a regular Premier League side is something that many few managers in world football could have done in the manner in which they did it. However, this is not to suggest that he and his coaching staff are immune from criticism. Similarly to Norwich City, they have lacked pragmatism and the times they have shown signs of this are the times where they have been successful in terms of this season. When committing further analysis, it is often the case that this has happened to many clubs before. Stoke, for example, managed to remain in the Premier League for a long period, but were relegated and don’t seem to be coming back any time soon. Bournemouth needs to be careful not to go through a similar fate.
This tactical analysis will look at why the tactics that have been used this season by Bournemouth have failed to get them into a position whereby they are clear of the relegation places. This scout report will also look at how they can look to improve and potentially get out of the relegation zone when the season continues.
Lack of defensive organisation
The main reason as to why Bournemouth have been so poor this season can be mainly attributed down to their awful defensive record. They have conceded 47 goals thus far, which is only worsened by Southampton, West Ham, Aston Villa and Norwich City. This is, therefore, an aspect of their game which is significantly poor and needs work immediately. When analysing Bournemouth in defensive actions, it is really a collective failure in terms of tactical setup and individual errors. Bournemouth are not a team who defend with much organisation or structure. As will be discussed later, if they can find a defensive structure that suits them they may be on to something. However, at the moment they lack organisation and any defensive foundation to give the attacking players opportunities to counter-attack.
Below is an excellent example of this lack of defensive structure. This image was taken from their 0-3 home loss to Watford earlier in the season. We can see that when the ball is about to be put into the central area of the box, Bournemouth have no sense of organisation, and there are lots of Watford players that are free and in acres of space. The most noticeable aspect about this image is the space between Bournemouth’s right centre-back and their right-back. This is far too much distance and it allows Watford a goal. This has been a problem since the start of the season and it needs to be solved to stop conceding goals.
For a team such as Bournemouth, losing to teams such as Liverpool and Manchester City is nothing to be ashamed about. They are world-class teams with some of the best players in world football. However, the problems Bournemouth seem to be having in terms of conceding goals are against teams in and around them and, in some cases, below them. This again is a huge problem for Bournemouth as it has meant that they are in the relegation zone as a result of losing such games. When they play against the teams in and around them it seems that they lose all interest in having a defensive foundation and focus solely on scoring goals. This would be fine if they could defend well and with substantial organisation, however, this is not the case. When they play the likes of Watford and West Ham they try and outscore them without having any focus on keeping out the opponent. This mentality needs to see a huge shift in order to prevent goals from going in against them.
Below is another example of their poor defensive structure from the 3-0 away loss to Burnley. The most disappointing aspect of this image is that the score was 0-0 at the time. The full-backs are almost non-existent in the image and they concede as a result. This has been seen in many of Bournemouth’s games against teams in and around them. This is a massive mentality shift that needs to happen. To some teams, defending may not be a desired aspect of their game, however, it is the most important aspect of any team and Bournemouth need to find a way to fix theirs.
No attacking imagination
Over the years, what has often got Bournemouth out of trouble in terms of their poor defence is their attacking play. Callum Wilson, Josh King, Ryan Fraser and David Brooks have all made Bournemouth into a sensational counter-attacking side with pace, power and skill. This season their top goal scorer, Wilson, has only got eight goals in the Premier League. This highlights a significant drop in the goals scored and the overall chances created. The best way to describe Bournemouth going forward this season is flat. They don’t seem to have the same cutting edge that they used to. In previous seasons, they would often go one or two goals up in a game, meaning that the opposition would have to score three or four to win. This has shifted this season; with the lack of goals Bournemouth have been scoring, coupled with a lack of improvement in their defensive play it means they are failing to live up to recent standards. They, therefore, need new attacking solutions to play against teams that sit deep and don’t allow space.
Below is an example from a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace. We can see Palace in an excellent defensive structure, despite being down to 10 men. Bournemouth simply do not have the imagination to break them down. We can see players heads looking in different directions, no forward runs and the man on the ball being forced to go backwards or sideways. This has been the case throughout the whole season and it needs to change if they want to survive relegation.
When we think of Bournemouth, we would associate them with scoring goals. As mentioned earlier, they have some incredible attacking talent with an excellent group of academy players in attacking players coming through. This would, therefore, suggest that they should be scoring goals at a much more regular rate in comparison to what they are currently producing. However, as mentioned earlier they seem to have gone flat when it comes to scoring goals. When these situations occur in football, we should always highlight why this happened. The main reason can be attributed to the fact that they have stuck with the same formation since returning to the Premier League. The old school 4-4-2 is a formation many of the retro Premier League fans enjoy seeing. However, teams have worked Bournemouth out and a shift needs to occur in certain games. This is not to suggest that they should change the underlying principles that have got them where they are, however, a shift needs to occur to adapt to the current Premier League.
Below is another example of them not being able to create chances. This was taken from a 1-0 defeat against Norwich City. We can see once again that the only option is a direct ball into the box which Norwich could defend with relative ease. There is no movement, no subtlety in attacking play and no feeling that a goal will be scored. This once again can be assigned to the whole season and it’s a common problem Bournemouth are facing at this current moment. As will be discussed later, there are ways that they can tweak their system in order to get the best out of their attacking players.
Aspects to build on
Despite it being an overall poor season thus far from a Bournemouth perspective, there have still been some positives that they could build upon. They have beaten Manchester United and Chelsea. In the bigger games, they have shown signs of their former selves. However, playing well against the bigger teams is not enough to analyse. What should be analysed are the aspects that have already been mentioned (poor defending and lack of attacking imagination) in a way in which Bournemouth can build from. When looking at their defensive structure, there have been a handful of games whereby they have been solid and denied space for the opposition to play into. This is especially seen in the bigger games, where they are forced to defend with numbers. The importance of this point is to highlight that a solid defensive structure can be found for Bournemouth if they worked on it more regularly. If they were able to put in place the solid defensive line that has been seen in some of the bigger games, they would have a much greater chance of conceding fewer goals.
Below is an example of this from their 1-0 victory over Manchester United. We can see them in excellent defensive shape, meaning that United could not break them down. It was a rarity to see them defending so well. What it highlights is that they have the capabilities to have a good defensive structure. Yes, this may mean that they have to be slightly more defensively orientated, however, as seen in this game the rewards often outdo the downfalls.
Furthermore, another aspect that was mentioned earlier was their lack of attacking imagination and their lack of chance creation. However, as mentioned previously there have been times especially in the bigger games whereby they have shown really good signs of counter-attacking, free-flowing football. When Bournemouth attack to their maximum capabilities, they have the ability to hurt any defence out there. The likes of Wilson and King are excellent in counter-attacking situations and can provide a real goal scoring outlet. This needs to be used more often and if so Bournemouth will find themselves climbing up the table. Counter-attacking coupled with a solid defensive structure would give them more stability in both defensive and attacking transitions. This has been seen in the bigger games where Bournemouth have found success in games against sides in the top 10. If they could implement this against the teams in and around them they would have a much better chance of Premier League survival.
Below is an example of their excellent counter-attacking against Chelsea. This picture illustrates an example of Bournemouth moving forward on the break. Notice the fluidity in their attacking play in comparison to the previous images where they couldn’t break down the likes of Palace and Norwich. This could be a blueprint for Bournemouth going forward when looking at counter-attacking play. Getting the attacking players in the right areas with the opportunity to score.