Norwich City travel to the south coast this weekend as Premier League football returns at Vitality Stadium with the Canaries taking on AFC Bournemouth.
Ahead of the game, canaries.co.uk caught up with The Athletic’s AFC Bournemouth correspondent, Peter Rutzler, to discuss their ambitions for the season, the success of the new signings, and the similarities between City and the Cherries.
canaries.co.uk: How do you assess the season so far? Bournemouth have beaten all the bottom-half teams they’ve faced since an opening day draw against Sheffield United, so it looks like it’s gone well.
PR: Yeah, in the main it’s gone quite well. There are almost two sides to Bournemouth. They sort of threaten to push on and take the next step into the top half and at the same time there have been moments that have held them back a bit. That’s reflected by where they are in the table now in tenth.
Last month was really good as they had a really good run of form which came after an indifferent start. The 3-1 defeat at Leicester City was particularly disappointing, not just because of the result, but because of the performance, especially in the later stages. After that first international break, there seems to have been a renewed drive and sense of purpose.
They’ve picked up some good results including a point against West Ham United, a win over Everton and three points at Southampton as well. At the same time, it felt like there was still a lot more to give, and it does feel like there’s more to come going forward.
Against Arsenal, that was shown. Arsenal didn’t play that well, but Bournemouth did perform pretty well and probably should have taken something from the game. There’s still that nagging sense of ‘there’s another level here’ and that there’s something more. That’s the message that’s coming out.
canaries.co.uk: Realistically, what’s the aim for the club this season? Eddie Howe often tells the media that getting past that fabled 40-point mark is the main objective, but can the Cherries challenge the top six with the likes of Leicester and West Ham?
PR: There’s a sense this year that, with a fully fit squad (which is the major issue because they’ve had so many injuries (tell us about it!)) with everyone firing and competition for places across the squad, there may be a sense of pushing beyond just settling for 40 points.
But David Brooks and Junior Stanislas are still out, as was Lewis Cook. We haven’t seen the best of Ryan Fraser. Charlie Daniels and Adam Smith were out too.
Eddie has spoken about being ambitious and wanting to push on. He’s never explicitly said that they want to push the top six in the same way that West Ham, Leicester or Everton would based on their outlay, but with the squad, drive and ambition that they share there’s definitely a sense that they should be at least competing with them and taking points off those sides, and the bigger sides too.
They’re in their fifth year in the Premier League now and they’ve been very successful in that time, but now they’re saying ‘right, can we take this forward to the next step? Are we going to progress?’ From what we’ve seen, the signs are there that they can do it. They just need to be more consistent.
canaries.co.uk: They made a few signings in the summer to try to make that happen. Bournemouth fans haven’t seen much of Lloyd Kelly yet, but what are your thoughts of Jack Stacey, Philip Billing and Harry Wilson?
PR: The players who came in have really added to the squad and boosted the options. Billing has done the best out of all of them. He’s taken to the midfield like a duck to water and having been sidelined for a bit at Huddersfield Town, he came in quite late in pre-season and didn’t have too many minutes under his belt. He’s played every game and virtually every minute. His height and defensive ability have been a real asset, and that’s really secured things in midfield.
Stacey has certainly come into his own in recent weeks in the absence of Adam Smith. There was no expectation that he would do that, considering he came from Luton Town in League One. You’d have thought he’d take more time, but he’s shown himself to be a real threat when going forward.
Wilson’s left foot is fantastic and when he’s in range he can score. He’s gone a little quiet in recent weeks but he’s a different option for Eddie to use.
We’re just starting to see Arnaut Danjuma too and he’s certainly got a few tricks up his sleeve. He looks very quick and direct. He’s another option, especially in wide areas, which will put pressure on the likes of Ryan Fraser, who has been missing out, and David Brooks when he comes back.
canaries.co.uk: One of the links between Bournemouth and Norwich is Andrew Surman, who played for both. With that strength in depth in midfield at Bournemouth now, what do you see as his role in the squad?
PR: With Jefferson Lerma and Philip Billing playing so well, it’s been difficult for anyone to really stake a claim in midfield. The two of them have really performed superbly. Billing has been up there with the most interceptions in the league and Lerma has been up there in terms of possession.
They’ve offered real defensive solidity so for Surman it’s been quite difficult. Even Lewis Cook, who’s come back from injury now, is still trying to work his way back into that position, so there’s plenty of competition in there.
