Lapping up the south coast sunshine, it’s no surprise Bournemouth have put their sandals on early. But that cushion of all but mathematically secured survival allows Eddie Howe to put plans in place that will remedy the problems for next season via the transfer market rather than having to focus on immediate solutions – and it’s quite clear from the statistics that Bournemouth are lacking real ball-winning mettle.
Bournemouth play gorgeous football when at their best, but out of possession there’s still a lack of aggression about them. Tellingly, Bournemouth rank bottom for tackles per game, seventh-bottom for interceptions per game and fourth-bottom for fouls per game out of all Premier League clubs this season, according to Whoscored.
Jefferson Lerma was signed last summer to improve that aspect of Bournemouth’s game but the Colombian’s influence has waned throughout the season, and he can’t overturn the key characteristics of a whole team on his own. In any case, in the absence of Lewis Cook, quality in deep-lying midfield has been a real problem for the Cherries with Dan Gosling and Andrew Surman struggling to fill the former Leeds man’s void.
Clearly, a dynamic ball-winning midfielder would go a long way to remedying Bournemouth’s biggest problem. Inevitably, those players are often thought of in a defensive sense but the likes of N’Golo Kante and Idrissa Gueye have proved they they can make a difference going forward as well, whether that’s by bursting away from breakdowns with the ball at feet to dribble into space on the counter-attack or arriving late in the box. Midfield output is a key problem for Bournemouth as well – Lerma is the only central midfielder to have scored or assisted for Howe’s side in the Premier League this season.
Philip Billing: With 2.7 tackles, 2 interceptions and 3.3 aerial duels won per game this season, Billing ranks above all of Bournemouth’s current midfielders on all three fronts, while he’s ahead of them in the scoring charts on two despite Huddersfield’s woes in front of goal. The Yorkshire club’s relegation could well see him move on this summer and at the age of 22, he’d be a wise long-term investment for a club like Bournemouth.
Massimo Luongo: He’s not traditionally seen as a ball-winner but the Australian international has made three tackles or more in 21 Championship games this season, standing out in a very poor QPR side. With an established record of popping up further forward, last season netting six times in the Championship, he’d solve a few problems for Bournemouth – and his contract will have just 12 months left this summer.
Ibrahim Sangare: Comparisons with Kante and Gueye seem inevitable, the Toulouse man being yet another Ligue 1 midfield product of the same mould. This season, he’s combined four tackles per game with 1.9 dribbles, while popping up with three assists. Aged 21, top clubs will no doubt already be looking at the Ivory Coast international, so Bournemouth will do well to get there first.