Bournemouth 2019/20 Review: A year of slow decline
The Premier League season could be on hiatus for a while, so we've decided to review each club's 2019/20 campaign so far. Today, we look at Bournemouth's uncomfortable year...
Bournemouth's 2019/20 season appeared to be heading towards relegation before the Premier League was suspended, and yet the yo-yoing nature of the club in recent years - closely following strings of defeats with back-to-back wins - make Eddie Howe's side the most difficult club to analyse before the 38 games are completed.
Most people still believe the manager is doing a good job and that, given their stadium has 10,000 fewer seats than any other Premier League club, survival still represents over-achievement. But there is a growing sense that Bournemouth are stagnating, and that relegation to the Championship is just a matter of time.
The club rank seventh in the league for net spend on transfers (£175 million) over the last five years, and far too many of these recruits have been flops. What's more, the gradual decline from neat possession football to a backs-to-the-wall counter-attacking approach symbolises their shrinking status.
Whether Howe's side are succeeding or failing is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
Season so far
The 2019/20 campaign is perhaps best summarised as the year Bournemouth went all-in for the tactical rebrand. Starting four years ago, beginning with 2016/17, the Cherries' average share of possession per season is as follows: 51.3%, 48.5%, 47.7%, 46.3%. Howe has moved to a deep defensive line that looks to absorb pressure before springing counters down the flanks.
It isn't really working. The season began brightly with ten points from the first six matches, in which on-loan Harry Wilson led the way in the absence of David Brooks, but since then very little has gone their way. A long sequence of defeats followed in which Bournemouth simply couldn't score, with Ryan Fraser, Callum Wilson, and Matt King all off form.
As if to prove Howe had completed the tactical transition, Bournemouth then ended their unusually poor record against 'Big Six' clubs (historically, they were too open) by parking the bus to beat both Chelsea and Manchester United 1-0. Those wins towards the end of 2019 have kept Bournemouth within touching distance of safety.
The performances of goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale have been a surprise joy for Bournemouth fans, given the 21-year-old was playing on loan in League One last season. He has stepped up with some big displays over the last few months, holding firm in those key wins against United and Chelsea.
Speaking of which, the 1-0 victory over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side at Dean Court is perhaps Bournemouth's biggest highlight. Following a four-match winless run, and approaching six hours without scoring a goal, the hosts' Matt King grabbed the winner on the stroke of half-time.
The 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge broke an even worse patch of form, their five-game losing streak since beating United ending in emphatic style. Dan Gosling was awarded a goal by VAR in the 84th minute to put Bournemouth four points clear of the drop zone.
Aside from those goalless games and the dreary attacking performances as a whole, special mention should go to Ryan Fraser for his disappearing act following the successes of 2018/19. The league was suspended with Fraser on one goal and four assists from 28 matches. He was clearly distracted by the transfer rumours that have been circulating since last summer.
On the pitch, the 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace in December, which ended with Howe admitting to reporters he was at his 'lowest' point as Bournemouth manager, has got to be the lowlight. Roy Hodgson's side were reduced to 10 men in the 19th minute when Mamadou Sakho was sent off, weakening a defence that was already without Gary Cahill. Somehow, the visitors still managed just six shots on goal.
What they can achieve in 19/20
Should the remainder of the fixture get played, Bournemouth certainly have the capacity to avoid being relegated, although already in the bottom three it is no surprise their odds of going down are currently1.84 with Betfair Exchange.
In fact, they could do with a reset and may be one of the select few clubs to benefit from the break. There is a lot of talent in the squad, including the soon-to-return Brooks, the two Wilsons, and Fraser, which may give them the firepower to win three games and survive.
Among their postponed games are Crystal Palace, Newcastle, and Southampton, all at Dean Court, providing ample opportunity to get the wins they need. If play resumes, back them to stay up.
What next: Summer transfers & 2020/21
The biggest mark against Howe is his record in the transfer window. There have been far too many flops over the years and summer 2019 was no different. Bournemouth spent £50 million on Lloyd Kelly, Arnaut Danjuma, Philip Billing, and Jack Stacey, with Billing the only player to appear regularly. That has to change this year.
Should Bournemouth go down they certainly have the squad and the right manager to come straight back up, whereas if they survive it will most likely be more of the same: a fight against the drop that goes right to the wire. The chances of the Cherries progressing notably are remote because, under Howe, each year either remains exactly the same or declines ever so slightly.
A season that began so strongly has dipped dramatically, and rapidly, since November to give Bournemouth a record of 11 points from their last 18 league games. It is a nose dive that seemed likely to end in relegation from the Premier League, and yet football's hiatus may be cause for fans to reassess their chances.
There is enough talent in the side to rebuild, and Howe remains the best person for the job despite their gradual slide into less attractive football over the last few years. If they can just sort out recruitment then perhaps, in years to come, Bournemouth will look back on the slow-motion collapse of 2019/20 as a temporary blip.