The rise of Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth is not an achievement to be sniffy about and neither is the predicament they currently find themselves in. Howe is truly revered at Bournemouth and yet he finds himself battling to maintain Bournemouth’s position in the Premier League. This is a manager so beloved by the Cherries fanbase that, whilst still a player, Howe was brought back to Bournemouth with funds raised specifically by the fans. I’d be fairly certain that the feeling is mutual. Howe has taken a team docked 17 points in the 2008/2009 season, maintained their status in the Football League and, with each preceding season, built upon his previous achievements.
Howe’s achievements have been remarkable due to the nature of the squad he has crafted. Few stellar names, but tremendous buy-in from each member of the squad.
This season however, Howe has appeared unable to draw the same levels of collective output that have previously enabled his team to punch above their weight. Injuries have also played an immense factor in Bournemouth’s inability to play their natural game, depriving Howe for long periods without his central core of attacking talent.
He has, however, been backed considerably throughout his tenure in Englands’s top flight and has sought to diminish the burden on Callum Wilson, whose career has been perpetuated by injury. Solanke was brought in for £19.1 million, but has struggled to transform his youth stats into anything resembling a competent Premier League striker. Joshua King has also unfortunately had a season littered with injuries.
The beauty of Bournemouth’s play last season lay in the link up between Wilson, Ryan Fraser and David Brooks with King playing a more than competent support role. Looking at Fbref , their collective key passes of 181 provided the bulk of the overall squad 318.
The ammunition provided for Wilson enabled him to have his best season under Howe, bagging 14 league goals with Fraser providing the perfect foil with 14 assists and 7 goals. Their link up play would lead them to set the record of 11 goals directly involving two players.
Brooks was integral to Bournemouth’s performances last year, weighing in with 7 goals and 5 assists in his maiden EPL season. In Brooks, they have a player comfortable in one-vs-one situations, but with added end-product. Howe had previously looked to Jordan Ibe as a wide player, however, the ex-Liverpool winger has struggled to provide the quality in the final third.
A fully-fit David Brooks was contributing 0.48 goals and assists per game. Coupled with the relationship that Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson were developing, it gave Howe an attacking quartet (with King) that showcased the best of Bournemouth. Admittedly, it’s a smaller sample size, but the Welshman does boast impressive shooting figures of 21 shots on target from 41 taken. Compare this to other debutants such as Harvey Barnes of Leicester City and Mason Mount of Chelsea in their 2019/2020 campaigns and we start to get a picture of how good a player Brooks is.
This season has seen the wheels fall off for Howe as Fraser’s contractual wranglings have resulted in a major drop-off in performance and, coupled with Brooks’ long-term injury, it means that teams have only Fraser to nullify when looking to thwart Bournemouth’s creative threats.
Fraser has dropped off from contributing 0.60 goals and assists per game in the 2018/2019 season to a mere 0.22 this season. His link up play with Wilson that brought a record 11 goals between them last time round has failed to reignite and has left Bournemouth struggling for goals, averaging only 3.28 shots on target per game, down from last seasons 4.0.
Much will depend on whether Brooks can return match-fit, for if Howe is to continue his fairytale story with Bournemouth, one can only hope that he is able to assemble these four players in the final run-in of the season, and pray that collectively, they can produce something close to last year’s attacking output. Bournemouth, and Howe’s, Premier League status may very well be defined by it.