Premier League 2023-24 preview No 3: Bournemouth

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 15th (NB: this is not necessarily Ben Fisher’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 15th


It has been a summer of statements from Bournemouth, some more surprising than others. From the appointment of Andoni Iraola – their first foreign manager – as head coach to the arrivals of Milos Kerkez and Justin Kluivert, players with impressive pedigree. And they are not finished yet, with a midfielder top of their shopping list.

Iraola got to know Eddie Howe when the former Bournemouth manager visited him in Madrid at Rayo Vallecano – Iraola remembers quizzing Howe on the formula behind his team prospering against Chelsea – and more recently he picked the brains of Jason Tindall, Howe’s longstanding No 2, soon after getting to work in Dorset. So the 41-year-old is well-versed on the club and au fait with life as the underdog.

Bournemouth followed Iraola’s progress at Vallecano, where he achieved wonders on a modest budget, beating Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga last season. Vallecano paid transfer fees for six players across his three years at the club but while in some ways he is easily pleased, he is a demanding coach; in his first session he single-handedly implemented a multi-ball system, relentlessly feeding balls into a passing drill.

Related: New manager Andoni Iraola enjoys underdog mantle at Bournemouth

Watching Iraola at training tell assistant coach and the former Bournemouth defender Shaun Cooper about his pressing methodology made insightful viewing. “If I start going [backwards] and you stay behind, we are dead, we will never recover the ball,” said Iraola, whose front-foot philosophy is born from two years playing under Marcelo Bielsa.

Only relegated Southampton and Leeds had worse defensive records than Bournemouth last season – and no team in the division conceded more from set pieces – but Iraola is adamant attack will prove the best form of defence this campaign, starting at home to West Ham. “Sometimes we make the mistake to think that if we play high, you are worse defensively,” the former right-back said. “My idea is exactly the opposite. As a coach I feel safer when we are far from our box rather than the opposite, you know?”


The manager

If Jürgen Klopp is a heavy-metal manager, then Andoni Iraola is certainly rock ’n roll. The definition of a hands-on coach, the 41-year-old is regarded as one of Europe’s most exciting managers. At training he incessantly feeds balls on to the pitch to maintain a merciless tempo, so it is no surprise he is a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, under whom the former right-back played at Athletic Bilbao. In terms of tactics, think joyride as opposed to park the bus. In June he became the fourth manager from the Basque province of Gipuzkoa to arrive in the Premier League and he played in the same youth team as Mikel Arteta and Xabi Alonso at San Sebastian side Antiguoko. Completed his pro licence alongside Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni. Is a big cycling and NFL fan.

Leading the shirt sales

David Brooks has been on quite the journey since arriving as a baby-faced winger five years ago and now his bond with the Bournemouth supporters is closer than ever. His return to first-team action, at Villa Park in April, after 535 days on the sidelines following a stage-two Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis touched the entire footballing community and beyond. Not that he wants sympathy. “I don’t want anyone thinking: ‘We’ll give him a game here, or a game there, because he’s been through a lot and it will mean a lot’,” he said in June. He has since made his comeback for Wales and a promising pre-season has had fans licking their lips.

Folk hero

Jefferson Lerma was a big hit with fans despite his limited English and while his departure leaves a void, in goalkeeper Neto they have another popular South American with a larger-than-life personality. The once-capped Brazil international, who counts Juventus and Valencia among his previous clubs, arrived on a free from Barcelona last summer and while on the outside there was a sense he would purely provide backup he quickly established himself as the No 1. The 34-year-old signed a three-year contract in March, shortly after replacing Lloyd Kelly as captain. “The welcome from the fans from when I first arrived was unbelievable,” he said. Full-back Adam Smith, meanwhile, is inching towards testimonial territory.


One to watch

Perhaps best known as a Football Manager wonderkid, it was apt Bournemouth used the video game to announce Illya Zabarnyi’s arrival in January. He is an imposing Ukraine international who cost £24m and while the centre-back only made a handful of top-flight appearances last season there is a sense this will be the one when he commands a spot in the starting XI. Signed from Dynamo Kyiv, where he started his career, the 20-year-old is a ball-playing defender with Champions League pedigree. Played every game for Ukraine at Euro 2022, when he was part of the team that lost to England in the quarter-finals.

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