With Sunday’s Quater-final defeat still fresh in the memory, and with no end in sight for the takeover saga, you would be forgiven for feeling a bit flat about NUFC right now. However, there’s still the small matter of fully securing our Premier League safety to think about as we’re not quite mathematically safe yet (even if there’s less than 1% chance of us being relegated). The same can’t be said for this evenings’ opponents Bournemouth who currently occupy the last remaining relegation place who, with only two wins in the league this year, are also bottom of the form table in 2020.
Their manager Eddie Howe has been the golden boy of young English managers for several years now after guiding Bournemouth through the football leagues to win promotion to the Premier League back in 2015. Howe’s style of play has been said to be reminiscent of Pep Guardiola with an emphasis on attacking possession-based football and high counter-pressing style.
Bournemouth’s league position has been on the decline since their record 9th place finish in the 16/17 season and they’re in real danger of relegation this season unless they start winning games, and soon. After us they face Manchester United, Spurs, Leicester and Man City so a win is an absolute must for them today. Howe will certainly fancy his team’s chances against a fatigued Newcastle side, fresh from a rather humiliating display against City and a 350-mile trip to England’s south coast.
Bournemouth are always capable of pulling off an eye-catching result against one of the ‘big 6’ but these results flatter to deceive and don’t make up for a poor run of form against the ‘lesser’ teams in the league. They’re xG and xGA suggest they’ve done enough to be in 17th place so they will feel slightly unlucky to be in the relegations zone, however, Howe’s side have struggled at both ends of the pitch this season. In defense they’ve found it hard to keep a clean sheet, only managing to do so in 4 out of 31 games which is the lowest in the league.
However, it’s creating and scoring goals that has been their main issue this season and this is largely due to the lack of creative output from one of their key players of the last couple of years, Ryan Fraser. The Scottish midfielder notched 14 assists for the Cherries in 18/19 but has only managed four this season and he has refused to sign a short-term extension to his contract to play until the end of the season, so he will not feature again for Bournemouth.
The main creative onus now lies with 22-year old English midfielder David Brooks who has only just returned from a 12-month spell on the side lines with an ankle injury for which he required two operations. Brooks is an incredibly talented player but will need some time to regain his sharpness, although Eddie Howe has already voiced his concern that his team could become over reliant on the player as they continue to struggled to unlock opposition defenses.
Bournemouth have scored the lowest amount of goals from open play this season registering only 0.4 per game and have instead relied upon set pieces. They’re joint top of the league for goals scored from dead ball situations and they pose a threat due to the aerial ability of Nathan Ake and the height of Phillip Billing. This is something we need to be aware of and, as always, we should avoid giving away silly free kicks around our penalty area (or inside our penalty area for that matter! Yes, I’m looking at you Fabian!).
Howe has used slightly different systems in the two games played since the restart. In the 0-2 defeat against Crystal Palace he used a 4-1-4-1 and, as discussed, was able to name Brooks in his starting line-up for the first time since April 2019. Brooks had the most touches of the ball in the attacking third for Bournemouth and he likes to push up and get close to the striker (Callum Wilson in this game) when his team are attacking. Whilst Brooks moves forward, Lewis Cook will tuck inside slightly to cover the centre with Lerma screening his defense to protect them against counterattacks.
In their last game against Wolves, Eddie Howe tweaked things slightly and moved to a 4-5-1 with Brooks shifting out to the right wing and former Huddersfield Town player Philip Billing coming in to add more physicality to central midfield, whilst Junior Stanilas replaced the injured Josh King on the left. These changes made the team more defensively sound, restricting Wolves to only a handful of useful chances, however, they struggled to maintain any kind of attacking pressure and failed to register a single shot on target in the game.
Team News and possible line ups
Howe doesn’t like to venture far from his tried and tested 4-4-2 system but he’ll be without the suspended Callum Wilson on Wednesday so this might change things. Wilson may not have enjoyed as prolific a season as he did in 18/20 but he’s still scored eight goals which is almost 30% of Bournemouth’s total. On a positive note for them, Josh King and Phillip Billing are likely to return from injury for the game and King will almost certainly be leading the line for the home side.
Steve Bruce made it clear in Tuesday’s press conference that, after playing four games in eleven days, he was going to utilise his squad against Bournemouth. Several of our players looked understandably fatigued against City so I expect to see some changes to our starting line-up as well as a swift return to Bruce’s preferred 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-1-1 system. Bruce even hinted at a central midfield pairing of Shelvey and Bentaleb which would make sense after both players missed the Quarter-final, so should be fresh to start this game. Elsewhere, Matt Ritchie is still a doubt with a hamstring injury which is a shame as I’m sure we’d all like to see a repeat of last season’s thunderous volley from the former Bournemouth man.
I don’t think Bruce will want to risk Ritchie so I really do think we’ll see Lazaro start on the right wing on – if we don’t then I give up and we might as well send him back to Inter. On the left Bruce probably needs to rest Saint-Maximin and instead look to use him as an impact sub later in the game if we need a little bit of magic – this would probably mean Christian Atsu gets a chance against his former team. Upfront I would like to see both Andy Carroll and Joelinton start this game, with the Brazilian dropping off Carroll ready to run on to his knock downs. This would mean Miggy also dropping to the bench for similar reasons as Saint-Maximin, and could also be called upon if we need to change things up.
Bournemouth are the most out of form team in the Premier League which is usually a red flag for me as we seem to roll over for teams when they’re on a bad run. Bournemouth play four of the top seven teams straight after us so, fail to win tonight, and their Premier League survival will be in major doubt. This means Bournemouth should be well up for the game and will be the fresher of the two teams having not played since last Wednesday. Newcastle will be aware of the pressure Bournemouth are under and could use this to their advantage by frustrating the home team’s attacking play and looking to break on the counter. Steve Bruce will be keen for his team to blow away Sunday’s disappointment with a good performance but, with only one point needed to reach the 40-point mark, I think he would settle for a draw... but i’m sure we all want to see a win. HOWAY THE LADS!