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Opponent Spotlight: Bournemouth fan Sam talks about facing Aston Villa, Dominic Solanke, and gaffer Andoni Iraola!

Ahead of Aston Villa’s trip to the Vitality Stadium on Sunday, we spoke to Bournemouth fan Sam Davis from Back Of The Net to discuss life under Andoni Iraola. What can we expect from the Cherries?

Sheffield United v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

It took Bournemouth a while, but on the 10th attempt of the Premier League campaign, the Cherries picked up their first win of the season and haven’t looked back since, winning three of their last four in the league. How are Bournemouth fans feeling about the season thus far?

Sam Davis: Looking back, we had a tough schedule to start the season, so recent improvements in performances and results have ensured we are feeling content. This, of course, has been helped by Everton’s points deduction, which has given us an extra cushion over the drop zone.

Is our optimism fuelled by the failings of other teams? It was, but not so much now. Initially, we were perhaps fortunate that all three promoted sides have struggled to get to grips with the quality of the top flight and, when combining this with the Everton factor, some Bournemouth fans say positivity was false.

However, a good win over Newcastle United, Dom Solanke finding the net, a convincing win over Sheffield United, plus a clear progression in the way Andoni Iraola wants to play, are all valid parochial reasons to feel optimistic.

Many were surprised when Gary O’Neil was sacked and replaced by Andoni Iraola in the summer. What was the reaction around the football club at the time and what have Cherries fans made of Iraola’s reign thus far?

SD: After Bournemouth’s “shock” sacking of O’Neil, Andoni Iraola failed to win any of his opening eight league fixtures, so it seemed fair to question whether Bournemouth were right to exchange O’Neil for Iraola. Gary achieved what he set out to do last season, and that was to keep the club in the top flight, but it didn’t come without its heavy bumps along the way. He himself went nine games without a win in the last campaign, but was given the time and tools to get things right to achieve his target. We’re just glad Andoni has been given the same patience.

Fans were initially baffled by the decision yet also positive that the new manager would increase the ceiling of where the Cherries could reach, and with results starting to come, many a Bournemouth fan feel positive for the future.

AFC Bournemouth Training Session
Bournemouth had a slow start to the season under Andoni Iraola, but have secured three wins from their last four Premier League.
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

Dominic Solanke has had a strong start to the season, scoring 6 goals in 13 matches thus far, which has him sitting tied for 9th in the Premier League scoring charts - what are the expectations for him heading into the rest of the campaign?

SD: It was always argued that Solanke clearly needed to add more goals to his game and his tally of six last season was simply not good enough for the frontman. This said, Dom has predominantly played in Bournemouth sides that sit deep for large parts, soak it up with a pragmatic approach, resulting in him often being left incredibly isolated.

His work rate cannot be questioned, but now with a new progressive approach instilled by the new gaffer Andoni Iraola, many Bournemouth fans believe he can add more goals to his game this season and the early signs certainly look promising. Bournemouth were incredibly active in the transfer window, but still opted to leave the forward position as it was. This clearly points to the club having faith in Dom and that his undoubted ability can be matched with more goal involvements this time around.

Plenty of attacking midfield and wide options should allow Solanke to have more to feed off, along with the more offensive approach that the club are trying to implement; he will no longer be criminally isolated and this should be a defining factor on why his numbers could improve drastically in 23/24. He should be aiming for fifteen.

Aside from Solanke, who has proven to be an impactful player this season? Has there been any big surprises thus far?

SD: A number of Bournemouth players have stepped up recently, with both results and performances improving and the Cherries securing three wins in the past four Premier League games. Semenyo has been a big part of that for us, but to go a little “left-field” with a response to this, someone who has been pivotal is Lewis Cook, sitting deep in midfield and controlling the tempo.

In the summer, the club lost defensive midfielder Jefferson Lerma, but while replacement Tyler Adams looked like the perfect solution, a long-term injury meant Bournemouth have remained light in a key area. This meant Cook was given the shirt in Lerma’s role, and while it took him time to adjust, the 26-year-old is now starting to show real class and has therefore allowed Iraola to implement his style on the team. Iraola wants his team to play front-foot, aggressive football - and this courageous approach could make Bournemouth vulnerable in transitions. However, Cook’s intelligence has meant the team can take those risks with the knowledge that the midfielder has the space in behind under lock and key.

When Cook joined the club in 2016 there were really high hopes, but a number of serious injuries hampered his progression. Now, we are starting to see the quality we all knew was there. The new coach’s style seems to suit Cook and with him now able to dictate the game from a deeper position, we are all hopeful we can see both Bournemouth and Lewis Cook flourish.

AFC Bournemouth Training Session
Lewis Cook has been a mainstay in the Bournemouth midfield this season.
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

Prior to Aston Villa’s 3-0 win against Bournemouth last season at Villa Park, Villa have lost four consecutive matches against the Cherries, which goes all the way back to 2016. What sort of match are you expecting to see at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday?

SD: I think we’ll see an entertaining game, full of fast, free-flowing, front-foot football. We also think there will be goals. It may just come down to which players are more technically gifted, and for that reason, it’s hard to look past a Villa win, however, I really do expect Cherries to surprise. We just need to be clinical.

Which eleven players do you expect Andoni Iraola to select?

SD: The team will be 4-2-3-1 and should be: Neto (GK); Smith, Zabarnyi, Senesi, Kerkez; Cook, Christie; Semenyo, Kluivert, Tavernier; Solanke

Villa have the opportunity to maintain their place in the top 4 with a win on Sunday, while a win for Bournemouth would mean rising to as high as 12th in the table - what is your score prediction?

SD: We’re going for a 2-2 draw. We think it’ll be a great spectacle!