Eddie Howe has got his Cherries ticking so far this season, sitting pretty in sixth place with 20 points to their name.
In fact, just two points are all that separates Bournemouth from the Champions League positions after the opening 10 fixtures, and summer signing David Brooks is flourishing in the free-flowing attacking football Howe motivates his stars to produce at the Vitality Stadium.
The left-footed attacking midfielder has featured in nine of the opening rounds of the Premier League season, all on the right hand flank, and has struck home three times. His most recent goal came last weekend against Fulham to cement the Cherries’ lead as Adam Smith’s determined run down the wing led to Ryan Fraser slotting in the 21-year-old who had timed his run perfectly.
Yet, while the Warrington-born midfielder is receiving a lot of plaudits for his performances in red and black, the Sheffield United youth graduate has not been the key difference between this year’s line-up and what has been witness to in the past. That man is Jefferson Lerma.
Lerma, like Brooks, arrived in Boscombe during the summer, only his move from Levante saw the Cherries break their transfer record with a £25.2million splurge on a 24-year-old defensive midfielder. Previously Howe’s most expensive purchase had been Nathan Ake when the defender’s loan move from Chelsea turned permanent.
The spend marked the fourth successive year in which Bournemouth had broken their own record fee after Benik Afobe and Jordon Ibe had the honour, but neither have proved a particularly worthwhile purchase.
Afobe for one was a major disappointment on the south coast and it is telling that the Arsenal youth star is no longer at the club, now plying his trade at Stoke City on loan having originally been signed back to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
As for Ibe, the 5 foot 9 winger joined the likes of Afobe in the summer of 2016 but remains a part of Howe’s Cherries roster. The forward that emerged out of Wycombe Wanderers’ academy has never established his presence as a vital cog in the system, leading to just three outings so far this season in all competitions.
In contrast, Lerma is certainly doing what the likes of Afobe and Ibe could not, make his presence felt from the off.
On the back of featuring for his country four times at the summer’s World Cup in Russia, Lerma’s inclusion in a matchday squad was delayed until August 28, when Howe brought the defensive midfielder into his plans for the visit of MK Dons in the Carabao Cup.
Since starting in the midweek affair alongside Lewis Cook in the centre of the field, the 5 foot 10 unit went on to feature in every game up until Tuesday night’s home visit of Norwich in the Carabao Cup, where Howe did not include the Colombian in the squad at all.
But his exclusion from the cup likely has something to do with this weekend’s visit of Manchester United to the Vitality Stadium, for the midfielder is forming the base of a Cherries side that had begged for his type of character since earning their first-ever promotion to the top flight of English football.
Since Bournemouth won the 2014-15 EFL Championship on the final day of the season, seeing off the threat of Watford by a single point, the Cherries have played some of the best attacking football in the Premier League.
The likes of Harry Arter certainly played their part in spreading the ball with ease but the 28-year-old Irishman was essentially the core of the side despite not carrying a serious defensive aspect to his game.
Lerma provides just that – he loves to challenge for the ball and cut the passing lanes before it reaches the opposition – but does not dive into tackles rashly and knows when it is best to stand off the opponent and shield the space.
When you watch Bournemouth break, while a more attacking focused player would look to see where the space is to add another option, the Cherries’ number eight remains back and watches the play unfold to ensure his side cannot be caught out pushing too many upfront and leaving themselves vulnerable should the ball come free.
Having this awareness to keep numbers back and sure up the defence if needed is allowing Bournemouth to flourish the way they are so far this season, conceding the sixth-fewest goals of any side but also scoring the fifth most.
Lerma is showing how he is personally growing his involvement in the side, having gone from producing the seventh most passes out of the Bournemouth players in his first two Premier League outings to regularly appearing amongst the top three passers in Howe’s side since – including 58 efforts in the Cherries’ 4-0 route over Watford as well as winning four aerial duels and making three successful tackles.
Who knows just how pivotal the Colombian can become after his manager admitted the man of the match against Watford and Southampton is still learning the English language.