Surman has played in both cup games so far this season and has done well. His experience is really important in the dressing room. He’s been there a long time and is an experienced head who some of the younger lads really rely on. It’s a young squad, and against Everton it was the youngest they’ve ever put out in the Premier League, so to have players like Surman in and around the team in training, and Simon Francis and Steve Cook, that really helps.
They’re guiding figures as they enter the twilight stage of their careers. In terms of first-team opportunities, they’ve been quite limited and that’s mainly down to the form of Billing and Lerma.
canaries.co.uk: Premier League spectators are well aware of Callum Wilson’s talents by now, but are there any players you feel don’t get the credit they deserve?
PR: Aaron Ramsdale has come into his own this year. The goalkeeper position was very much up in the air in pre-season, with all four goalkeepers being given equal amounts of playing time. It was Aaron who got the nod after impressing Eddie when he went on loan to AFC Wimbledon last year. Before that, he was at Chesterfield and at both clubs he was involved in relegation battles. It was felt that he could make the step up this year and he really has.
He’s impressed with his performances in every game. He’s desperate to get that clean sheet, as Bournemouth are in general because they haven’t had one since May. He’s made critical saves at crucial points in matches, is a loud, vocal voice and isn’t a shy guy whatsoever.
That instils a lot of confidence in the team and for someone so young to take the number one spot ahead of some experienced pros in the squad is really impressive. He looks like he’s going from strength to strength.
I wouldn’t say he’s an unsung hero because the fans love him and he’s getting more recognition, but the less he gets the better because then he goes under the radar a little bit! He’s been doing well for England’s Under-21s and has got that position tied up. Week on week, he’s learning and has done very well so far.
"Bournemouth is Howe's project. It is him."
canaries.co.uk: In these interviews we often ask journalists for the consensus among fans on their club’s manager, but it goes without saying that Howe is adored unanimously on the south coast. So, as for him, what do you think motivates him to stay at AFC Bournemouth each season?
PR: I think it’s because he sees potential in the team. He talks about the ambition, potential and desire of the team a lot. He said before that if he’s not progressing or making those steps forward then something’s wrong. You can’t be static or standing still. That really does motivate him.
He’s got a squad now that he’s taken time to assemble that is slowly getting that balance between the players that took them to the Premier League and new players. He has so many options across the squad in attack, midfield and defence. He’s got a team that can push on, and he’s always looking at the next challenge.
Bournemouth is his project. It is him. The reason he has been able to do that is by continually re-inventing himself and continually improving players, taking them to the next level. With the squad he has, there’s a lot for him to work with. That one-to-one coaching is really important, and he has a squad he can do that with.
canaries.co.uk: As for your thoughts on Norwich, do you see any similarities between them now and when Bournemouth first came up to the Premier League? Both sides play attacking football and don’t like to change their styles, despite some criticism externally.
PR: There are definitely similarities, for sure. As you say, on the playing style side of it, I think Sheffield United are doing the same thing. They’re learning from what Bournemouth did because Bournemouth came up with swashbuckling first-half displays, tearing teams apart and they didn’t try to veer too much away from that. They always want to play on the front foot and be attacking, that’s a staple of their identity.
"Of course there will be teething issues for Norwich, but it's a learning process."
Norwich are trying to do a similar thing. That’s what worked for them in the Championship, so they’re trying to make it work in the Premier League. Of course, there will be teething issues. They had a fantastic result by beating Manchester City but of late it’s hit a bit of a molehill, but it’s always a learning process. It’s about balancing and tinkering with that way of playing.
Norwich are a team who are going to entertain a lot of sides and in that sense, they do bear the hallmarks of a Bournemouth team. In terms of their personnel, Daniel Farke has stuck mainly with the players he had. There hasn’t been huge investment, like there was at Fulham or Aston Villa this year.
He’s sticking to what he knows with the players he’s worked with. That’s similar to what Eddie Howe did – he stuck to the players who came with him from League One, who are still playing now. It’s all about coaching them and taking them to the next level with the club.
canaries.co.uk: Finally, what’s your score prediction for Saturday’s game between two attacking sides? Goalless draw?
PR: 3-1 Bournemouth. It seems like every game this year has finished 3-1 to Bournemouth or the opposition, so that’s what I’ll go for.
You can follow Peter on Twitter @peterrutzler.