WE ARE coming to the end of the Premier League season, and perhaps thoughts are already turning to the future at AFC Bournemouth.

A third consecutive season in the top-flight is already guaranteed with six games remaining, and whilst European qualification feels beyond Cherries’ reach it is still technically a possibility.

Not that either particularly matters to Andoni Iraola, who will be fighting for each one of the remaining 18 points on offer, eschewing the chance to experiment or blood in youngsters.

Nor will he be making long-term plans or decisions at this stage of the season, but he has highlighted one major area of improvement for his side.

After successfully implementing his playing philosophy, getting AFC Bournemouth to understand what he wants from a game, his focus is now on taking that next step.

It has become apparent where Cherries must improve in Iraola’s mind – converting their more dominant performances into guaranteed three points.

Quality of shot the same but quantity has increased

Dominance can mean many things in football, with most attributing the term to a side that controls possession and thus the flow of a match.

Under Iraola Cherries will rarely keep more possession than their opponents, but they have certainly shown that they can keep momentum going in their favour, generating far more chances than the opposition.

Since the first nine games of the season, where Cherries were outgunned by all their opponents, Bournemouth have managed to get more shots off than the opposition in all but seven games in the Premier League.

But creating opportunities is far simpler than taking them.

In fact, when Bournemouth have recorded their three-highest shot totals in a game this season, they have taken home just one point.

As you would expect, fewer shots on target also correspond to fewer points earned – every time this season Cherries have failed to reach 10 efforts in a Premier League game they have not won (P6 D2 L4).

That is no surprise when you consider that it takes them 10 shots to score a goal, which is roughly on par for the league average.

There is no doubt that Iraola has injected a different style of play, a fresh attitude to taking on Premier League games.

But in a sense, the attacking structure has not changed drastically.

Gary O’Neil’s side last season were also built to exploit sides on the transition, with a heavy emphasis on cutbacks to produce more dangerous chances.

The main difference in approach stems from how Cherries regain possession.

Whilst not a hard-set rule, under O’Neil Cherries were happy to soak up pressure deep, before trying to hit their opponents on the break.

Iraola has joked that if it guaranteed more results, he would happily sit back in a low-block all game.

But with Iraolaball, Bournemouth cut out the middleman, aiming to win the ball back as high as possible.

Even when they earn possession in their own half, they quickly look to drive up the pitch, either with dribbles or direct passes – no side have attempted more long balls in the Premier League this season than Cherries’ 2531.

No side have attempted as many take-ons either, with 745 attempts to dribble past a defender. The closest is O’Neil’s Wolves with 711.

Just as there are similarities in how Cherries attack between this campaign and last season, the underlying numbers share an overlap.

The average xG (expected goal) per shot this season is 0.10 – just shy of last season’s average of 0.11.

But whilst the quality of the shot remains the same, the quantity has increased notably.

That, in part, explains Cherries’ increase in goals scored this term. With six games remaining, Bournemouth have 46 goals – nine more than last season’s tally.

Already Cherries have fired off 90 more shots than last campaign, highlighting how Iraola’s style of play generates more shooting chances.

Solanke's blossoming

Of course, another big part in Cherries’ increased goals output is down to one man.

After becoming a regular goalscorer at Championship level, Solanke has now flourished into a top-flight marksman capable of being relied upon.

But again, the underlying stats for Solanke do not highlight a new-found sense of accuracy – in fact, he has slightly regressed, but not by an alarming amount.

Instead, there is a similar story to the team at large. Solanke is taking more shots than last season. On top of that, he appears to be getting efforts off quicker than last term.

The one-time England international has often drawn frustration for always wanting that extra touch, getting that little bit closer to the goal for his best chance of converting.

Whilst just as potent in and around the six-yard box as last season, Solanke has added goals from further out to his arsenal.

He has taken the same shots outside the area as did during the 2022-23 season, but this term he has scored twice already.

An over-reliance on Solanke?

But Solanke has scored 11 more goals in the Premier League this season than last season’s total, and Bournemouth’s team total has only increased by nine.

Bearing in mind with six games remaining, Cherries will likely score a few more, but it highlights that their attacking improvement has not been down to Solanke solely.

It could be argued that Cherries rely too heavily on their talisman up top for goals.

Solanke has scored 37 per cent of Cherries’ league goals this term, and without his goals Bournemouth would have dropped 15 more points.

No player in the Premier League has scored a higher proportion of their side’s goals than Solanke – by some distance.

Teams above Cherries simply have a more even spread of goal providers, especially the elite teams.

It must be said that Antoine Semenyo (seven) and Justin Kluivert (six) have already matched Cherries’ top-two goalscorers from last season’s Premier League campaign, Philip Billing (seven) and Dominic Solanke (six).

It would be harsh to label Billing has having regressed considering his game time has been greatly reduced, but it does feel that Cherries need further goals from other areas of the pitch if they are to climb up the league table next season.

The hidden numbers

Bournemouth Echo:

Iraola has mentioned a few times this season his distrust of the xG stat, citing that it does not take into account situations where a side does not manage to get a shot off.

There has yet to be a way of properly quantifying the danger of an attack the same way the crowd’s bated breath of expectancy can.

Often Cherries have taken up dangerous positions where the right ball would produce a gilt-edged chance, but the attack breaks down before an opportunity can fully form.

It is not just composure in front of goal where Cherries need to improve – but added composure in constructing moves and executing them properly.