Victories over Chelsea, Manchester United, two draws against would-be Champions Leicester City and close defeats to Liverpool were clearly suggestive of the Cherries' abilities at the top level, that Eddie Howe has inculcated into his players ever since taking over in 2012 when the club were plying their trade in the third division of the country. Bournemouth exuded energy and enthusiasm whenever they played at home, with the home crowd behind them and could never be taken for granted away from home. The men from Vitality were second in the list for the most distance covered during the season, behind Tottenham Hotspur.
A 16th finished placed finish can be deemed satisfactory for a side that was predicted to end the campaign in the red zone. But Howe's men proved doubters wrong. But now that Matt Ritchie, someone who was a key part of their force during their promotion campaigns and last season, has left for Newcastle United, there is a need for someone who can replace the dynamic Scotsman. Jordon Ibe, for whom Bournemouth's £15 million bid has been accepted by Liverpool, is someone Howe feels is perfect for doing just that.
How good is Ibe?
The 20-year-old, who joined from Wycombe Wanderers in 2012, has been in and around the Liverpool first-team for sometime now. The Englishman joined the Merseysides when he was 16 and made his debut during the fag end of the 2012-13 season. The youngster spent two loan spells at Birmingham City and Derby County, out of which the second was more yielding as he went onto score five times in 20 appearances for the Rams.
He put pen to paper on a five-year deal in May, 2015, after coming back from a loan spell at Derby under Steve McClaren. He began to make an impact in the first team during the end of 2014-15 season, as Liverpool finished sixth in the Premier League. Under Jurgen Klopp, Ibe was seen being embraced by the German after the final whistle on a couple of occasions, bringing to the fore how intriguing their relationship was. Last season, Ibe made a total of 27 appearances for the Reds, scoring once and assisting twice as he assumed the form of Klopp's most trusted youngster in the side.
How good was Ritchie for the Cherries?
Matt Ritchie is someone who brings a lot of energy into the side, which was a perfect fit for Bournemouth. Along with the likes of Arter, Gosling, Josh King, Junior Stanislas, Ritchie was another pacy and quick outlet who covered a really good amount of ground on the pitch by chasing every lost ball and by defending deep to protect the exposition of full backs, be it Simon Francis, Adam Smith or Charlie Daniels.
He was really good at taking charge on counter-attacks, which were something Bournemouth strongly relied on irrespective of where they played. He was so good early on during the season that reports from ESPN had linked him with a move to Manchester United. He oozed enthusiam and energy, on or off the ball and was a reason why Bournemouth reached the middle-reaches of the table in the Premier League early on. The Scotsman scored 13 times and racked up 13 assists when Bournemouth earned promotion to the Premier League in the 2014-15 campaign.
Ibe is someone who still lacks decisiveness in the final third. He has the pace to go past defenders in a blink of an eye and has got really good balance on the ball as well. But its his passing, or the final pass that lacks.
Is Ibe the man to replace Ritchie then?
He completed 2.3 dribbles per game last season, as compared to Ritchie's 1.1 but Ibe played fewer matches than Ritchie did. Defensively, Ritchie is more combative and is willing to do the dirty job more often. Ibe had the freedom to play up front as there was more defensive assurance at the back than Bournemouth had. Ritchie made 1.5 tackles every game, while Ibe made 0.4.
Ibe is only 20 and is still growing as a player. The 15 million transfer fee does sound a bit too much, but that is justified in the modern day, considering the amount of money that is in the Premier League. He can play on either flanks, but is predominantly a right winger. Ritchie played 32 times on the right and was very direct in his approach. Ibe is just as direct, barring his passing and final pass or decisiveness around the box.
Howe' sides have a work-ethic of working very hard and Ibe is a player who has been bloomed in a similar manner under Rodgers and Klopp. Although, not defensively but his pressing up front and the amount of energy and commitment towards winning balls back high up the pitch is quite resembling of Ritchie.
Ibe is someone Howe was yearning for. Although, he's not the final product yet but he's still 20 and has a lot to learn. And Howe is the perfect man to help him reach his very high potential.