This AFC Bournemouth tactical recreation has been written by @Etothe2power and he has included the tactics to be downloaded’
1-0-3. Two goals for, 16 goals against. Minus-14 goal difference. Three games without scoring a goal. Oh, and a 9-0 loss. It’s better if we just forget Scott Parker’s time in charge as a Premier League manager for the club (Aside: Parker has since been hired and fired at Club Brugge, which included a run of two wins in 12 in the league). But this is not a post about Scott Parker and his relative qualities as a football manager, it’s a post about AFC Bournemouth in the game Football Manager 2023.
Utilizing data and statistics compiled by various outlets (Football Reference, Opta, and whoscored), this post will examine and attempt to replicate Gary O’Neil’s tactics and playing style in FM23.
AFC Bournemouth Under Gary O’Neil
“I don’t see us just going into every game and being the same” – Gary O’Neil, to Jack Tanner of the Daily Echo
Well, thanks for making my job in this post easier Gary! Under O’Neil’s leadership, Bournemouth has indeed run out of various formations throughout his tenure. They opened with a 4-4-2 in his first game in charge against Wolves and, since then, have also gone with a 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, and 5-4-1 at different points. Despite the formational variations, let’s look at what the statistics can tell us about how, regardless of formation, the Cherries have played under O’Neil.
AFC Bournemouth’s Tactical Style in FM23
The Cherries are among the most direct teams in the league and are fast and direct with their attacks, with the most prominent, exceptional even by their standards, example of their directness occurred recently as they opened the scoring from kick-off against Arsenal. On average, Bournemouth has the fewest number of passes per sequence at 2.70 and is behind only Leeds United in terms of how quickly they move the ball upfield (meters/second) at 1.57.
Unsurprisingly, with just 38.2% possession (calculated by fbref as the percentage of passes attempted), Bournemouth is rock bottom in the league, a fair bit behind second-bottom Nottingham Forest (40.8%) and miles behind leaders Manchester City (64.2%). Measured by the number of 10+ pass sequences in open play (courtesy of Opta), Bournemouth again rank dead last with 114 such sequences (Brentford are second bottom with 138 and Man City are runaway leaders with 584).
Based on the above, the Direct Counter-Attack style fits what has happened on the field in real life for Bournemouth this season under manager O’Neil. I will make some alterations to the preset tactic in my attempt to replicate this season’s Bournemouth side.
Defence and Defensive Actions
AFC Bournemouth – Team Defense and Defensive Actions
Tactically, O’Neil began his tenure by ditching the back three and implementing a 4-4-2 at home against Wolves. Since then, he has primarily utilized a back four, although he has occasionally gone to a back five (in a 5-4-1) from the start or, especially earlier in his tenure, to try and close out games. The switch to an ever so slightly more proactive four-at-the-back system paid immediate dividends, as Bournemouth held a clean sheet against Wolves in his first game in charge (a nil-nil draw) and as they went unbeaten in the first six games of his tenure (2 wins and 4 draws) allowing six goals during this span. Adding to the impact of this change, only two of those six goals during this run of games were scored from open play.
O’Neil abandoned his predecessor’s 5-3-2 low block that invited pressure and has opted for a somewhat more proactive defensive approach, although the club does not press often nor create many turnovers outside their defensive third, ranking last in opposition passes per defensive action and forcing turnovers outside their defensive third.
Bournemouth is not, on a per-game basis, a particularly aggressive team, as they rank 12th in tackles per game (16.2), 11th in attempted tackles per game, 15th in fouls per game (10), and 17th in interceptions per game (8.7). Across these defensive categories, the Cherries are, more or less, league average. As a collective unit, Bournemouth players have collected 45 yellow cards, which ranks 13th in the league, while also being one of eight teams with no red cards in the league.
Additionally, according to fbref, throughout the entire 2022-23 Premier League season, Bournemouth have also completed the fewest tackles in the attacking third (40), placed 9th in tackles in the middle of the pitch (165) and 12th in tackles in the defensive third (217). Again, looking at these team statistics, Bournemouth is, excepting tackles in the attacking third, league average.
AFC Bournemouth – Individual Defense and Defensive Actions
Having looked at a selection of team statistics, let’s examine how individuals have performed to help inform our decisions replicating Bournemouth’s 2022-23 tactics in Football Manager.
At LB, Jordan Zemura has gotten the lion’s share of the minutes this season, with Lloyd Kelly also seeing time at the position. Occasionally, especially when Kelly (I happen to notice this more when Kelly starts, but don’t have evidence to back this up) starts on the left, that typically indicates Bournemouth will look to use three at the back when in possession, leaving Jaidon Anthony ahead of him additional defensive responsibilities as Kelly slides into the back three.
