Opposition Profile: AFC Bournemouth
A comprehensive view of AFC Bournemouth's situation so you can be in the know.
(I do not claim any of the images as my own: all image sources are named and images are hyperlinked to the website that they were found. All research and sources used can be found at the end of the article)
Middlesbrough will face one of their most significant tests of the season when they host Bournemouth this coming weekend. The South coast side is one of the favourites for promotion this season. They have worked hard to fulfil expectations by holding onto one of the automatic promotion spots.
Their favourable position has been backed by some very credible performances this season. Still, a recent turn of form will cause concern for Scott Parker's men. If this form continues, the chasing pack will shortly consume them into another of the playoff contenders.
The Cherries will look to re-establish the previous form with their trip to Middlesbrough. The Teessiders' have looked revitalised by Wilder's arrival, but the shift from Warnock's considered and structured playing style to a high-press and high-energy style from Wilder has opened up a few concerning gaps, particularly when the side begins to tire in the latter stages of matches.
Despite these struggles, Middlesbrough has looked very good over recent weeks which means they should be far from a pushover for Bournemouth. Furthermore, the 'underdog' tag that Middlesbrough will naturally be branded with coming into this match may do more to motivate and incentivise than cause doubts or concerns in the squad. It is under such premises that Wilder's man-management exudes quality.
All the same, Middlesbrough will go into this match as undeniable underdogs and so getting a complete grasp on the opposition may be valuable for fans and club alike.
Owner: Maxim Demin
The Bournemouth majority owner is a unique figure within football. The football industry appears to be increasingly moving towards 'larger than life' ownerships, whether figures such as Ryan Reynolds at Wrexham or nation-state owned Manchester City and Newcastle United. As a result, football ownership is becoming another factor in the football drama. However, Maxim Demin bucks this trend. The Russian multi-millionaire is a reclusive owner. He has never partaken in the footballing drama beyond funding the club and occasionally watching the spectacle from the stands. As a result, it is difficult to establish much about the owner beyond his role at the club.
Demin owns a petrochemical company, Wintel, which deals predominantly in primary industrial sources, whether oil or metal ores and a holdings company, Wintel Holdings Ltd., which is more of an unknown identity. Demin established his small fortune through these companies before accruing Bournemouth to his portfolio.
Bournemouth has gone through an impressive change during his tenure at the club. When he made his initial 50% buy-in, Bournemouth was sat in League One. However, alongside and supporting Eddie Howe, his work would prove to be integral as the side went on to back-to-back promotions.
This meteoric rise up the leagues meant that the facilities were largely ill-fitting for Premier League standards. So a considerable improvement would have to be made if they were to establish themselves as a top side in the long term. Demin made this his top priority once the club made it to the promised land, using the additional funds available from the wealthiest league in the world to begin this change. Unfortunately, balancing investment behind the scenes and maintaining a strong enough squad to compete led to slower development than initially intended. While the clubs' infrastructure has come on leaps and bounds during their stint in the Premier League, there is still some way to go before reaching the clubs' vision. However, losing the financial liberty of Premier League funding has further slowed down the process imposing additional stress towards their desire to get promoted.
When the club was relegated, Demin presented a heartfelt and motivational message to the supporters. One of a handful of direct interactions with the fans, he expressed condolences and a newfound motivation to return to the Premier League at the first time of trying. But, unfortunately, these desires didn't come to fruition on the pitch.
Demin, it was rumoured, frustrated at the clubs' failure to instantly return to the Premier League, invited the possibility of purchase or investment to a selection of potentially interested parties. However, these calls for interest didn't bear fruit. Still, they caused an unsettling within the fanbase as many speculated over Demin's commitment to the club in the long term.
The Switzerland-based multi-millionaire has consistently supported the club financially during his tenure in charge. That is likely to continue regardless of any potential changes of heart. Furthermore, Bournemouth's current position will please him greatly. When presenting the club to potential investors, his primary concern was the clubs' failure to return to the Premier League. If things continue in the same vein, the club will return to the promised land in the distant future.
Manager: Scott Parker
Bournemouth's manager would make the shortlist for the most sauce manager in the Championship. However, Scott Parker is more than just a pretty face. The manager is a capable coach who managed to find success in the Championship during his time at Fulham.
Interestingly, his move from the London-based side to the South coast is a side-step. Both sides are currently vying for the top spot with just 2 points separating the two sides showing that this change in clubs for Parker was neither a step-down nor a step up. This calls into question the very reason why he left Fulham to join Bournemouth, as there is no marked improvement between the two sides in terms of quality. Instead, the move may have been financially incentivised. This shows his reputation didn't develop during his time at Fulham; aside from proving his worth in the upper echelons of the Championship, his reputation stagnated. This is primarily due to the two relegations that sandwiched Fulham's promotion to the Premier League.
The biggest issue with Scott Parker is that he is an inexperienced manager meaning that he lacks the plethora of personal knowledge often accrued by managers at this level. Instead, Parker is intelligent in deploying a lot of his personal theory and knowledge he has gained under numerous managers to succeed at this level.
Tactics: Vertical Tikki-Takka
Despite a change in management, Bournemouth has maintained some continuity from last seasons charge for promotion by essentially continuing with a 4-3-3 formation. The prevalence of this system is hardly a surprise. The squad is more suited to this formation than the 4-2-3-1 that Parker made his own at Fulham. This formation, devised and popularised by the Netherlands, helps find a dynamic balance between attack and defence. When aligned with Parkers preferred playing style, it can become the perfect outline for vertical Tikki-Takka.
Johan Cruyff first devised the 4-3-3 to ensure that the player on the ball would have two options at all times. In essence, creating the first passing triangles prevalent in modern-day football. This gives the side a better chance of holding onto the ball and maintaining possession regardless of the pressure imposed by the opposition's press. Conversely, this structure can cause the side to focus on control over all else, resulting in possession for possession's sake.
This predominant focus on possession suits current manager Scott Parker's vision for football. He has been categorised as the type of manager that wants to 'play football'. Encouraging his sides to play out from the back and then through the thirds aiming to fashion chances through passing moves. However, Parker subscribes to an adaption of the Spanish Tikki-Takka playing style: vertical Tikki-Takka. While it follows many of the same cornerstones of traditional Tikki-Takka, it is often played at a faster tempo and a stronger desire to get it through the thirds quicker through more progressive passes. To encourage this style of play, these managers often set up their sides in a narrow formation to increase the number of options available to the man in possession. By playing narrow, Parker and others, introduce more passing triangles in the centre of the pitch, making it easier to progress through the thirds.
This vertical adaption to the passing-based tactic explains Bournemouth's relatively small possession statistics. The side has averaged just 56% possession so far this season.
Scott Parker instructs his sides to stop the opposition by any means necessary. This results in a more aggressive defensive style that has translated into one of the league's highest fouls per game ratios. This tactic is predominantly used to prevent the opposition from getting into their stride and countering an overexposed Bournemouth defence resulting in most of these fouls occurring in the opposition half. However, such tackles are permitted in the pitch's deeper areas, resulting in crossing and shooting opportunities. These opportunities are forfeited with the express belief that Parker's side will come out on top, a perspective that is backed by the limited success rate of set pieces.
Meanwhile, their success in keeping the opposition out when these situations arise is reflected in the sides' high 20.5 clearances per match (7th). These are signs of a successful tactic which their 0.9 goals conceded per game so far this season reflects (3rd). Counter to this, Bournemouth actually has a low tackle per game ratio, indicating that Parker sets out his sides in deeper areas of the pitch in a passive block. This could be difficult to break down without Martin Payero to open the lock.
Bournemouth also has the personnel to excel in this tactical set-up, allowing them to push into the league's upper echelons.
One To Watch: Philip Billing
Consistency is vital in the Championship. Bournemouth has found that in their midfield, with Parker consistently picking the same trio in the heart of his team, these players have continued to put in impressive performances. The jewel in this crown is Philip Billing. The Danish midfielder has been highly regarded for several years after he built a solid reputation at Huddersfield Town. His move from Yorkshire to the South Coast in 2019 didn't hinder his development. Now, Scott Parker fully trusts the 25-year-old in central midfield. The Dane has repaid that trust with some awe-inspiring performances this season.
Billing has excelled under Scott Parker this season. His impressive return of 7 goals in 19 games charts the club's second top goalscorer and the top goalscoring midfielder in the Championship. So naturally, interest in his 241 minutes per goal will be a priority for the pundits in the build-up to kick-off. Still, his attacking threat can also be found in his ability to lay one on for a teammate. His 4 assists to date place's him joint second in the teams' charts and a continuously impressive 4th in all the midfielders in the league. This impressive attacking return means that he is currently the most dangerous midfielder in the Championship.
