Tactics writer Sam Tighe previews Wednesday’s south-coast showdown as Southampton travel to Bournemouth in the Premier League.
How do AFC Bournemouth look heading into this clash?
Bournemouth have been quietly impressive over the course of September and October, with interim manager Gary O’Neil getting a consistent tune out of his squad.
In fact, following Manchester City’s loss to Liverpool on Sunday, the Cherries’ unbeaten streak of six is now the longest active one in the Premier League right now. Four of those six may be draws, but it’s clear O’Neil has lifted the mood at the club and, given the club is in the process of a takeover, steadied things impressively.
With Scott Parker at the helm there appeared to be a lack of belief – something referenced directly by co-owner Maxim Demin in the statement announcing Parker’s exit – but under O’Neil, that’s quickly changed.
What changes has O’Neil made during his six games in charge so far?
Parker largely utilised a back three system during his four games in charge this term, but O’Neil has converted Bournemouth fully to a back four (from the beginning of games, at least).
This switch has had multiple benefits: high-profile summer signing Marcos Senesi is now in a more familiar shape; the club’s wide defenders feel more like full-backs than wing-backs at Premier League level; and, on the more intangible side of things, pushing into a more attacking system has fuelled the players with the belief and confidence they needed.
Perhaps the most impactful change, though, has been pushing Philip Billing up the pitch into what’s practically a support striker role; his powerful, tall frame and eye for goal can cause a lot of chaos and he’s made Bournemouth a more dangerous unit in the final third.
What kind of game can Southampton fans expect to see?
Bournemouth are yet to play a Premier League game this season in which they accrue more than 50% possession, with figures often dropping into the lows 30s and, against Newcastle United, hitting 28%. Naturally, this means they average the lowest possession per game in the league (37%) and are clearly comfortable setting up to contain and counter.
They’re also bottom of the league for shots per game (7.1); this is partially a legacy of Parker’s more negative start, but the fact remains they’re not prolific and don’t pull away from teams. This game will be in the balance throughout.
Dominic Solanke will test Saints’ defensive line with good movement, while Bournemouth will strongly favour attacking down the flanks (rather than creating centrally). Against Fulham, they consistently found clever ways to progress down the line, cut inward around 18 yards out and fashion a shooting chance.
What weaknesses can Saints exploit?
O’Neil will no doubt be delighted with his team’s results of late, but at least one thing will be nagging him: Bournemouth’s difficulties defending set-pieces.
They’ve conceded a joint-league-high six goals from these situations already, plus another three from the penalty spot. Fulham scored one of each on Saturday, taking advantage of the sort of situational frailty Southampton should have their eye on.
James Ward-Prowse’s vicious deliveries from dead-ball situations could have real value here, while the scramble Ché Adams’ purposeful runs can cause could result in more mistakes in the box on Bournemouth’s part.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Neto; Fredericks, Mepham, Senesi, Smith; Lerma, Cook; Christie, Billing, Tavernier; Solanke.
-Rotation is almost certain to be a factor following a short turnaround from the weekend
-Senesi’s a very good progressive passer from the centre-back position
-Billing’s new more attacking role has been extremely effective of late
-Solanke’s as much a creator as a goalscorer now and must be marshalled closely