The most common CB pairing in O’Neil’s tenure has been Welsh international Chris Mepham and Argentine Marcos Sensi, with loanee Jack Stephens providing cover for both. When O’Neil has his Bournemouth side lineup in a back three or five, these three form the central defensive trio.
AFC Bournemouth’s Defensive Play in FM23
Based on these selected defensive action statistics, at both the team and individual levels, we can consider how to transfer Bournemouth’s defensive style of play into Football Manager 23.
As a generality, Bournemouth is not an overly aggressive team according to various defensive metrics. Across the backline, a majority of defensive actions occur in their own defensive third. The central defenders complete most of their defensive actions in their own defensive third of the pitch, with Marcos Sensi being the notable exception, as he has completed 37.8% of his tackles in the middle third of the pitch, making him the most likely of the central defenders to try and win the ball higher up the field.
The fullbacks, especially RB Adam Smith, have ventured further upfield to engage their opponents, although as a collective group, they do the bulk of their work in their own half of the field.
Team Instructions: Out of Possession
In FM terms, these statistics suggest the following Out of Possession settings are appropriate for Bournemouth’s defensive style of play. The Out of Possession team instructions are minimal, with the team set in a mid-block, as a vast majority of the action takes place in their own defensive and middle thirds of the pitch (76%). With most action in these areas, and to replicate that Bournemouth defenders largely engage the opposition in their own half, a mid-block is the most appropriate FM setting. The defenders are instructed to play in a standard defensive line and told to drop off more. The collective aggressiveness in the tackle, again near league average, means we can leave both Stay On Feet and Get Stuck In team instructions unticked. These team instructions will be reinforced with individual player roles and duties, discussed later.
Team Instructions: In Transition
Given the collective defensive action statistics, our Out Of Possession team instructions, and the (relative) defensive stability shown under Gary O’Neil, many of our In Transition team instructions are straightforward and, as with our Out of Possession instructions, fairly minimal. Bournemouth is not a counter-pressing side, partially indicated by the areas in which the Cherries engage the opposition. For this reason, Counter-Press remains unticked. I’ve chosen to tick the Regroup option, which instructs the players to quickly return to their defensive shape after losing possession. I’ve also ticked the Counter option, as Bournemouth have created the bulk of their chances via that method throughout the season.
I have instructed Neto, who signed on a free from FC Barcelona in the summer, and who O’Neil installed as the starter, replacing Mark Travers, to distribute to the full-backs. The reason for this decision stems from the fantastic interplay down the left between regular LB Zemura and midfielder Jaidon Anthony (more on this in the next section).
Team Instructions: In Possession
Both Anthony and Zemura are graduates of the Cherries’ academy and made their first team debuts in 2020. As such, despite their youthful exuberance (both are 23 years old), the two have a lengthy history of playing together and their games are very complementary. A right-footed player who operates on the left wing, Anthony frequently cuts inside onto his stronger foot, leaving space for Zemura on the overlap to cause havoc or, at the very least, force the opposing defender into making a decision. The prevalence of the Anthony-Zemura partnership is manifested in the fact that more of Bournemouth’s attacks have come down the left (41%) than the centre (23%) or right (36%) of the pitch (whoscored).
The left-side partnership of Zemura and Anthony is not the only outstanding feature of Bournemouth’s play while on the ball. With six league goals, Philip Billing leads the team in scoring. A capable and reliable option up the middle as a defensive, central, or attacking midfielder, Billing has operated in the latter role until the arrival of loanee Hamed Traorè on the last day of the Winter transfer window. Traorè’s arrival, in his short time with the club, has provided a much-needed creative boost, as the Cherries have scored just 25 goals in their 26 league matches to date, which actually represents a slight overperformance, as their non-penalty expected goals (npxG) stands at just 22.1. Since arriving, Traorè has started in an advanced midfield role, which has pushed Billing back into a more familiar central midfield role. Operating as an attacking midfielder, Traorè is a more attack-minded player who looks to drive forward and combine with Solanke, while also relying on the runs of wingers Anthony and Dango Ouattara, another Winter transfer window addition (signed for £20M from French side FC Lorient).
Up front, O’Neil has relied on Dominic Solanke to either lead the line on his own in a 4-4-1-1 or as a partner in a 4-4-2, in which case Kieffer Moore utilizes his 6’5” frame as a target forward.
Translating the above into Football Manager terms, the In Possession team instructions to replicate Gary O’Neil’s Bournemouth squad are as follows:
Given the aforementioned partnership between Jordan Zemura and Jaidon Anthony on the left, I’ve instructed the team to focus play down that side, while also selecting the overlap on that side of the pitch.
To replicate Bournemouth’s style of play, we need to set the passing directness to, at least, more often, and could even tick that option to the maximum. The side do not cross particularly often on a per-game basis (averaging 13 per game), nor do they, collectively, look to dribble past their opponent. For those who do, we can add individual player instructions. Without a set piece expert, there is no need to tick the Play for Set Piece option that comes standard with the Direct Counter-Attack style.
