If there was one manager in the Premier League thought to be more secure in his position than Claudio Ranieri, it was probably Eddie Howe. The Bournemouth boss’s achievement in taking the Cherries from League Two to the Premier League means he should have a job for life. Many, though, said the same about the now deposed Leicester manager, and Howe’s side are in equally dreadful form as the champions.
Of course, the likelihood of the Bournemouth players rallying against their manager is extremely slim at best, and Howe may claim that Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at West Brom was symptomatic of their fortunes of late. Despite taking an early lead, they were beaten by a deflected strike and the combination with a goalkeeping howler at one end and a shot-stopping masterclass at the other. But six defeats and two draws from their last eight games is relegation form.
Before the trip to the Hawthorns, Howe remained characteristically unruffled. “The spell we have been on, you can’t hide from. It’s not been good, conceding a lot of goals,” he admitted. “But I think it has been slightly unusual the way that has happened, so I don’t think there is anything structurally wrong with us. We haven’t changed anything from early season, we have just suffered in certain moments.”
To say that there is ‘nothing structurally wrong’ about a team that has conceded 20 goals in seven games is either misleading or ignoring the blatantly obvious. Only Swansea have conceded more goals in the Premier League this term.
That seven-game run started back in the first weekend of the New Year, when Howe made 11 changes to his side for the FA Cup third-round tie that ended in an embarrassing 3-0 defeat. Bournemouth were sitting pretty in ninth place. Since then, they’ve dropped to 14th, just five points clear of the bottom three, with only Leicester in worse form, and then only marginally.
In that same period, Swansea, under new manager Paul Clement have shipped in six fewer goals, and their opponents have included Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. The Swans are improving; the same cannot be said of Bournemouth.
Bournemouth’s slide coincided with the transfer window, during which Howe failed to strengthen his ranks. Indeed, the Cherries ended January weaker than they started it, due to Nathan Ake being recalled to Chelsea.
Some people have pinpointed Ake’s exit as mitigation for their current woes, but the numbers hardly back that up. The Chelsea defender started only eight matches in which the Cherries conceded 18 goals – an average of 2.25 goals per game.
Howe failed to get in a replacement centre-half, which gave Tyrone Mings an opportunity to come in. Few would begrudge Mings his opportunity but having been sidelined with a knee injury for over a year, which he sustained 12 minutes into his Premier League debut, the 23-year-old requires careful nurturing.
The manager also wanted a goalkeeper in January, with only Chelsea’s failure to recruit a suitable replacement scuppering a deal for Asmir Begovic. Howe had no Plan B, however, meaning he has no choice but to persevere with Artur Boruc. The Pole has conceded three goals per game since it became clear his manager wanted to replace him, with West Brom’s winner coming directly from the keeper’s mistake.
Howe tried to tinker when he switched to a back-three at Everton. Bournemouth conceded three before half-time and the experiment was scrapped. They went back to a 4-4-2 in the second half at Goodison and still conceded three more.
The Bournemouth squad spent some of their 12-day break in Madrid and did “some really intense training,” according to Howe. You would expect much of that time was devoted to working on defensive shape, and though West Brom’s two goals came via an unfortunate deflection and an individual error, Howe will have been hoping for better after getting the opportunity to intensively coach both individuals and units within his side.
Under Howe, Bournemouth have suffered a New Year dip on almost an annual basis as they climbed through the divisions. If he is to continue to be discussed as potential candidate for some of the country’s biggest jobs, then the 39-year-old has to identify and implement some swift solutions for his squad’s deficiencies and hope he doesn’t live to regret the club’s failings in the transfer market.