Plenty thought Bournemouth would part with Andoni Iraola when they failed to win any of their first nine Premier League games. Now, they are among the division’s form teams.

It must have been a strange feeling. Into stoppage time at Old Trafford, Dango Ouattara bundled his way past Manchester United goalkeeper André Onana and slid in what he thought was a fourth goal for Bournemouth. Unfortunately for the visitors, a VAR check showed the ball had grazed the back of Ouattara’s hand before he scored, so it was disallowed.

If you had told any Bournemouth fan two months ago that they would be disappointed to only win 3-0 at Manchester United, they would probably have laughed in your face.

We looked at Bournemouth’s situation a couple of months ago as they awaited their first win of the Premier League season. Things weren’t working out results-wise, but the underlying numbers seemed promising.

That was ahead of them welcoming former boss Gary O’Neil back to the Vitality Stadium with his Wolves side. Many felt Bournemouth had rather harshly replaced O’Neil over the summer with Iraola, and with the former Portsmouth midfielder doing well at Molineux while his former club floundered, it appeared to be a decision that might have backfired.

O’Neil may have continued to do well on the south coast had he stayed, but if showing patience with Iraola was a case of the club learning its lesson by not pulling the trigger early on their new manager this time, it seems to be paying off.

After nine games in England’s top flight, former Rayo Vallecano boss Iraola had won just three points (D3 L6) and his team sat in the relegation zone. The Opta supercomputer was predicting their eventual drop down to the Championship unless they changed that trajectory quickly.

They got their first win of the campaign against Burnley in their next game, though were then on the end of a Jérémy Doku-inspired 6-1 hammering at Manchester City.

Since then, no team has won more points than Bournemouth in the Premier League. In fact, they are actually top of the form table for the last five games, ahead of title challengers Liverpool and Aston Villa on goal difference.

Premier League form table last 5

The only game in which they have dropped points during that run was a 2-2 draw against in-form Villa, when Ollie Watkins needed to find a 90th-minute equaliser to stop it being another Bournemouth win.

The perception of Spanish coaches has often been that they focus on a possession-based game, passing their opponents into submission, but Iraola heavily bases his approach around high pressing. In fact, across the big five European leagues in 2022-23, only Bayern Munich (73) forced more high turnovers that led to a shot than Iraola’s Rayo Vallecano (68).

He told Sky Sports in June how he has been influenced by Marcelo Bielsa, whom he played under for two years at Athletic Club. “I use a lot of exercises from Marcelo that I learned from him,” Iraola said. “I use a lot of things, especially with the ball. Offensively, his teams are very dynamic. He is willing to make all the runs to the space, he is ready to accept this kind of disorder, offensively.”

You can see that in his Bournemouth side too. Clearly, they are not too focused on passing, given only five teams in the Premier League have averaged less than their 41.9% possession, and only three have attempted fewer passes.

High turnovers are where they look to shine, not necessarily in terms of volume – nine other Premier League teams have made more than their 135 so far – but as far as effectiveness is concerned, they are starting to produce the goods.

Bournemouth’s six goals from high turnovers is more than any other Premier League side this season. By comparison, Manchester United lead the league for high turnovers (165) but are yet to see a single goal from any of them. In fact, across Europe’s big five leagues in 2023-24, only Bundesliga pair Stuttgart (5.2%) and Borussia Mönchengladbach (4.9%) have scored from a higher proportion of their high turnovers than Bournemouth (4.4%).

Bournemouth High Turnovers

Only the so-called ‘big six’ of Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham have won possession in the final third of the pitch more often than Bournemouth, though the risk of a high-pressing approach is that it can leave a team open at the back if their opponents can beat that press. Across the first 11 matchdays in the Premier League this season, only Sheffield United faced more shots than Bournemouth.

Their improvement in their last five games has been clear to see in more than just results, though, with only four teams attempting more shots (78), none having a higher expected goals (xG) than their 10.7 and only Arsenal (3.3) having a lower xG against than their 4.1. Despite that low xG tally, 10 teams have conceded fewer shots in that time, suggesting that Iraola’s men almost don’t mind the opposition having attempts at their goal, as long as they are low-quality chances. Across those last five matchdays, Bournemouth have given up non-penalty shots with an average xG of 0.06 – the lowest in the Premier League. Before this five-game run, that average was 0.11 and the joint-fourth highest in the competition.

Of course, five games is a relatively small sample size. Bournemouth must keep this going, and there’s plenty of reasons to think they can. They have one of the kinder-looking runs of fixtures over the Christmas period, playing Luton (h), Nottingham Forest (a), Fulham (h) and Tottenham (a). That clash with Spurs on New Year’s Eve should be another good test of the substance of this Bournemouth side.

Bournemouth first 11 games vs next 5

Antoine Semenyo has been one of the success stories of the season so far, and he recently revealed the challenges of adapting to Iraola’s methods, but also expressed his belief that the team is getting up to speed.

“It wasn’t easy,” the former Bristol City forward said. “There were quite a few changes and obviously the start of the season was a bit frustrating, but we knew it would come together. It’s properly clicked now and we’re showing everyone that we are a good team.”

Literally leading from the front has been Dominic Solanke. The former Chelsea and Liverpool striker has scored eight goals in 16 league games in 2023-24, but he’s also putting in the hard graft for his manager. Only Son Heung-min (66) has made more than his 54 pressures in the final third leading to a turnover in the Premier League, while just five players have won possession in the final third more times than Solanke (15) this season.

Dominic Solanke possession won final third

The all-action performances of Lewis Cook in midfield were typified in the win at Old Trafford. He may have lost possession 21 times that afternoon, but he also gained it back 16 times, twice as often as any of his teammates, making six interceptions. The 26-year-old has averaged 7.9 recoveries per 90 minutes this season, more than any other Bournemouth outfield player to play at least 45 minutes.

Iraola has had to contend with some injury issues too, with summer signing Alex Scott only able to play 191 minutes in the Premier League so far. Tyler Adams is yet to take the field since his arrival from Leeds United, while the likes of Lloyd Kelly, Hamed Traorè and Max Aarons have all recently missed action due to injury.

AFC Bournemouth squad depth

In the calendar year of 2023, Bournemouth have won 42 points from 37 games. Only Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest (all 39) have won fewer points of Premier League ever-presents in that time, but 20 of Bournemouth’s points have come in their last seven games.

Prior to their first league win of the season against Burnley, Bournemouth were the third-favourites for the drop, according to the Opta supercomputer, at 66.9%. Their run in the seven games since have seen them leap up to 14th in the Premier League table and has reduced their relegation chances to just 1.4% of the 10,000 most recent supercomputer simulations of the 2023-24 Premier League season.

The win at Manchester United was their first at Old Trafford in the club’s history. Continue to grow under Iraola, and it would not be a surprise to see them raise more eyebrows in the coming months.

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