Bournemouth 1-4 Newcastle United
- Goals: Dan Gosling (£4.9m) | Dwight Gayle (£5.0m), Sean Longstaff (£5.0m), Miguel Almiron (£5.8m), Valentino Lazaro (£5.3m)
- Assists: Nathan Ake (£4.9m) | Allan Saint-Maximin (£5.5m) x3, Jonjo Shelvey (£4.9m)
- Bonus: Saint-Maximin x3, Shelvey, Gayle x2
There are a number of attractive Gameweek 33+ fixtures this weekend, with Chelsea hosting Watford, Liverpool entertaining Aston Villa and Manchester City facing a Southampton side who have the poorest home record in the division.
Manchester United v Bournemouth might be the pick of the bunch, however, if Wednesday night’s match at the Vitality Stadium was anything to go by.
While Villa have shown a bit of defensive resilience since the mid-June restart, the Cherries have been abysmal.
Home fixtures against Crystal Palace and Newcastle United in Gameweeks 30+ and 32+ would have been ones that Eddie Howe will have targeted given the horror show of a schedule that now follows but his side have emerged pointless from those two games, having shipped six goals to two of the lowest-scoring teams in the Premier League in the process.
Perhaps it was the ‘must-win’ nature of those two matches that opened up space for their opposition, and perhaps Howe will adopt a more conservative approach when his side head to Old Trafford on Saturday.
Bournemouth had made life difficult for Wolverhampton Wanderers last Wednesday, for example, restricting them to just two shots on target and one big chance.
But it’s difficult to overstate just how atrocious they were against Steve Bruce’s mid-table outfit last night.
The heads seem to drop far too quickly: this was the 17th Premier League game this season in which the Cherries have conceded first and they are winless in all of them, drawing only twice.
Howe now faces a monumental task to pick his beleaguered troops up with less than 72 hours separating their Gameweek 32+ and 33+ fixtures.
Speaking after the match, the Bournemouth head coach said:
A really disappointing night, we never recovered from the early goal. The manner of it, as well, was a tough one for us to take, in a game where the onus was on us to make the running in the game. Newcastle counter-attacked very well.
I don’t doubt that [the players are giving me everything]. I can see close at hand what it means to the players, how much they’re hurting.
It’s more psychologically is the big thing for us, the confidence, the expectation – all these things linked together I think are damaging us at the moment.
The next few games are very difficult on paper but maybe they’re the types of games that we need. We’ve picked up points against the big teams, we’ve done well against them.
The opening goal on Wednesday was self-inflicted, with Jefferson Lerma (£4.8m) giving away possession just outside his box; five seconds later, Dwight Gayle (£5.0m) had slotted under Aaron Ramsdale (£4.5m) to put the visitors 1-0 up.
Allan Saint-Maximin (£5.5m) was the provider of Gayle’s strike and went on to register a hat-trick of assists, next teeing up Sean Longstaff (£5.0m) with some superb work near the by-line and then setting substitute Miguel Almiron (£5.8m) free to chip Ramsdale after the break.
Valentino Lazaro (£5.3m) rounded off the scoring for the Magpies with a dinked finish in the final quarter of an hour and it could have even been worse for the Cherries: Saint-Maximin and Andy Carroll (£5.4m) both tested the reflexes of Ramsdale, Lazaro struck the underside of the bar and Isaac Hayden (£4.4m) missed horribly from six yards with the goal gaping.
Bear in mind, this is Newcastle we’re talking about: a side that had scored more than two goals on only two occasions this season, one of which was against ten-man Sheffield United in Gameweek 30+.
For all that Bournemouth were woeful, immense credit has to go to an atypically gung-ho Newcastle and Bruce.
Saint-Maximin was outstanding, registering his third double-digit haul in four Gameweeks and handed a breather after 61 minutes ahead of the visit of a West Ham United side without a clean sheet in 11 matches.
Since the Premier League’s resumption last month, only Manchester City (nine) have scored more goals than the Magpies (eight).
So what has changed?
Firstly, it’s very important to acknowledge the standard of opposition: Newcastle have faced three of the most out-of-form teams in the division since the restart in the shape of ten-man Sheffield United, Villa and Bournemouth.
Against Manchester City in Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final, a team they take on in Gameweek 34+, they were absolutely battered; as well as Pep Guardiola’s side, the Magpies also have to face Spurs and Liverpool in the run-in.
But integral to their recent performances has been a formation change.
Adopting Rafael Benitez’s 5-4-1 set-up for much of the season and operating with a defence-first mindset, Bruce finally threw off the shackles in Gameweek 28, rolling out a 4-2-3-1 for the visit of Burnley.
Nothing much changed at first, with the Clarets holding Newcastle to a 0-0 draw, but there have been more encouraging signs since, with ten goals scored against West Bromwich Albion, Sheffield United and Bournemouth in three league and cup games.
Asked about his system change after the game, Bruce said:
After watching us against Leicester [in Gameweek 7, when the Magpies briefly moved to a back four] I didn’t think we were ready for change. The players had played a certain way, had played deep, had played on the counter-attack and were really comfortable in it. So I didn’t really want to change much too quickly.
When we became less of a goal threat, that’s when I decided to we needed our flair players up the pitch, rather than defending.
On Saint-Maximin, Bruce revealed that the Frenchman had been close to being benched:
He’s such a naturally good footballer and yesterday I wasn’t planning on starting him because he’s already played three games and to play four in 11 days I thought is maybe too much.
But he bounced into training yesterday and he was full of himself, so I said ‘why not, let’s see if we can get another hour out of him’. He was terrific.
The only downside for the Magpies was the loss of a clean sheet in stoppage time, with Martin Dubravka (£5.1m) having previously been scarcely troubled save for a long-range David Brooks (£6.2m) effort that clipped the bar and a Josh King (£6.1m) header correctly ruled out for offside.
It was ex-Mag Dan Gosling (£4.9m) who bundled the ball in from on the goalline in the 93rd minute, depriving Newcastle of an 11th clean sheet of 2019/20.
The in-form Matt Ritchie (£5.3m) was an unused substitute having been an injury doubt for the game, while Longstaff and Javier Manquillo (£4.3m) picked up muscle problems during the match.
Bournemouth XI (4-2-3-1): Ramsdale; Smith, S Cook (Mepham 80′), Ake, Kelly; Lerma (Gosling 75′), Billing (L Cook 46′); Danjuma (Stanislas 62′), Brooks (Wilson 62′), King; Solanke.
Newcastle United XI (4-2-3-1): Dubravka; Krafth, Fernandez, Lascelles, Manquillo (Yedlin 73′); Bentaleb, Shelvey; Saint-Maximin (Lazaro 62′), Longstaff (Almiron 34′), Joelinton (Hayden 72′); Gayle (Carroll 62′).