Gameweek 5 begins on Friday night when AFC Bournemouth, who are still looking for their first points of the season, host a Brighton side full of confidence after an impressive 3-1 victory against West Brom last Saturday. Ahead of that game FPL Draft Boss spoke to Simon Reed, a Cherries season ticket holder for more than 15 years, AFC Bournemouth fan blogger for Yahoo Sport UK and owner of the YouTube channel AFCB Analysis.
Bournemouth haven’t had the greatest of starts to put it mildly and sit second bottom of the Premier League after 4 games. “It’s not looking great,” admits Simon, “we’ve got Brighton on Friday but even if we win we’re still in the bottom 3. It’s not good at the moment and we’ve only scored one goal so far. That was Charlie Daniels screamer against Manchester City and we played well that day but against Arsenal, West Brom and Watford we were awful. We’re playing with no spark and that’s a complete change from how it was at the end of last season. It’s just not quite clicking together and we need to improve pretty soon because we might be cut adrift eventually.”
“Against Man City I felt we didn’t deserve to lose, obviously City dominated possession but that’s expected with the players they’ve got. In terms of clear cut chances I thought it was pretty even and we hit the post in the second half with a really good chance to make it 2-0 but we needed to go more than one goal up and once City equalised they went up a gear. Still it was really gutting to lose that point so late in the game.”
That 97th minute defeat could prove costly at the end of the season and a look at Bournemouth’s next 6 fixtures doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Cherries face Brighton before facing Everton (A), Leicester (H), Tottenham (A), Stoke (A), Chelsea (H). “To be honest with the form we are in every game is tough. It’s pretty grim at the moment but hopefully we can get a result on Friday and get some sort of momentum. Of course that’s easier said than done.”
However it’s not for want of trying. Boss Eddie Howe has used 3 different formations over the first 4 games, shuffling his pack in an attempt to find a winning formula. This uncertainty has had a knock on effect for Fantasy Football managers too with last season’s top goalscorer Josh King moved wide to accommodate new signing Jermain Defoe. Simon expects their partnership to continue. “I think he’ll persist with 2 up front and they will play as our 2 main forwards for the foreseeable future. Personally I feel we’d be better having King as the main striker and then having Defoe as a sub coming off the bench but it might take a while for that to happen.”
“Defoe has brought confusion into Howes mind regarding who to pick up top so King has been shunted over to the wing. He’s alright out wide but he plays best as the main forward. He can make runs from a deep-ish position and cause mayhem that way. He’s played up front with Benik Afobe earlier this season and the two of them form an OK partnership but King definitely works best as a single man. He’s obviously a huge player for us but it might take a while for Howe to realise he needs to have him as the main striker so King may have to wait to start getting some goals, a lot like last season when he was essential to us staying up.”
Despite rumours of a big money move the Norwegian signed a new contract on the South Coast after plundering 16 Premier League goals last term and he has been on average the 9th striker off the board in Draft Fantasy Football this campaign.
Other areas of Bournemouth’s team have proven to be much less popular with Fantasy managers with an average of 85 midfielders being chosen ahead of the Cherries number one midfield pick Junior Stanislas. To Simon this is no great surprise. “One of our main flaws is our midfield. We just don’t have the quality in central midfield to play with 2 men so we always have to play 3 central midfielders. We had Jack Wilshere on loan last season and despite only getting 2 assists and no goals we looked a completely different team with him than now without him. We just don’t really have a player that can pick out a pass or bring play forward, I was at Arsenal on Saturday and it was very evident that we kept passing it back and sideways.”
“Wilshere did disappear in some games there’s no getting around that but compared to the rest of our midfield he was clearly a step above in terms of his thought process and his control on the ball. Now we’ve got Harry Arter who isn’t a creative midfielder he just battles away in the middle and he’s not even looking like he can do that just now. Also Andrew Surman passes sideways a lot and he’s kind of hated by a lot of our fans for that reason. Then we have Dan Gosling who like Arter is very limited.”
“I love Gosling because he tries very hard but against any team outside the top half he’s horribly exposed. Against Arsenal he was clearly out of place, he’s not very comfortable in possession and he lost the ball for the 3rd goal Arsenal scored.”
“The other central midfielder in our squad is Lewis Cook who we signed from Leeds in 2016. Cook was the captain of the England U20 side that won the World Cup this summer and a lot of our fans don’t understand why he’s not playing for us now. He got some games towards the end of last season when Wilshere got injured and he showed great vision. When it comes to natural ability and passing he’s head and shoulders above all the other midfielders I’ve mentioned.”
