Bournemouth welcome Newcastle fans to the south coast tomorrow in a very odd kick off time in the Premier League.
12.45 is nothing to write home about, but making Newcastle fans travel all the way to Bournemouth for a lunchtime kick off on a Saturday is strange. Some vindictive match scheduler at BT Sport is presumably to blame.
Your anger and ire towards the state of modern football, the gentrification of the game, and the fact that fans are being fleeced out of their pay packets by billionaire owners and TV stations whose executives and employees earn so much more than your average passionate terrace dweller aside, this game is a bit of a relegation six-pointer.
And that’s the bit that brings home the nature of modern football’s reliance on money. The fact that relegation for any team is a huge financial imposition. The fact that relegation is worse for the bank balance than it is for anything else. Surely you don’t want to get relegated simply for sporting reasons, because it means you’ve failed, because you’ll play at a level below, and because you don’t get to play at the great grounds of English football and against its best teams. Not because you’ll literally lose millions. When did that happen?
And after a really positive start to the season, Eddie Howe’s plucky band of minnows in the biggest pond on Earth have started to sink right to the bottom. And defeat tomorrow lunchtime would really nail that point home.
Just a few weeks ago, Newcastle, Sunderland and Aston Villa were pretty much cut adrift at the bottom of the table. Now Newcastle have the chance not just to catch Bournemouth and pass them, but to send the Cherries into the drop zone themselves.
It’s probably too early to be talking about full-on relegation battles, after all, a sterling run of form could still see Bournemouth gain 10 points on most teams above them and finish in a European place. As unlikely as that scenario is, it shows that it’s too early to be predicting too much about the rest of the season.
But some things are still likelier than others. And at the moment, with all the injuries suffered by Bournemouth – seven in all right now – you can’t see them getting very much out of their season barring some wonderful form from players we didn’t expect to be so good!
It’s sad and incredibly harsh, but it does look like life is going to be tough for the Cherries on their first bite of Premier League football.
Because when you’re in a situation where your main scorer Callum Wilson is out, where your main creative and pacey threat Max-Alain Gradel is out, and where your captain and record signing are also out with long-term injuries you’re in really, really deep trouble. But when you’re in that situation, what you have to hope for is an organised defence and a solid goalkeeper – so perhaps the injury to Artur Boruc is actually welcome in this case!
And then you have to hope that you can get something on the break – harder without the pace of Gradel, and his goals too, because people forget that since January until the end of last season Gradel scored more Ligue 1 goals than anyone, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani.
This could be the make or break weekend for Bournemouth. Beating a relegation-rival at home is probably the bare minimum if you’re in the relegation battle. And even if you don’t think Newcastle are in a relegation battle, even if you think they’re far too good to go down and will be safely in the middle of the table by Christmas, it’s still a game you’d be hoping to get something from in your quest for survival.
At the moment, Bournemouth need to fight, of course. But something tells me that signing Eddie Howe to a long-term contract, keeping hold of the bigger players in the team and shoring things up for next season in the Championship might be a good bet. In order to come straight back up and get a second bite of the Premier League the season after.
That’s overly pessimistic, I know, and Bournemouth may still prove everyone wrong by winning enough games to stay up without their big players and by playing attractive attacking football. I really hope that’s the case.
But I’m back to the modern football point. If you spend too much money trying to stay in the league, you’re in even more trouble when you go down. Football these days is about which business can beat another business in order to win money and some little silver trinket that goes with it. For Bournemouth, the romance is still there, but the cold hard corporate reality says take the money, run, and set up to come back again to make a better fist of it.