AFC Bournemouth 2 West Brom 2
Baggies boss, Valérien Ismaël, was pleased with the commitment shown by his team at the Vitality Stadium and I think they can count themselves a little unfortunate not to come away with all three points.
Even ignoring the first half “goal” that was mysteriously ruled out, it was the visitors that had the better of the chances and certainly finished both halves extremely well. Albion had fifteen shots to the hosts’ seven and, according to WhoScored.com, 44% of the game was played in their attacking third of the pitch.
“Val-ball” certainly seemed effective in creating chances, but it won’t please everyone. I’m sure they will improve over time, but the football was a stark contrast to that played under Slaven Bilić, perhaps most demonstrated by Albion’s passing statistics. Their pass completion rate was down to just 54% and less than 10% of their passes were directed into their own defensive third, so there is no moving the ball around the back line. More than 70% of their passes were aimed forward demonstrating Ismaël’s desire to get the ball forward quickly but it may surprise some that Bournemouth actually played more long passes than Albion.
That was perhaps a result of the Baggies’ high press which forced the Cherries into playing long more often than they would ordinarily like. Big Val wants Albion to be horrible to play against and I think that was achieved in this opening games.
Matt Clarke’s late injury obviously affected Ismaël’s plans, but his decision to play Kipré ahead of Ajayi was a strange one given that the Nigerian international has played much more football in pre-season than his French teammate. Moreover, it didn’t really work. Kipré was arguably at fault for both goals and Ajayi’s pace is such an asset in that back line.
However, there were plenty of good performances all over the pitch – O’Shea was excellent, I was very impressed with Alex Mowatt and Callum Robinson was probably the best of the front three capping off a great display with an excellent finish.
Diangana showed some signs of the great player we saw in our last Championship season, but was knocked off the ball too easily too often, while Grant worked hard but showed little from an attacking viewpoint bar the shot that whistled past the post in the second half. Phillips provided some much needed physicality up front when he came on, and I would expect him to start the next match, assuming we don’t sign a striker in the meantime.
Given the opposition was one of the promotion favourites, albeit weakened by injuries and suspensions, I feel it was a good point and a performance full of promise. The pressing was excellent and it really knocked Bournemouth off their stride, and I think Mowatt’s deliveries into the box will create lots of challenges this season.
It’s probably not going to be pretty, but Val-ball does look as it will be effective and I’m sure the players will improve in its execution as the season goes on. With the addition of a striker, I think the Baggies will be very well equipped to mount a serious promotion challenge, and a point at Bournemouth is a decent start.