With the Premier League returning after lockdown there are a number of things to be concluded. Who will make the top four? Who will qualify for the Europa League? and perhaps the most interesting, who will be relegated?
As of this season, AFC Bournemouth have been a member of the Premier League for five seasons. Despite still playing out of a 12,000 seater stadium, Bournemouth have become almost part of the furniture in the Premier League. Across these five seasons they have managed to cement themselves as a perennial mid-table side and aside from their second-season foray to a 9th placed finish, have largely remained in the upper half of the bottom half of the table. This season, however, they are in a real relegation dogfight. As of matchday 29, the South Coast side find themselves in 18th place and are in the drop zone on the account of goal difference.
In this data analysis, I will have a look at some of the data and statistics behind Bournemouth’s 2019/20 Premier League season and look to provide some answers as to where things have gone wrong for Bournemouth. This analysis will look to see whether Eddie Howe‘s side will manage to beat the drop and extend their stay in the Premier League.
Whilst compiling data for my Rookie of The Year series I noticed something interesting when it came to Bournemouth’s two forwards; Callum Wilson and Josh King.
Both Wilson and King appear in the bottom right quadrant of this chart. This shows that the forwards both take fewer shots than the average Premier League striker but have an above-average percentage of their shots find the target. The colour of their circle indicates their non-penalty expected goal value per shot. Callum Wilson has so far posted an xG value of 0.21 per shot, whilst King has posted an xG value of 0.24 per shot. These values are the highest and second-highest amongst strikers in the Premier League. Initially, I thought that this could be a good thing. Both strikers refrain from taking low percentage shots and wait until the perfect moment and opportunity to take a shot. This is further emphasised by the fact that Wilson and King take the least amount of shots p90 of all Premier League strikers this season. In terms of King and Wilson’s overall npxG per 90 this season, they have posted an xG value of 0.34 per 90 an xG value of 0.25 per 90, respectively. This ranks Wilson and King 20th and 27th amongst the 32 Premier League strikers I included in my analysis. The other out and out striker that Bournemouth have who has played enough minutes this season is Dominic Solanke. Solanke has the lowest % of his shots find the target of all Premier League strikers in the analysis. His xG/shot value is 0.09 and his npxG/90 overall is 0.16, which is the lowest amongst Premier League strikers.
Outside of the out and out strikers at the club the other main attacking players are Harry Wilson and Ryan Fraser. Harry Wilson has 0.34 npxG per 90, which whilst unspectacular is above average for a Premier League winger. Ryan Fraser has a npxG per 90 value of 0.14 which is way below the league average for wingers.
In actual goal-scoring terms, Callum Wilson has eight open-play goals this season, Harry Wilson has four and Josh King has three. Ryan Fraser (who will not feature in Bournemouth’s remaining games) has one goal and Solanke is yet to break his duck for this season.
Having considered the individual performance data of Bournemouth’s attacking player I put the team data into the above bar chart to get a better visualisation of their performance against the rest of the league.
As alluded to above, Bournemouth are incredibly shot-shy. They do, however, tend to take more high-percentage shots when they do decide to shoot, though they still rank in the bottom half of sides in this metric. It is evident from the data that Bournemouth’s attacking performance has been a real problem for them with only Callum Wilson registering a total xG value of more than 5.
Refraining from taking a huge number of shots in order to prioritise taking high percentage shots can work. Sheffield United have taken only 293 shots this season, the second-lowest in the league yet are fighting for a Champions League spot. The Blades have accumulated an xG of just 34.1 which is the seventh-lowest in the league. However, this works for Sheffield United because of their rock-solid defence, an xGA of just 35.3, the sixth-best in the Premier League. Bournemouth do not have this solid of a defensive game which I will discuss later in the article.
I wanted to see whether the weaknesses in attack were as a result of poor creation behind the attacking players. It goes without saying that in order to have shots on goal, you need to be able to get the ball into areas to have said shots.
In the above metrics I looked at Bournemouth’s passing and the volume of touches they had across the pitch. Bournemouth only excel in two metrics; touches in the defensive penalty area and touches in the defensive third. They really struggle to get good touches of the ball in the midfield third, the attacking third or the opposition penalty area. This is a problem. This is further highlighted by their poor numbers when it comes to passes to the final third and passes to the penalty area.
Despite having a huge number of touches in their own defensive third, Bournemouth’s defenders don’t tend to progress the ball at a great rate. Steve Cook, Chris Mepham and Nathan Aké have been the Bournemouth centre backs with the most minutes this season but all play a less than average amount of progressive passes p90. This is particularly poor when you consider both Cook and Mepham have an above-average amount of touches per 90 when compared to their Premier League position mates. You could argue that Howe doesn’t ask his centre-backs to progress the ball.
