Bournemouth’s transition into the Premier League last season was done with apparent ease. As we approached the final third of the season, they never appeared to be in danger of the drop. But this season they are worthy of much more than that; they should be looking forward.
Perhaps a suggestion that Bournemouth should be looking at their next stride is expecting too much, but we are talking about a side whose fairytale sees no real limits. It is backed by a mysterious millionaire, managed by England’s best young coach and the proof is in the pudding on the pitch. At least at the Vitality Stadium. Somehow, despite their flair and watchable football, Bournemouth haven’t achieved an away win this season. That’s a concern not in terms of relegation, but it means they can’t go on to compete with some of the Premier League’s elite.
Southampton are a club that any recently promoted side can look up to. Like Bournemouth, the Saints pride themselves on good football but learned fairly swiftly that they have their own limits. Sometimes it’s about finding yourselves as a Premier League club and Bournemouth must be able to adapt and realise that the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal will outdo at their own game. Imagine Southampton locating themselves on a continuum; they know which teams they can play away with their own style. They took that fashionable home-like style to West Ham and it worked, but they also know when to switch modes against sides higher on the continuum. They narrowly missed out on points to Arsenal in the final minutes and held both Man City and current Champions Leicester to 0-0 draws. I look at Bournemouth’s 0-0 draw at home to Tottenham this season and hear Eddie Howe’s comments on how it was a more pleasing result than the 6-1 drubbing of Hull City the weekend before. He realised that frustrating the supposedly superior football side is as important as beating the inferior side, but it is time for Bournemouth to trial that away from home.
Home form is all well and good. Your home is somewhere you can express yourself, show your worth and excite the fans. Despite the blip against Sunderland, Bournemouth know that the Vitality Stadium is somewhere they can usually be confident of performing. That being said, all the top sides accrue a respectable amount of away points per season and some even manage to pester the likes of Liverpool, City and Arsenal. It’s not always about winning, it’s about picking up the hard-earned points here and there. You needn’t look further than Burnley last weekend who, inspired by a resilient defence and outstanding goalkeeping performance from Tom Heaton, salvaged a point at Old Trafford. That buoyant edge is what Bournemouth don’t possess yet. For what they have in attacking fluidity and excitement, they lack in ability to slog out results, frustrate and disturb patterns. It’s industrial and hard to watch but, maybe most importantly, it’s a basic necessity in the Premier League.
It’s a humbling lesson to learn, but a vital one in their top-flight progression. A 2-0 defeat away to Middlesbrough was surprising to many, but those were thinking of the Vitality Stadium version of Bournemouth. They need to decide for themselves whether that sort of game is one where they can go hoping for maximum points or whether their primary intentions should be to keep Middlesbrough out. Bournemouth have already lost to Middlesbrough, Man City and West Ham, while dropping points at Palace and Watford as well. 2 points is a disappointing return. The longer they’re in the Premier League, the easier they’ll be able to iron out naiveties and begin to understand where they fit in. Jack Wilshere is a clear signal of their intent to move forward as a club.
Maybe I’m wrong and the club’s current priority is to maintain their place in the Premier League, but if they were being honest with themselves, they would be beginning to have higher ambitions.
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