In 6 appearances (just 4 starts) in 2016/17 Lewis Cook managed 2 assists but hasn’t featured in a single Premier League game this season. “If he gets in and has a couple of good performances than Howe won’t be able to drop him, but it’s just a case of somehow finding his way in. He was the pick of our midfield in our win away at Birmingham in the Carabao Cup. Hopefully he will see more game time.”
Fellow 2016 signing Jordan Ibe was brought in from Liverpool to a huge fanfare but seemed to produce nothing. A grand total of 0 goals and 0 assists in 25 League matches (13 starts) drew an understandably disappointed reaction from the Bournemouth faithful. “He has looked better in this pre season but that wouldn’t be hard to be honest! He did look dangerous when he came on against Arsenal and set up our 2 best chances. He set up Defoe who hit the post and also King whose header was tipped over the bar by Petr Cech. Ibe is a big risk if you were going to have him in your fantasy team but he could come good later on and I think there’s a small chance of that. For our other wingers Max Gradel has gone out on loan, Ryan Fraser isn’t looking great this year and I think this is a season too far for Marc Pugh.”
What about the aforementioned Stanislas? “He’s a very good player on his day and he takes all our corners and free kicks when he plays. Problem is he’s injured every other month, he’s injured now and isn’t back until late September. Last year in 21 games (18 starts) he managed 7 goals 5 assists. I think Howe likes him a lot and a lot of our fans are crying out for Stanislas because he offers that bit of creativity in midfield. When he’s fit he will be part of the team.”
Asmir Begovic has been brought in to be the undisputed number 1 after a few years backing up Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea. The only other major signing this summer also came from Stamford Bridge in the form of a permanent deal for last season’s loan star Nathan Aké. The young man is versatile enough to play in a number of positions and should see plenty of game time.
“We’ve played a trio of central defenders in the last 2 games and in a back 3 Nathan Aké and Steve Cook are are the guaranteed starters. The other one will probably be Simon Francis who is back from injury, it was Tyrone Mings but as Francis is the captain Howe seems to think he must play every game when available.”
“At left back Charlie Daniels got 4 goals and 3 assists last campaign. Defensively he can be a little suspect but you can say that about our team in general so it’s hard to single him out. Adam Smith at right back doesn’t really have any competition for his position. Simon Francis was our right back but he got shifted over to centre back because we had so few defenders in our squad and I don’t think he can play right back anymore. Smith is a decent player in terms of assists (5 last year) but defensively he can get ripped to shreds by the better wingers in this league. We may look to bring in another right back in January.”
“Against Brighton I wouldn’t be surprised if we changed formation again and went back to a 4-4-2. When we are on a bad run of form Howe tends to revert to 4-4-2 with as many of the players from the Championship winning side as he can possibly pick and just pray it works out. Hopefully it does but I think this might be a season too far for a lot of these players.”
After seeing Bournemouth come up through the divisions in such a short period of time is this the year when they will finally get caught out? What would be classed as a successful season for Bournemouth?
“I think last season’s finish of 9th was misleading as only 6 points separated 8th and 17th. To expect us to finish 9th again is unreasonable and a lot of our fans were simply hoping we would finish mid table this time around. With the start we’ve made that would be a great achievement. People are just thinking of survival first at the moment then maybe lower mid table. Obviously we are only 4 games in and I still think we can stay up but we need to improve on these players if we’re going to maintain a mid table position. A lot of teams around us have improved whereas whilst our transfer activity looked good on paper we still need to upgrade a lot of elements to this team. If we are still around the bottom in January I wouldn’t be surprised if we bring in another midfielder, full back and attempt to bolster several parts of the squad.”
Even if Bournemouth do struggle this season their manager Eddie Howe is seen as something of a saviour down on the South Coast. “I don’t think it’s possible to understand just how much Eddie Howe is loved by the AFC Bournemouth fan base. I don’t think a single man can possibly be loved by one club any more than he is here. If he was ever sacked there would be protests and even if we were relegated I wouldn’t want him to leave. He’s a living legend, possibly the biggest AFC Bournemouth legend ever and he’s still only 39! He played for us for 15 years and I remember watching him as a kid when he was our centre back. He became our manager when he was just 30 years old and he saved us from what looked like certain relegation to non league. He took us from League 2 to League 1, left to manage Burnley and then came back to take us from League 1 to the Championship and then to the holy grail of the Premier League. The man can do no wrong” Simon beams, “and I don’t think Eddie Howe is at any risk of being sacked this season.”
That may be the case, but as anyone with Josh King in their Fantasy side will agree, it’s about time Bournemouth started winning some Premier League games.
Simon Reed is on Twitter @ebtks
Photograph taken from http://www.afcb.co.uk