He will prove to be a constant danger, mainly when he breaks into the box within the white lines that most of his direct goal contributions occur. This doesn't come as any surprise as an extra midfielder committing a run into the box can displace a defence or allow the midfielder to find space otherwise unavailable to other attackers.
He may be an undoubted threat going forward. Still, it would be unfitting to call Billing an attacking midfielder as his all-around attributes mean that he fits closer to the box-to-box mould.
The box-to-box role features most of the components that are required within the limits of the defensive and offensive boxes. This means that the player is essentially an ever-present at both ends of the pitch. As a result, he can perform at a reasonable level regardless of whatever is asked. This almost jack-of-all-trades role is relatively flexible depending on the individual strengths and those around them. Still, they are typically the more dynamic players in the team. In Middlesbrough's case, this would mean Marcus Tavernier or Matt Crooks.
In Philip Billing's case, this means a focus on the attacking areas of his role while 'pitching in' in other parts of the midfield. For instance, he has attempted 35 tackles this season, an average of 1.8 tackle attempts per game, a respectable return for a central midfielder but a considerable margin behind Danny Drinkwater and Ben Sheaf's midfield table-topping of 2.7 tackle attempts per game. Meanwhile, he will play his role in build-up play averaging 31.5 passes per game. Still, he remains almost 10 passes behind teammate Jefferson Lerma's 40.9 passes per game. This highlights the case that he will perform in other areas of the field, as expected from a box-to-box midfielder, but in the final third, the Dane comes to life.
While Billing has had a taste of the Premier League, he has failed to impress at the International level; he has only broken into the Danish national team on one occasion, he will want to further his development to return to the Premier League and stake a claim to the Denmark national team.
Hot Prospect: Jaidon Anthony
Some young talents ease their way into the limelight, steadily building their reputation. In contrast, others burst onto the scene from nowhere. Jaidon Anthony belongs to the latter group as his shirt number 32 would suggest. However, the 22-year-old should be regarded Bournemouth academy graduate as, despite initially starting out at Arsenal, most of his youth development took place on the South Coast.
Anthony's burst onto the scene is best highlighted in contrast to his last loan move. In January 2020, Anthony agreed to a short term loan move to Vanarama National League side Weymouth, some 3 leagues below his current level. While he returned and remained a bit part of the squad last season, it was at the start of this season, under Scott Parker, that his career really hit the ground running.
Jaidon Anthony is a specialist in that he is solely and absolutely an attacking player. However, he has developed his technical, mental and physical abilities to be an efficient and effective threat from the wide roles within this remit.
He is particularly efficient as a goalscoring winger, a rare and precious commodity in football. He is one of the best in the Championship. To date, Anthony has provided a return of 6 goals in 22 matches, joint 3rd most goals scored by wingers in the Championship. Furthermore, Karlan Grant and Ben Brereton (above Anthony in the chart) have experience as a striker, giving them more opportunity to add to their tally, inflating output and deflating the perceived impact of Anthony. Additionally, Anthony has been a creative force from wider areas. He can deliver dangerous crosses and pick out passes, giving him a return of 4 assists so far this season, joint 5th best return of any winger in the league and joint second in his sides charts.
This impressive return has been aided by the narrow formation deployed by Parker. This allows the 22-year-old to drift into the box, find space to execute a very competent strike and pull the strings when needed. However, with Dominic Solanke upfront, a lot of his perceived and potential danger comes from his ability to cross the ball, which places him amongst the best in the league. So, as things stand, almost 1/2 of his attempted crosses find a Bournemouth head.
Scott Parker has been impressed by the English flanker so far this season. That is no less due to his willingness to comply with his tactical instructions. The former Fulham coach prefers his sides to tackle the opposition early. In this instance, Anthony has been key to the side as he has attempted some 36 tackles to date.
In Anthony, Parker has a very dangerous weapon that wields a deft touch, a developing tactical mind and the ability to caress the ball into the corner of the goal when he finds the opportunity.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-1 Bournemouth
It is hard to see Middlesbrough keeping a clean sheet in this fixture. The Cherries are very proficient going forward with Solanke and Billing pairing up to dangerous effect time and again so far this season. However, Parker's side has struggled for form in recent weeks. Nevertheless, Middlesbrough looks increasingly promising under Chris Wilder, creating the right environment for a surprise result.