Bringing it All Together in FM
To summarize, Bournemouth is a counter-attacking team who sits in a mid-block and who look to utilize the left side of the pitch in their attacking moves. Here is what that looks like in FM23:
Although Bournemouth, under O’Neil, has lined up in a 5-4-1 on occasion, I’ve created two of the most common formational options: a 4-4-1-1 and a 4-4-2.
Across the backline, Zemura on a FB(a) role will allow him to surge upfield and overlap Anthony, who will cut in onto his stronger right foot as an IW(s). As Marcos Sensi tends to perform his defensive actions slightly higher up the pitch, I have him playing as a CD with the stopper duty to push ahead of the defensive line to close down opposition players earlier. Chris Mepham, his central defensive partner, is a CD with the cover duty to sweep up behind the defensive line. I like the stopper-cover combination in front of Neto, who is a simple GK on defend. Adam Smith, on the right, is on a FB(s) duty to prioritize the defensive aspects of the role but also provide support to the midfield.
Moving up the pitch to the midfield, I have already explained Anthony’s IW(s) role. Since moving back into the midfield, Billing can supplement and provide an attacking option as a late runner arriving inside the box for Traorè in the more advanced midfielder role. Billing’s midfield partner, as a BBM(s), can also support the more attacking players by arriving late into the box. On the right, a W(a) will remain wide, but get forward as an option for Traorè – significant because of the need to have a variety of runners and attacking options – and his midfield companions.
Up front, Dominic Solanke will look to lead the line as an AF(a).
In the 4-4-2, the introduction of Kieffer Moore as a TF(s) to partner Solanke up front provides an alternative option to use his physical presence to hold up the ball and play simple passes to Solanke and the midfielders providing various runs behind the front two, in addition to playing in his attacking partner.
AFC Bournemouth Results
To get at least a sense of how this system plays in Football Manager, I simulated the 2022-23 Premier League season using the 4-4-1-1 tactic.
What a final day of the season! Bournemouth entered the final match week 18th in the table on 38 points with a home fixture against 4th place Manchester United. We came from a goal down on two different occasions and scored twice in the final four minutes to level and win! The victory took us to a final position of 16th, meaning we avoided relegation and finished ahead of rivals Southampton.
Final day fireworks aside, let’s examine some team and individual statistics to see if, and how well, we replicated Gary O’Neil’s system in FM23.
As expected, we completed an overwhelming majority of our defensive actions within our own half of the pitch. At 42%, perhaps the percentage of defensive actions within and around our penalty area is a bit higher than in real life, in general, our in-game defensive actions occurred largely in areas that align with how Bournemouth have played this season.
Our less aggressive defensive approach also largely mirrored Gary O’Neil’s men, as during the simulated season Bournemouth allowed the most opposition passes per defensive action (5.26). We were near the bottom in yellow card accumulation, collecting just 42 in our 38 league matches. Similar to real life, Bournemouth players ranked in the bottom third in fouls per game, at 16th with 11.29 per game in-game, compared with 10 so far during the 2022-23 league season, which currently places the Cherries in 15th position.
Unlike the real-life Cherries, Bournemouth leads the league in interceptions (1,018) and interceptions per game (26.7). As SI and the sources consulted to compile the in real-life statistics differ in their calculations, this difference can account, at least in part, for the inconsistency between in-game and real-life results.
In fact, Bournemouth lead the league in many defensive statistics (blocks: 347, possession won: 4,972; clearances: 819; and interceptions (1,018), which makes sense, given we had so little of the ball during the simulated season.
Looking at individual defensive performances indicates our in-game tactical style largely mirrors that of O’Neil’s style. For example, Left Back Jordan Zemura covered a lot of distance and completed a high number of sprints per 90, indicating his overlapping runs down the left as he combined with Jaidon Anthony in the midfield and also contributed to attacking moves.
Possession, Passing, and Movement
In terms of in-game possession, we propped up the average possession table with just 35%. We also completed the fewest number of passes during the simulated season. Both of these statistics mirror what Bournemouth have done through the first 26 games of their season.
As the Cherries rely heavily on counterattacks and direct play to create chances, our team instructions got the team to play like Gary O’Neil’s team, as the data hub tells us, “our attacking movement numbers stand out as considerable outliers.” With fewer dribbles per game, the implication is that we looked to move the ball upfield with more direct passing.
AFC Bournemouth Conclusion
As expected, 2022-23 has not been an easy season for Bournemouth and their real-life struggles manifested in Football Manager. If the Cherries can manage to avoid relegation as they did playing according to Gary O’Neil’s tactical system in my simulation, Cherries fans will gladly take that result, please and thank you.
Tactic Download links: