Pre-Match Review | Bournemouth (H)
Sheffield United vs AFC Bournemouth - 09/02/20200
English Premier League
Sheffield United’s ambitions of European Competition next season are now very much realistic, while Eddie Howe will be looking to try and keep his team’s head above water.
Last Time Out
AFC Bournemouth 1 (Mepham 62) - Sheffield United 1 (Sharp 88) - 10/08/2019
Billy Sharp’s first Premier League goal and his first since 30th March was enough for the Blades to leave the Vitality Stadium with a point following Chris Mepham’s opener.
It also meant that the Blades captain had now scored in all 4 tiers of English league football.
The United team featured 10 of the 11 which were integral to their promotion from the Championship the previous season. Callum Robinson was the only new face to United fans.
It was blustery, really blustery. Not the kind of blustery you would expect in August and both teams struggled to dominate consistently given the conditions. The Blades were close to making the perfect start in their return to top-flight, David McGoldrick nearly put United ahead after getting on the end of a good ball from surprise starter John Lundstram within the opening 30 seconds. Robinson too was denied, former Blades Aaron Ramsdale palmed his effort away.
Bournemouth’s best chance of the game fell to Phillip Billing; a powerful effort that forced the returning Dean Henderson into a good save. There was some controversy in the build-up to that chance, and Bournemouth players were claiming for a penalty for a challenge by Jack O’Connell, neither the referee or the VAR saw anything in it.
Five minutes later and Bournemouth were 1-0 up, A Ryan Fraser free-kick found Billing and a scramble ensued. Billing’s header went into the path of Nathan Ake, whose overhead kick went into the path of Callum Wilson, whose shot from inside the 6-yard box was palmed away by Henderson only to fall to Chris Mepham who scored his debut goal for the club. Making him the clubs 3rd youngest goalscorer at the age of 21, David Brooks and Nathan Ake being 1st and 2nd respectively.
It was also Mepham’s second senior goal and his second against Sheffield United. Bournemouth had been growing into the game and were able to take advantage of their momentum, something the Blades had failed to do in the first half.
Wilder reacted quickly, taking off McGoldrick for the then club-record signing Oli McBurnie for his debut. Luke Freeman would come on for his debut not long after. He was followed on the pitch by, in Wilder’s words ‘Mr Sheffield United himself’, Billy Sharp.
It didn't take him long to make an impact, 6 minutes to be exact. A Norwood free-kick was played short to Baldock, whose low cross found McBurnie, his short hit John Egan and the ball fell to Sharp who poked it home from 6 yards. It was Sharp’s 103rd goal for the club, who made a beeline to the away end who also made a beeline for him. It was a near-perfect ending to start what has been, to date, a near-perfect season.
What has changed since the last time we played each other?
Not a lot in the grand scheme of things. Eddie Howe is still there but this season has been the first time that Howe has truly been questioned by some corners of the media during a run which saw them lose 5 in a row from November to December with a win over Chelsea and a draw against Arsenal being a slight caveat, the run then carried on into January.
It’s pretty normal for Bournemouth to go on a bad run during the season, it’s as normal as one of their good runs that they go on during the season. The ones where Howe is looked at for the bigger and better jobs in the top flight. He’s been linked with Tottenham, West Ham and Everton at some point during the season when all 3 clubs were respectively going through their crisis.
Questions do have to be asked of Howe and why these constant runs of bad form are never prevented in the first place and how a club who has spent £174m net in transfers since promotion to the Premier League in 2015 and still have the likes of Dan Gosling, Adam Smith and Steve Cook making regular starts?
I understand the hypocrisy of what I’m saying here, given that the bulk of our squad has come through the divisions together as Bournemouth did. But from an outsider's perspective at least, it appears no one knows what a Bournemouth starting 11 will be, and for every Nathan Ake or David Brooks, there’s a Jordan Ibe or a Dominic Solanke.
Bournemouth’s Recent Form
After the win early November over Manchester United, Bournemouth went on a run of games where they picked up 4 points out of a possible 24.
2020 didn’t start well either, New Years Day saw them lose 4-0 to David Moyes’ West Ham. Who have since proved that they are just as bad under their successor as they were their predecessor and then lose to fellow relegation rivals Watford and Norwich.
Two important wins over Brighton & Hove Albion (3-1) and Aston Villa (2-1) have given the Cherries some vital breathing space and they now sit 2 points clear of the bottom 3.
The next few weeks sees Bournemouth play some of the teams around them as well as Chelsea, Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers. April then brings a run of fixtures that sees them play Manchester United, Tottenham, Leicester City and Manchester City consecutively. Howe and his side could be in deep trouble by then if they don’t capitalise on their recent improvement.
“He’s [McGoldrick] been out on the grass this week but what has been good for me is that we have players like Richairo & Luke Freeman putting in great performances in training.
Everybody is fit and raring to go after the Palace game.” - On Squad Fitness
“It’s a push for 3 points, 40 has always been a big number for a newly-promoted side. After we get that it’ll always be about the next 3 points” - On the Prospect of Playing in Europe Next Season
"I don't think anything has necessarily changed. We won the game against Brighton, it was a key game. It was a battling performance, a performance full of heart.
Villa was a much improved overall performance. The challenge now is to back it up." - On Current Form
"David Brooks is back in the country and ran on grass for the first time yesterday. Josh King and Jack Stacey are close. I'm pleased with their progress." - On Injuries
Opposition Style of Play
Howe is well known to be a meticulous coach. He wants his sides to play the 'right way’ but what has he been doing differently to arrest Bournemouth’s slide?
One thing that you may not associate with a Bournemouth side is how they’ve favoured a more direct approach in recent weeks, Howe’s side have been regulars at losing possession easily this season and Howe may be looking to beat the opposing teams press by playing over it. Another change has been the move from a 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 which may have been a result of circumstance due to the injuries to Josh King.
A key figure for the Cherries has been the Colombian international Jefferson Lerma who will be missing on Sunday due to suspension due to getting sent off against Aston Villa. He’s also been a walking yellow card throughout his career and this may lead to a less robust midfield for United to try and play through.
Bournemouth played a back 3 against United earlier in the season which is something they have done against teams who adopt that approach in the past, aside from the meeting with United back in August they have only played with that formation against Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, both games ended in defeat.
Furthermore, I’d be surprised if they were able to do this on Saturday, due to the vast number of injuries that Bournemouth appear to have in defence.
The game screams 2-0, whilst Bournemouth have improved recently I can see the Blades being too strong for them.
McBurnie to Score and Sheffield United to win in 90 minutes at 5/2 (Skybet); Sheffield United to with a -1 Handicap at 15/8 (SkyBet)
I’d go with the same team as Palace last Saturday, hopefully, Zivkovic will make his debut from the bench.