For what seems like the first time in many years, Eddie Howe is stuck in a muddle at Bournemouth. It is hardly a habit for fans to see Howe’s team struggle near the bottom of the table for as long as they have this season. As Howe finds himself in a situation of peril, the club should have no other option but to stick with him.
That isn’t because Howe has enough credit in the bag to deserve to stay past this troublesome period. But because of how it will leave the club in an unnatural position after Howe.
The Cherries are currently second-bottom in the Premier League with just 20 points on board- six more than Norwich. But in what has been a very tight Premier League season, two wins can take them out of the drop and into the mid-table positions.
Bournemouth have hardly been a sacking club like Watford are. The Hornets got rid of Javi Gracia and brought back Quique Sanchez Flores after a poor run. Once Sanchez couldn’t get the team to safety, the Pozzo family brought the tried and tested Nigel Pearson to the club. As much as that is working wonders, the Cherries aren’t this sort of a club.
This approach has kept Watford in the Premier League many times over the last few years. But there is limited guarantee it works for too many other clubs. Villa did try a similar approach to stay in the division back in 2015, but it ended badly. Newcastle did that in 2016, but they went down despite having Rafa Benitez in-charge.
On the flip-side, there are two instances for Bournemouth to draw inspiration from. One is Burnley.
The Clarets came back to the Premier League in 2014 and went back down in a single season. Sean Dyche was in-charge when they came up and he was there when they went down. Not just that, but he was the one who took them back to the Premier League in 2017. And he’s still very much there, keeping them afloat on a consistent basis.
The second example is from closer by- Southampton. After a 9-0 loss to Leicester, any other team would have got rid of their manager. But the Saints stuck with Ralph Hasenhuttl instead of making a reactionary decision. As things stand, the South Coast club is unbeaten in five games and are level on points with Arsenal. They’ve beaten Leicester, Tottenham and Chelsea already.
If it was a club like Watford, Hasenhuttl might not have stayed a day after the embarrassing loss to the Foxes. But Southampton being a different club, stuck to their ethics and it is paying dividends. This club had resorted to the method of chopping and changing managers for two seasons. Bringing in Mark Hughes mid-season and letting him go for Hasenhuttl was part of that approach. But the error they made in Hughes’ appointment seems to have taught them a lot.
And it should teach their neighbours a lot too. This run of win and one draw since November is disappointing. But it is a very small sample size, as compared to what Howe has been doing on a consistent basis since 2015.
One thing Howe has to take blame for is a lack of tactical flexibility. The club has not been a solid defensive unit since they came up to the Premier League. Howe hasn’t been the one to be flexible with the high-intensity brand of football he likes. He wants his team to attack and it has left them exposed at the back far too often.
They have let in 35 goals this season- the fourth-worst record. Last season, they let in 70 goals in the whole season- the third-worst record and worse than relegated Cardiff. Their record was third-worst in the 2017-18 season too, conceding 61 goals.
A lot of it is down to how they’ve constantly used a 4-4-2 shape. In the modern-day, teams usually use three in midfield and Howe’s Bournemouth run the risk of getting overrun in midfield. Howe has never changed that system.
The Englishman has also not made good use of the club’s most expensive signings. While Jefferson Lerma and Philipp Billing have become regulars, Dominic Solanke has a tally of one goal and one assist since joining.
He certainly does have his faults. But Dyche and Hasenhuttl had them too. The Cherries could be left to hit a downward spiral, if Howe leaves. This isn’t a club with a huge budget or a huge global name to attract players. Neither do they have a reputation like that of Southampton -a club that is known for nurturing young players.
In that sense, the only thing that can salvage them is Howe. He knows how to take teams from the bottom to the very top. He knows what the art of getting back from tough times is. Bournemouth need him to amass some of that all over again.