DEFEAT at Stamford Bridge brought an end to AFC Bournemouth’s 2023/24 Premier League season – leaving us with plenty to think about before thoughts turn to next year.

Cherries pushed Chelsea all the way in the capital, eventually losing out 2-1 thanks to a Moises Caicedo wonderstrike and Raheem Sterling’s finish at close range.

There will be plenty of time to dissect and digest what we have seen from Cherries this season, but here are the immediate talking points stemming from yesterday’s game.


Goalkeeper discussion set to run all summer long

The week-to-week, game-to-game nature of football keeps the discussion churning all season long, but even with a big gap in competitive Cherries games there will be plenty of talking throughout the summer.

Cherries’ battle for the number one shirt has intensified in the closing weeks of the season, with Mark Travers handed an audition in four of the final five games.

But the curtain dropped on Cherries’ season with club captain Neto in goal, with the spotlight fully focused on the Brazilian.

A frequent criticism of Neto’s goalkeeping is that he remains rooted on his line, but that could not be thrown at him for Chelsea’s opener.

After backing himself to sweep up a loose ball with a perfectly executed tackle on Sterling, Neto had done the hard part of defending his goal outside the box.

The next action provided the mistake.

A poor touch after getting to his feet rushed him into a clearance, slicing the ball perfectly for Caicedo to smack into the back of the now empty net from the half-way line.

Neto did not cover himself in glory for Chelsea’s second, Sterling ricocheting the ball off the keeper’s legs at close range.

It is likely that there will be departures in Cherries’ goalkeeping department – Andrei Radu will not be kept after his loan from Inter Milan expires, whilst Darren Randolph seems set to leave at the expiry of his contract.

But whether the entire stable of goalkeepers is completely overhauled remains to be seen, depending on whether Cherries trust Neto as number one for another Premier League season.

You cannot imagine that Travers will want to spend another season as second fiddle, but the picture on who starts next season is no clearer.

How do you replace a player like Lloyd Kelly?

There was all-but-confirmation from Andoni Iraola post-match that Lloyd Kelly has played his final game for the club.

Beyond the concerns over allowing another key player to leave for free in the era of profit & sustainability regulations following the departure of Jefferson Lerma last season, Cherries arguably have a tougher ask in replacing Kelly than they did with the Colombian.

There was clear reasoning behind rejecting a £20million offer from Tottenham Hotspur on deadline day in August, with Cherries knowing that a like-for-like replacement for Kelly would likely involve shelling out for two players.

That is because the defender’s versatility at left-back and centre-half effectively makes him two players in one; not just offering depth, but first-choice quality at the back.

Left-footed centre-backs are already hard to come by, those that boast the athleticism and positioning to also play out wide even rarer.

Kelly leaves Vitality Stadium after five years and 141 games, and still fans debate whether left-back or centre-half is his best position, such is his quality in both roles.

How Cherries go about recruiting to fill the rather large hole left by Kelly’s departure will dominate their summer plans.

Milos Kerkez and Marcos Senesi are fine options at left-back and left-centre-half respectively, but Cherries now lack depth in both positions – and will likely need two players to reinforce the squad.

What will Cherries have instore for us next season?

It has been a productive first season for Iraola in the Premier League, but the Basque boss is reluctant to make bold claims ahead of his second season.

Another year added onto his deal is not just a show of confidence, but patience, with Bill Foley and co. understanding that European qualification is not yet on the horizon but hopefully further down the line.

Throughout the campaign, Iraola has felt that Cherries have beaten the sides at the bottom of the table, lost to the sides at the top of it, and fared well against sides in and around them.

Cherries’ performance against Chelsea suggested that they are closing in on becoming a threat to those so called “top six” clubs – Manchester United aside, Iraola’s charges having already toppled the Red Devils.

The strength of the schedule, in Iraola’s mind, partly explained Cherries’ nine-game winless streak to start the season, with a tough fixture list preventing Iraola from achieving his first win as a Premier League head coach until the 10th attempt.

But there is a strong feeling that those nine-games also served as a gestation period, with the Cherries squad properly getting to grips with Iraola’s new system.

With a season of understanding now under their belts, and heightened physical levels, the players will feel more confident of a strong start next season.

If Cherries can master the beginning of their campaign, and combine it with a strong middle and end like this season, the top 10 – and higher still – feels attainable.