Diego Rico appears to be a very effective ball progressor. He plays 9.2 progressive passes per 90 from full-back, bettered only by Benjamin Mendy, Lucas Digne, Trent-Alexander Arnold and Ashley Young. Adam Smith and Jack Stacey are the two other full-backs who have had the most minutes amongst Bournemouth’s full-backs. Both Smith and Stacey progress the ball at a below-average rate with 4.28 and 4.37 progressive passes per 90 respectively.
Keeping on the wings, Ryan Fraser has operated effectively when it comes to progressing the ball. The Scottish winger plays 6.2 progressive passes per 90 only behind Jack Grealish, Willian, Emi Buendia and Riyad Mahrez. On the other wing, Wilson progresses the ball much less readily than Fraser, playing just 3.66 per 90. Neither Wilson nor Fraser carry the ball often or successfully. Fraser attempted just 1 dribble per 90 this season, whilst Wilson attempted just 1.99 per 90. This is least and third-least amongst Premier League wingers.
Bournemouth have tended to operate with a midfield two of a destroyer/ball-winner and link man. This has tended to be Jefferson Lerma or Phil Billing in the destroyer role and Lewis Cook in the linking role. As such, you wouldn’t expect Billing nor Lerma to be tasked with progressing the ball. Billing has a below-average 3.24 progressive passes per 90 and Lerma has a slightly above average 4.63 progressive passes per 90 (when compared to their position mates in the league). Lewis Cook who is tasked with linking the midfield and the attack has a slightly below-average number of progressive passes per 90 at 4.82, despite having an above-average number of touches per 90, 58.3. The data here indicates that nobody, outside of Rico or Fraser, is progressing the ball. This is reflected in Bournemouth’s percentile rank for progressive passes and progressive pass distance.
From the above chart we can see that not only have Bournemouth been blunt in attack, but they have also been incredibly porous at the back. The South Coast side have conceded 47 goals this season, the fifth-most in the league. They’re underlying numbers tell a similar story as Bournemouth have thus far an xGA value of 45.7, again, the fifth-worst in the league. When looking at Bournemouth’s pressure data is was fairly clear to see why their defence has been so leaky.
Bournemouth are keen pressers of the ball and this is something which Eddie Howe has clearly instilled into his side. Howe’s side press more than most, particularly in the midfield and attacking thirds, the only problem is that they don’t appear to be very good at it. They have the third-worst pressure success rate in the league and the seventh-worst number of successful pressures. This style is further reflected in Dominic Solanke’s pressure numbers, who’s game seems to have been reduced to apply as much pressure as you possibly can but don’t do much else.
The data here appears to suggest that Bournemouth will press you persistently and high up the pitch in your own third. But, it will be fairly easy to bypass this press and create good goal-scoring chances against.
Considering the data across a season can be important as can show where Bournemouth’s potential strengths and weakness lie. However, the end of this season has almost an isolated feel about it. It is almost as if these remaining nine games are completely separate from the rest. With that being said though, the three fixtures that have taken place thus far in the league have gone somewhat the way everyone expected based on the previous 28 games of football already played this season.
When we look at Bournemouth’s fixtures we can see that, aside from Aston Villa, they potentially have the hardest run-in of all the Premier League teams. This is worrying for them.
In the corresponding fixtures, Bournemouth picked up 9 points from a possible 27, with victories over Manchester United, Southampton and Everton. Across these nine fixtures Bournemouth managed an xG value of 11.17 whilst they had an xGA of 16.62. Whilst I do think that using expected goals for individual matches can be misleading at times, it does highlight the size of the task ahead of Bournemouth.
The other three teams that could be realistically sucked in and leap-frogged by Bournemouth are Watford, West Ham and Brighton. It goes without saying that the results that these three sides pick up will have a huge effect on Bournemouth’s chances of survival.
Brighton have an equally challenging run-in and come up against many of the same sides that Bournemouth do. Watford have a slightly easier run-in than Bournemouth and have the grace of playing a hapless looking Norwich side amongst their fixtures. West Ham perhaps have the easiest run-in of the four sides in danger, with a number of favourable fixtures.
It is obvious that Bournemouth have struggled this season. It will be worrying that after five seasons in the Premier League the Cherries look to have regressed massively this season and are in real danger of returning to the Championship.
They have struggled both defensively and offensively and have clearly again relied heavily on Callum Wilson to score goals without providing him with any kind of effective service. The squad makeup at Bournemouth isn’t one that indicates they may be able to sit back and soak up pressure for long periods of games. But the way they have performed so far this season, a drastic change in style may be required.
The task is made much harder given the fact that seven of Bournemouth’s remaining games coming against teams that are 12th or higher in the table. Howe will need all the luck he can get if he hopes to prolong Bournemouth’s stay in the top flight for another season.