Not many predicted it at the beginning of last season but AFC Bournemouth stayed up and did so in style in their first ever season in the Premier League.
Last year’s pre-season talks surrounding expected relegation woes have now turned to second season syndrome as the Cherries prepare for second year in the English top flight with Eddie Howe at the helm once again. The highly rated young manager was linked to the England job following the international sides poor performance at Euro 2016, and while that may be where Howe ends up in the future, his time right now continues to be devoted to Bournemouth.
Expectations surpassed last season
Bournemouth began life in the big time with two narrow defeats to Aston Villa and Liverpool, both by one goal to nil but marked their arrival with a thrilling 4-3 victory away at West Ham, with striker Callum Wilson scoring a hat trick. A first win at home at the Vitality Stadium 2-0 against Sunderland in September put the side in good stead as their fight to avoid relegation got under way. The Cherries went through a rough patch in October as they lost back to back games against top sides Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur 5-1, but responded well in the run up to the Christmas period, including memorable victories over the champions Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge and a win over Manchester United at the Vitality.
The South Coast side began the new year with a big win at home against relegation rivals Norwich City 3-0 and continued to produce performances and results to keep their heads above water in terms of relegation threats. Bournemouth’s 2-1 away win over Villa on the 9th of April all but secured their survival as they celebrated what would be their last victory of the season. The only other point they picked up was in their final home game of the season in a 1-1 draw with West Brom before losing at Old Trafford 3-1 to bring a memorable season to a close as the Cherries finished 16th in the final Premier League table.
Back at it...
The Cherries will look to make a quick start as they prepare for another campaign in the Premier League, with the aim to put talks of second season syndrome to bed very quickly. They begin the new season against Manchester United at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday 14th of August in a game which no doubt will heavily be built and focused around Jose Mourinho’s first match as the Red Devils boss. It will not be an easy first match for either side, with the pressure of expectation on United to go out and deliver, with the added reminder that they lost on this ground last season, while Bournemouth will be very much aware of how difficult they are to play due to the sheer strength and size of the club.
The South Coast club then travel to the Olympic Stadium the following Sunday to face West Ham in another tough match, but the Cherries will be buoyed by their success away against them last year in the 4-3 victory at Upton Park. Bournemouth will then expect to have their most realistic chance at picking up their first points of the season in the next two matches away at Crystal Palace and at home to West Brom. October will be a crucial month for stating survival credentials as the Cherries face Watford and Middlesbrough away and host Hull City.
Reverse fixtures in January up against expected fellow strugglers Hull, Watford and Crystal Palace will also be very important matches to pick up points in and considering how close the relegation fight usually is in the English top flight the run in could be absolutely pivotal for survival hopes. Bournemouth’s last two games in April are at home to Middlesbrough and away to Sunderland, before hosting both Stoke City and Burnley in May, closing the season away to the Champion Leicester City. There is no question that no matches will be defining in terms of results as to where the season was won and lost.
Money spent, but was it spent wisely?
AFC Bournemouth have been busy so far this summer, spending around £30million in total, with over half of that being invested in the 20-year-old right winger Jordan Ibe. He arrived from Liverpool for a fee of £15.3m, a hefty price tag for a player who made just 12 Premier League appearances for the Reds, scoring one and grabbing two assists.
The biggest departure was one of the Cherries best players in the league last season, Matt Ritchie, who joined Newcastle for £10.2m. The Scottish attacking midfielder scored four and bagged six assists in the Premier League last season and will be greatly missed as he steps back down to the Championship. The Cherries skipper Tommy Elphick also departed this summer, joining Aston Villa for £3.32m. The signing of Nathan Ake on loan from Chelsea should prove to be a decent replacement in defence this season after the youngster impressed at Watford last season. Lewis Cook and Lys Mousset will look to fill the gap that Ritchie has left as they compete for a place in thE starting line-up.
Unbeaten in pre-season
It has been a solid pre-season campaign for Bournemouth, opening with a 4-0 win over Minnesota United featuring two goals from Callum Wilson. Ibe got off the mark with his first goal in a 3-3 draw away at fellow South Coast side Portsmouth. The winger scored once again in a 1-0 win at home to Cardiff City, with Bournemouth drawing two other fixtures 1-1 against Reading and Valencia. The Cherries closed pre-season with a 1-0 win away at Angers on the 6th of August.
Who is expected to shine?
The new signings Ibe and Mousset are certainly players to watch out for as young talents, but all eyes will be on the two players who spent the majority of last season out injured, Wilson and Tyrone Mings. Wilson impressed many as he bagged five league goals in the first couple of months in the season but was cruelly put on the side-lines after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the match against Stoke on the 26th of September, which put him out until the 9th of April.
The left back Mings played just six minutes of Premier League football for his new club Bournemouth last year as a half time substitute in the 1-1 draw against Leicester City. He will be hoping to stake his claim to become a regular starter in defence for the Cherries in 2016/17 season. Charlie Daniels was also one of Bournemouth's star players last season, narrowly missing out on an England call up for the Euros, he could stake a stronger claim for a start in the international side.
It promises to be another exciting season for AFC Bournemouth as they prepare for a second season battle for survival. Attacking wise the side look stronger than ever, but defensively they could be fragile as there is currently a lack of depth in the squad. This could potentially make for a tougher fight for survival than last season turned out to be. The run in this season will be absolutely pivotal, I predict a battle right to the last season this season, with Eddie Howe’s men finishing 17th.