The Premier League is almost upon us! After countless fixtures in pre-season, where fans and experts alike were desperate to “analyse” and find quirks in friendly games, the real thing is about to begin. A major story to follow on matchday 1 is the game between AFC Bournemouth and West Ham United.
It’s the clash of two teams on opposite trajectories.
AFC Bournemouth sacked the man who kept them up last year in Gary O’Neil but recruited an exciting face in Andoni Iraola. Since then, some smart recruitments have made the South Coast outfit one to watch this season.
West Ham are also one to watch but for all the wrong reasons. After losing Declan Rice to Arsenal, they are scampering for alternatives and risk getting fleeced a la Barcelona after they sold Neymar in 2017.
They say begin as you mean to go on and it’s a measure of Bournemouth’s prospects this season that they arguably start this game as favourites.
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth.
When: Saturday, 12th August 2023.
Time: 3 PM BST
Referee: Peter Bankes.
Assistants: Dan Robathan & Nick Greenhalgh.
Fourth official: Gavin Ward.
VAR: Michael Salisbury.
Assistant VAR: Neil Davis.
Bournemouth could get two players back in Ryan Christie and Dominic Solanke after slight niggles left them out of the team’s last pre-season game. Centre-back Lloyd Kelly’s status is more doubtful and Iraola is unlikely to risk him in case he aggravates his injury.
Marcus Tavernier and Ryan Fredericks are long-term absentees and will miss the first few weeks of the season. Adam Smith is another case of touch-and-go like Kelly so it is unlikely he plays a part in this one either.
For West Ham United, the injury slate is clean. Key player Lucas Paqueta was hooked off at half-time after a slight issue against Bayer Leverkusen in their last friendly. It is expected to be a precaution. It would be a surprise if he didn’t play any part against Bournemouth, especially with West Ham’s already depleted midfield due to Rice’s absence. Which brings us to the next part…
It will be a game between Andoni Iraola’s rampant pressing team and David Moyes’ counter-attacking principles. Moyes will look to take the sting out of the game early on as a boisterous Bournemouth support will look to send their energy to the team from the stands.
It is likely that Moyes opts to play over the Bournemouth press, which will lead the Cherries to fall back quickly in rest defence shape. West Ham lacks press-evaders in midfield and if Paqueta doesn’t start, that problem will be magnified.
At the back, Kurt Zouma is ever-present in defence. He will have his hands full as Bournemouth like to create overloads all across the pitch in an attempt to gain numerical superiority. He will need plenty of help from his wingers who will have to track back diligently to counter Iraola’s overloads.
Overall, this should be an exciting tactical battle between two managers who come from opposite schools of thought. However, at the end of the day, the games are won by players on the pitch. These are the ones to watch out for in this one-
If West Ham are to play over the frantic press of Bournemouth, they need their target man to tussle with Bournemouth’s defenders and make life uncomfortable for them.
Antonio will likely be the recipient of many aerial balls which he will have to do well in holding on and making something of it. West Ham cannot let this game turn into an exercise in defence vs attack otherwise their defence will eventually buckle.
Antonio will have able runners alongside him, especially Jarrod Bowen. The plan for the Hammers will be to kick it long to Antonio for him to bring it down. From there, he can release runners out wide with through balls behind Bournemouth’s high line. Possession will be dominated by Bournemouth, but Antonio’s performance will decide how big of a goal threat the Hammers are.
How about having Jarrod Bowen running at you for your first taste of the Premier League? Hungary’s Milos Kerkez comes highly recommended from AZ and the fact that Bournemouth stole him from under Lazio’s grasp puts into perspective how highly he is rated in the footballing world.
The left-back is an attacking savant with great passing and technical abilities. However, the test here will be of his defensive credentials. Jarrod Bowen is a livewire with the ball at his feet and despite his left-footedness, is capable of going on the outside to perform as a traditional winger as well.
Kerkez will have his hands full as Bowen will look to target him from the onset. Early troubles could lead to an unsettled performance, something which Bowen would relish pouring salt over.
He will need plenty of help from his winger further forward to pin Bowen back in his own half with sustained possession and attacking play.
If Bowen finds joy, it could be game over for Bournemouth.
Bournemouth predicted starting lineup: Neto; Smith, Senesi, Zabarnyi, Kerkez; Rothwell, Cook; Ouattara, Christie, Kluivert; Solanke.
West Ham United predicted starting lineup: Fabianski; Coufal, Zouma, Aguerd, Emerson; Downes, Soucek, Paqueta; Bowen, Ings, Benrahma.