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BOURNEMOUTH’S decision to sack manager Gary O’Neil last summer attracted widespread criticism, with many feeling that the dismissal had been extremely harsh on O’Neil. The English manager had taken over at the Vitality Stadium last October following a 9-0 defeat against Liverpool and with the side languishing just a point above the relegation zone.

Yet despite guiding the Cherries to a 15th placed finish last term, O’Neil was relieved of his duties in June, while a new boss was appointed a matter of hours after. Bournemouth had turned to the highly regarded Andoni Iraola to lead them into a new era under their ambitious ownership.

Iraola had built a reputation as one of the most progressive coaches in Spain. The Spaniard had taken second-tier side Mirandés to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, before steering Rayo Vallecano into LaLiga during his first season at the club. Vallecano finished 12th and then 11th during their two top-flight seasons under the stewardship of Iraola, while they were one of just two sides to defeat both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the league last term (alongside Real Sociedad).

However, the 41-year-old’s start on the South Coast was less than ideal. Bournemouth failed to win any of their opening nine Premier League games this season and occupied 19th spot in the table. The decision to replace O’Neil with Iraola appeared to have backfired – only one of the last seven sides to fail to win their opening nine top-flight games have avoided relegation (Newcastle in 2021-22). And the pressure on Iraola was beginning to mount.

But the Bournemouth hierarchy remained patient. The Cherries picked up their first victory of the season in their following game against Burnley, though they were then thrashed 6-1 at Manchester City. Since then, only three sides have won more points than Bournemouth’s 19, while they have the highest points per game ratio of any outfit in the division across this period (2.38).


The Cherries have lost just one of their last nine games in all competitions, achieving scalps over both Newcastle and Manchester United – winning at Old Trafford for the first time in their 125-year history. They have become the division’s form team and it’s by certainly no fluke.

Iraola has implemented his high-intensity philosophy to great effect on the South Coast. The Cherries deploy a high press to swarm opponents and catch them when they are at their most vulnerable – no side have scored more goal ending high turnovers than them in the Premier League across 2023-24 (six). Bournemouth have become one of the most effective sides in the top-flight without the ball, which is a stark difference in comparison to their numbers last season. The Cherries had the fewest pressed sequences in the Premier League (428), while no side had fewer shot ending high turnovers than their 36 last term.

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The shift in style of play has also greatly impacted the Cherries’ threat in front of goal. They have scored 28 goals across their opening 19 games, which is their most prolific ever start to a Premier League campaign. Upon regaining the ball, Iraola’s charges look to quickly transition from back-to-front, and they have attempted more fast breaks than any other top-flight side (23), while only Everton have matched their shots from fast breaks this season (21). The Cherries waste little time in descending upon the opposition’s final third, with their direct speed of 1.87 m/s the seventh highest in the competition.

Conversely, Iraola has also dramatically shored up the defence at the Vitality. Since the Manchester City defeat at the start of November, only Arsenal (7.59) have recorded a lower Expected Goals Against tally than them (7.72, while no side have conceded fewer goals than the Cherries in this period (eight, alongside league leaders Liverpool). The 41-year-old has made his side much harder to break down, with their high-pressing consistently overwhelming opponents.

The Cherries have climbed to 12th in the league table and are closer to the European spots (seven points) than they are to the drop zone (nine points). Remarkably, they also boast two games in hand on most of the division. Prior to their first league win of the season against Burnley, Bournemouth were the third favourites to go down per the Opta supercomputer, at 66.9%. However, their fine run in the nine games since has reduced their relegation chances to just 0.2%.

It has been quite the turnaround for Iraola, as the Cherries continue to blossom into one of the Premier League’s most progressive sides.


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