Unbeaten away from home in 2016, on a run of three straight wins, and probably playing our strongest first eleven since the season began - AFC Bournemouth fans certainly had some good reasons to be quietly confident about putting in a good display against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Perhaps not a performance that would win us the match, but one that would certainly be a good sight better than the 5-1 thrashing we suffered at the hands of the Spurs at Dean Court back in October.
Sadly all that optimism evaporated in just 43 seconds. I’d barely taken my seat before Harry Kane struck the opening goal, with the England international then putting the game pretty much beyond us by grabbing a second just 15 minutes later. Now saying that the game was beyond us at just 2-0 might sound a little unfair, but unless you saw the match it’s hard to describe how much Spurs were in control throughout. We mustered our first effort on 40 minutes, but didn’t get a shot actually on goal in the whole match. Lloris could have got his deckchair (if he has one…I’m sure he has somewhere) out at some points.
I’ve seen us slump to defeats in one-sided affairs across every level of the football league of course, but this was something else – it made me wonder if we could actually ever get anywhere near Tottenham’s level in a million years. I probably expected more games like this in our debut Premier League campaign though, so I’m fortunate that they’ve been quite rare – which is just as well, as seeing your side rendered completely powerless is not much fun. Sunday’s game was similar to watching a small schoolchild being held at arms length by the bully several years above. For 90 excruciating minutes.
Much like the home defeat we simply couldn’t get near Mauricio Pochettino’s men, with their high press giving us no room to build from the back – leading us to panic and make uncharacteristic errors when we did (rarely) have the ball.
So the question is, could we have done anything differently? In terms of changing the end result I would say probably not, but there are perhaps some things we could have done to perhaps stay in the game for a little longer – and not look so hopelessly outgunned.
The solution that seems the most obvious revolves around our formation. Eddie Howe is a man who sticks by his principles through thick and thin, and I both respect and love him for that – but having some flexibility in how we set up for games might be wise. We started this season playing a 4-4-1-1, but wisely changed it to a tighter and more defensive 4-5-1 when injuries and results dictated that we simply had to if we had any chance of staying afloat. This subsequently helped us to memorable victories against both Chelsea and Manchester United.
With our January signings – such as Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban – we’ve now gone back to a more attacking 4-4-1-1 however, and this has (not coincidentally) coincided in our superb recent form including grabbing ten points from four games. We then pushed our luck a little too far and played the same set-up at White Hart Lane. Big mistake.
Our midfield quartet – including a clearly not fully fit Harry Arter – was completely overran by Spurs’s 5 in midfield. Add in the fact that Max Gradel was offering only occasional defensive support to Charlie Daniels on the left wing – he often had three men running at him, not an ideal situation to be in – meant we were pretty much pink-shirted lambs to the slaughter.
With this in mind it certainly wouldn’t be the worst idea to adapt our formation depending on the opposition. And by this I basically mean play 4-5-1 against the top teams and 4-4-1-1 against everyone else.
As I’ve said though, Howe is stubborn – a trait many top managers possess – so I have an inkling that we’ll be playing in the same set-up come rain or shine. Or more accurately, come Manchester City or West Bromich Albion.
The real acid test for this theory will be our encounter with the blue side of Manchester at Dean Court in under two weeks’ time though. Seeing as we lost 5-1 to them at the Etihad logic would dictate a more defensive set-up would be wise – but then again, Howe has never been one to go along with the crowd…