Talking Tactics

Why Iraola's positive approach will soon pay off for Bournemouth

16 Sep 2023

Adrian Clarke analyses how Cherries could trouble Chelsea and earn a first win of the season

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AFC Bournemouth

Andoni Iraola is busy creating a new tactical identity for AFC Bournemouth, but a first win as head coach at home to Chelsea would certainly give him and his players a timely lift this weekend.


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Four matches in and the winless south-coast side remain a work in progress under Iraola.

The 41-year-old has already made Bournemouth a more proactive and aggressive team, but with that change he has also experienced some teething issues.

In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Iraola’s positive approach is taking the Cherries higher up the pitch, despite facing a quartet of strong opponents who all currently sit in the top eight.

They are enjoying more touches inside the opposition box, taking on more shots and registering a higher average Expected Goals (xG) tally per 90 minutes than they did last season.

Bournemouth's attacking improvement
  2022/23 PL rank 2023/24 PL rank
Touches in opp. box 19.6 17th 25 13th
Expected goals 1.04 18th 1.35 15th
Shots 9.4 20th 12.5 14th

Their defensive stats under the new head coach indicate how he has also successfully turned Bournemouth into a significantly more hostile pressing side.

Working harder as a collective unit inside the opposition half, they are triggering a greater number of turnovers than 2022/23.

In the space of only a few months, they have become one of the most effective Premier League teams at earning regains through a press.

Bournemouth poss. won comparison 22/23 & 23/24
  2022/23 PL rank 2023/24 PL rank
Possession won 51.1 17th 57.5 2nd
Poss. won final third 3.79 19th 5.25 11th
Shot ending high turnovers 0.95 19th 2.25 2nd
Passes per defensive action 15.6 18th 10.9 6th
Pressed sequences 11.3 20th 14 6th
High line exposed

Upcoming opponents Chelsea need to ready themselves for that tigerish attitude, but will also feel that they can exploit the risks Bournemouth are now prepared to take.

Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Brentford all created numerous chances when bypassing the Bournemouth press with quality pass-and-move football through the lines.

A good example was when Dominik Szoboszlai ran into an empty channel vacated by left-back Milos Kerkez, who decided to leave his position to press Trent Alexander-Arnold at Anfield (below).

Midfielder Joe Rothwell sprinted back to cover the space, but ended up conceding a crucial penalty equaliser.

Liverpool Bournemouth image

Last time out in a 2-2 draw at Brentford, Bournemouth's high line was consistently exposed.

This clip below shows central defender Illia Zabarnyi follow striker Yoane Wissa into midfield, but from there the Bees produced a 3v3 triangle to deviate away from that piece of closing-down.

With fellow defender Marcos Senesi also drawn towards the ball, an inviting space was left for Kevin Schade to run in behind Max Aarons for a 1v1 with the goalkeeper.

Talking Tactics image 1
BOU Talking Tactics image 2

The speedy Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling will hope to make good use of similar situations at Vitality Stadium.

When Bournemouth’s defenders choose to take a proactive approach, they must do better at stopping attacks like this, at source.

BOU Talking Tactics image 3

In that same match, Bryan Mbeumo’s stoppage-time equaliser also punished Bournemouth’s unsuccessful press.

Despite leading 2-1, Bournemouth committed players to close down Brentford’s defenders, forcing their defence to push up towards the halfway line - and one long pass into the space left in behind undid them.

Bigger picture

The short-term pain of conceding goals like this will sting Bournemouth, but the bigger picture should see them become far harder to open up in this manner.

Once their press becomes better coordinated, and when their new-look defence improves their starting positions, we will see the back four sprinting towards their own goal less frequently.

Under Iraola, Bournemouth’s xGA figure (Expected Goals Against) has risen from 1.71 per 90 last season to 2.28 this campaign, but defending better from the front should see that number drop markedly in the coming weeks.

With both sides in desperate need of victory to kickstart their season, expect an exciting match on Sunday.

Also in this series

Part 1: How West Ham trio have filled Rice void
Part 3: Can Branthwaite maintain his early impact by tackling Arsenal?
Part 4: How O'Neil has transformed Wolves' attack

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