F365’s early losers: Bournemouth slip-sliding away…

Date published: Saturday 28th December 2019 4:25

Abject defeat to Brighton left Bournemouth with a neat, unwanted record: They have lost exactly half their 38 Premier League games in 2019. Over a standard season, that is barely survival form. Look at their most recent results and it gets worse – they are currently the worst team in the Premier League. On the south coast on Saturday morning, they absolutely looked that bad. In a game they could not really afford to lose, they could not even muster a second-half shot on target.

Mitigation is offered by an injury list which had flirted with double figures for much of the season – it is telling that only three of last season’s most-picked XI actually started at Brighton – but mitigation does not merit an asterisk on a league table that sees Bournemouth threaten to turn flirtation with relegation into full-on copulation. They are undoubtedly missing Nathan Ake and David Brooks, but that is no explanation for a Callum Wilson barren spell stretching back to September. And it can never explain the £20m spent on the frankly awful Dominic Solanke. There is something rotten in the state of Bournemouth.

And this has been coming. We may have had to wait until the final weeks of 2019 for our prediction of a relegation battle for the Cherries but let’s not now pretend that they are anywhere else. While Brighton have not garnered the results to match their performances, Bournemouth have been collecting exactly what they have deserved. Over the course of 2019, they are the 15th of 17 ever-presents, with only Watford and Brighton below them. And three managers have paid for their poor form.

That is not to say that Eddie Howe should be sacked for Bournemouth’s slide towards relegation, and not just because his record demands that he treated with more respect. His longevity means that his methods are so entrenched that it would be foolish to try and replace him with a fire-fighter; he is probably still Bournemouth’s best hopes of survival. But any sensible club and sensible coach would have a conversation next summer about whether the time has come for a parting of the ways. Or at least a change of structure that might halt the hit-and-miss nature of their transfer business.

But that is a conversation for next summer and not for a winter which has been colder than any other on the south coast. Right now, the questions are why Howe chose to start a two-man central midfield at Brighton, why he did not remedy that at half-time after Aaron Mooy’s first-half influence, and how Callum Wilson managed to play over half an hour of football and only touch the ball five times. Yes, injuries offer mitigation, but Howe’s job is to offer solutions.

There are those who cite an upcoming ‘easy’ fixture list as a reason for optimism, but the uncomfortable truth is that the only points they have picked up in the last ten games have been against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. No side in the bottom half will fear facing this Bournemouth as a forgettable 2019 becomes 2020.

Sarah Winterburn

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