A clash of styles was expected at The Hawthorns with West Brom’s direct tactics against Bournemouth’s more possession-based approach.
It was an entertaining opening quarter where all three goals were scored, while the remaining three-quarters provided a conflict of function over form.
There was just one change for the home side with Jonny Evans replacing the injured Matt Phillips. The former QPR winger has been in fine form this season but his absence saw Chris Brunt move further forwards and Evans slot in alongside Gareth McAuley.
Howe replaced Jordan Ibe and Simon Francis with Marc Pugh and Tyrone Mings. For the third game in a row, Junior Stanislas found himself on the bench as Bournemouth looked to arrest the slump that has seen them bottom of the form table for 2017.
The visitors got off to a great start when Ryan Fraser was brought down in the area by Allan Nyom. Joshua King converted the 5th minute penalty to put his side in front. King’s seventh of the campaign also ensured Pulis’ side didn’t improve on their five clean sheets in the league this season (26 games).
But just five minutes later, Craig Dawson saw his shot from distance take a helpful deflection off Charlie Daniels to equalise. Howe would have hoped/expected his side to have closed the right-back down sooner.
By the 21st minute, West Brom had turned the game on its head and taken the lead following an error by Artur Boruc. The Polish keeper is vulnerable to a blunder and isn’t the first Bournemouth player this season to see an individual mistake punished. Boruc’s premature attempt at punching clear Brunt’s corner saw the ball bounce towards his goal with McAuley on hand to tap home. The Northern Ireland centre-back is now joint-top scorer with Salomon Rondon on seven for the season!
It was West Brom’s sixth goal from a corner this season which puts them top, twice as many as joint-second placed sides Middlesbrough and West Ham. Unsurprisingly, the Baggies are also top for goals from set-pieces (16) and percentage of shots in the six-yard box (9%).
Function over Form
As expected, this game saw one team play the percentages and the other play the ball. Unfortunately for Bournemouth, the percentages were inevitably far more efficient and that’s a credit to how well Pulis drills his teams.
A look at the passes in the respective defensive, middle and attacking thirds shows where West Brom’s priorities lie. They look to get the ball forwards and quickly whilst Bournemouth are happy to retain possession at the back in search of new penetrative options.
The home side’s efficiency is clear in their ratio of passes to attempts at goal. For West Brom, they averaged 16.5 passes per attempt (215:13) while Bournemouth were 46.3 (556:12).
It’s no wonder West Brom average the least amount of possession in the league (40.6%) and the third worst success rate of passes (70.1%). Furthermore, they average the fewest attempted short passes per game (239) while aside from the top six, only Southampton attempt more than Bournemouth’s 403.
In terms of action zones, only Hull see a greater percentage of the game played in their defensive third (33%) than West Brom (31%). Pulis’ willingness to embrace instead of change ensures his side are competitive, which has seen West Brom not lose to any team outside of the top six since the corresponding fixture against Bournemouth on September 10th.
This relinquish of territory saw West Brom rack up nearly four times as many interceptions as the visitors (19 to five) with Bournemouth’s attacks often ending before they reached the penalty area.
As a result, Bournemouth struggled to create any clear chances with only long-range efforts finding the target aside from the penalty.
Another indication of the Baggies direct approach can be found in their throw-ins. The graphic below might remind readers of Sunday League football but there’s clearly a place for territorial advancement in the professional game.
What may surprise some is the fact both teams attempted a similar number of crosses. West Brom succeeded with three from 23 while their opponents managed eight from 24. But the Cherries enjoyed more than double the hosts’ possession which naturally provides further crossing opportunities.
However, playing against a side so strong in the air makes it difficult to convert said crosses with only Mings’ header from distance in injury-time truly testing Ben Foster.
Bournemouth were unlucky to have conceded the equaliser in the manner that they did but Steve Cook was lucky to avoid a red card following a challenge on Rondon after Mings’ under hit back pass.
The Cherries are suffering from being too soft and easy to play against at the moment which is in stark contrast to Pulis and his men. On average, Bournemouth earn the most fouls (13.2) and commit the least (9.8) in the league. The issue with a manager being admirably strong-minded about his team’s style of play is that only through an improvement of form will this terrible run come to an end. It’s clear, however, that they need to at least tighten up in defence. Avoiding the individual errors is vital, particularly when you consider they’ve conceded three or more goals in nine of their last 15 games.
West Brom, meanwhile, are enjoying a great season. They’re just nine-points shy of their Premier League best (49) with 12 games still to play and that’s largely due to the experience of Pulis and the way he sets his team up. It will be interesting to see if the former Stoke manager is backed in the transfer market to the levels he was expecting last summer should they finish where they currently sit (8th). Then we might see the introduction of a little more form to their function.
EPL Results (Gameweek 26):
Chelsea 3-1 Swansea
Crystal Palace 1-0 Middlesbrough
Everton 2-0 Sunderland
Hull 1-1 Burnley
West Brom 2-1 Bournemouth
Watford 1-1 West Ham
Tottenham 4-0 Stoke
Leicester 3-1 Liverpool