After claiming the 3-2 dramatic victory against Blackburn Rovers in the opening fixture of the Championship, Bournemouth confidently visited the Riverside Stadium, facing the hosts Middlesbrough – who had just lost against Watford with just one goal difference. With the departures of both Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser and also coach Eddie Howe, The Cherries had to fight with 200% strength when coming back to the Championship. The experienced coach Neil Warnock had to face another tough match against another relegated club from the Premier League.
In this tactical analysis, we bring you an in-depth analysis of the tactics that helped Bournemouth perform well in the Riverside Stadium, also this analysis points out the weaknesses of the hosts Middlesbrough and their solid fight to retain one point in this second fixture of the season.
Middlesbrough used the formation 3-5-2 with Marcus Bettinelli stood in the goal, with the defensive trio that consisted of Anfernee Dijksteel, Grant Hall, and Paddy McNair. Three midfielders Jonny Howson, Marcus Tavernier, and George Saville played with two wing-backs Djed Spencer and Marvin Johnson to form the five-man middle line. In the meantime, Ashley Fletcher and Britt Assombalonga were Warnock’s striking duo in this match.
Coach Tindall deployed the formation 3-4-3 against their opponents with Asmir Begović as his goalkeeper, protected by the back three of Chris Mepham, Steve Cook, and Lloyd Kelly. The Cherries only played with four men in the midfield: Jefferson Lerma and Dan Gosling secure the center and Adam Smith played alongside Jack Stacey as wing-backs. Bournemouth’s frontline was Arnaut Danjuma, Dominic Solanke, and David Brooks.
Modern football demands players to be more and more developed in their skill set. Strikers now do not just score – they have to know how to support their teammates, drop deep to help the midfielders to progress the ball, defend; and in some situations, they have to remove the scoring duty out of the first priority place. Those are the things that Roberto Firmino, Danny Ings, or Dominic Solanke learned in the time they played for Liverpool.
Theoretically, playing against 3-5-2 using the formation 3-4-3 can easily get the team to be overwhelmed with the opponent’s numerical superiority (4v5); however, with Solanke dropping deep, he lowered the pressure that Warnock’s players put onto Bournemouth’s midfielders. He contributed much for his team: ball distribution, baiting, being a target man, attracting opponents’ attention. The English striker does not need the opening goal in the 38th minute to prove his value.
With Middlesbrough pushing high in the first place when Bournemouth were preparing for a goal-kick, it was difficult for the visitors to build the ball up smoothly; thus they chose long balls. The number 9 striker might not be so good at controlling or distributing the long balls but with his appearance in the midfield, Middlesbrough’s numerical superiority disappeared. The first problem was solved: midfield personnel.
Solanke dropping deep also attracted the hosts’ pivot attraction, invited him to mark the striker, and made him incapable of chasing The Cherries’ wingers when they were free to run If the opposite sided centre-backs tended to move wider and stop them, a big gap would appear for the Cherries to exploit. Speaking of this, his body helped him in shielding the ball and buying time for his winger to run forward and receive the ball.
Another simple thing is Solanke turned himself into a ball transitioner by dropping deeper, even moving to the flanks to help his colleagues to progress the ball and creating the passing options. Solanke, therefore, solves three problems for Tindall’s team: midfield personnel, possession, and creating space for his wingers.
Bournemouth’s opening goal
The play took place at the right-handed side due to the visitors’ attacking direction. Brooks moved from the right half-space to the right flank, dragging along McNair; at that moment, the space between McNair and Hall was stretched – this gave Stacey a chance to move into it.
The number 17 constantly moved and apparently Johnson had to follow him. The gap in the right half-space became quite large. Both Solanke and Brooks started moving to occupy it; the Welsh undertook some short passes with Stacey and then did the same with Solanke. We can observe the below image.
Not just McNair but the whole Boro’s defensive block was being attracted with the number 7’s dribble and the void in the right opened for the second time. Danjuma occupied it quickly.
Brooks had two good options: deliver the ball to the number 10 or take a shot by himself. The youngster chose the second option and his shot trigger the domino streak to the visitors’ opening goal.
Middlesbrough’s action in the final third
Conceding a goal in the first half did not allow Boro’s players to play with normal intensity; they had to push the squad higher, squeeze their opponents’ playing ground, constantly regain possession and find the equaliser. However, there was a problem: Warnock’s players seemed to overlook the spaces that appeared in the final third.
Bournemouth’s work of playing out of the back to keep the possession seemed to be counterproductive. The hosts’ high pressing line minimized their opponents’ space by forming defensive triangles in both two flanks of the field. Those triangles harrassed Bournemouth build-up phase and helped Boro to regain the ball possession right in their attacking third.
There were spaces in Bournemouth’s defensive structure, which were opened whenever a Bournemouth’s wing-back came to stop the opposite winger. Nevertheless, Middlesbrough could not utilise them. Let’s observe a typical instance below.
Bournemouth could not just fix this by moving their defensive block across to the right or across to the left. If they did so, the far posts area would become their weaknesses because of Fletcher’s heading capability. The duty of filling the gaps was passed to Lerma and Gosling, but right after these two midfielders making their moves, another gap appeared in the center of the pitch, in which Saville presented. Unfortunately, the number 22 was too hesitate to shoot despite the wide shooting angles. As a result, the chance for long shots vanished immediately. Below is another typical instance of this.
After observing the clash between two formations that use a back three, it is not too difficult to say that the match was extremely rigid, and the final result also reflects what happened outside the field. Middlesbrough’s midfielders have to improve their decision-making to avoid missing good chances; to Bournemouth, it is too early to say about their chance of returning to the Premier League and Tindall has many things to do. Bút with what The Cherries’ front three performed, they have the right to be confident for whatever comes next.