Eddie Howe is Chelsea material: Smart tactics draw out the moronic banter

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 19: Mateo Kovacic of Chelsea tackles David Brooks of AFC Bournemouth during the Carabao Cup Quarter Final match between Chelsea and AFC Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge on December 19, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 19: Mateo Kovacic of Chelsea tackles David Brooks of AFC Bournemouth during the Carabao Cup Quarter Final match between Chelsea and AFC Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge on December 19, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images) /

Eddie Howe took another step towards coaching one of the Premier League’s top six clubs in Bournemouth’s 1-0 loss to Manchester City. He implemented all the right lessons from Chelsea, and received knuckle-dragging criticism in return.

Bournemouth’s upward trajectory in a decade under Eddie Howe is one of the most remarkably consistent – almost linear – in English Football League history. Howe has earned his way onto the shortlists for several top-six clubs, including Chelsea. He showed just how ready he is for Stamford Bridge by fully absorbing the lessons of four key Chelsea games, which made him the target of the kind of vindictively ignorant criticism that frequently attends the west London job. In fact, it was almost verbatim the vindictively ignorant criticism leveled at Antonio Conte 364 days earlier.

None less than The Telegraph led the window licking. In place of Jamie Redknapp’s “crime against football” and “anti-football,” this self-absorbed pity party “no sympathy… at those big fat zeroes. No ambition, no end product, no point.”

Bournemouth’s 1-0 loss to City was one day short of one year after Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to City. That game, and Redknapp’s pejorative “anti-football,” became a touchstone for the open-your-mouth-and-remove-all-doubt segment of Chelsea fans. They used it whip up the mania for Conte’s sacking and Maurizio Sarri’s hiring. Sarri’s brand of fun coaching and entertaining play would ensure that such atrocities were never again perpetrated on the club, the fans or the game.

Yet for all the lead paint chips consumed in the production of those talking points, there was still the mother of them all: fans saying they would rather Chelsea suffer a multi-goal loss as long as the Blues “went for the win.”

Testing his followers’ loyalty like only a true cult leader could, Maurizio Sarri increased Chelsea’s possession, shots and passing by about one-third to 45%, 12 and 535 in service to a 6-0 loss.

No one can say they didn’t go for it. Your assessment just all depends on what your definition of “it” is.

Eddie Howe probably watched that game very closely. Not only would he have to prepare his own team to face Manchester City a month later, he was probably wondering which team’s performance had the most to do with his own 4-0 win over Chelsea.

Howe would have noticed a few things. Perhaps most importantly, Chelsea did not change anything between the two games. Chelsea played textbook Sarriball against the 12th place Bournemouth. The goalless first half told Howe what little he may not have already known from watching the 24 weeks of Sarriball. As a result, he and his team put together the 4-0 win. Chelsea then went out and did the same thing against a much better team, and only had to wait 25 minutes instead of 94 to trail by four goals.

This probably confirmed for Howe what has since been borne out: Bournemouth’s win was a Bournemouth fluke, not a Chelsea fluke. Bournemouth has not won since that game, while Chelsea have continued to show just how ill-suited Sarriball is to the Premier League.

Another thing Howe may have noticed, but not noted because it is so obvious, is that possession does not imply control. Chelsea had three times the possession as Bournemouth when Bournemouth stomped them 4-0. Chelsea had far more possession when they lost 6-0 to Manchester City than when they won 2-0 or drew 0-0.

If anyone should know that possession and control of the game are negatively correlated, if at all, it is the coach of Chelsea FC. Jose Mourinho has three Premier League titles as testament to this point. Antonio Conte adds one of his own. Other coaches around the league speak to it to varying extents.

Going into Sunday’s game against Manchester City, Howe had two options in front of him: He could play like Maurizio Sarri or he could play like Antonio Conte.

Howe chose the Conte approach for the reason that eludes the Sarritologists, Redknapp and The Telegraph’s Chris Bascombe: it gave his club the best chance to win. The strategy to win a game means doing what it takes to ensure your team scores more goals than the other team. For anyone looking for more than a dopamine hit from 90 minutes of suicidally open football – or worse, as in Bascombe’s case: top bantz – this means limiting the other team’s ability to score more goals than your team is likely able to score. Scoring a few goals yourself doesn’t mean anything if it opens the door for the opponent to score many more.

Bournemouth had scored only two goals in the four games between Chelsea and Manchester City. Over the entire season, Bournemouth average 1.3 goals per game. Manchester City average 2.6 goals per game: literally, mathematically, twice as many. Bournemouth also concede 1.9 goals per game. City, 0.7.

Simply by doing the math, even without any advanced football tactical planning, Howe would recognize that his best hope of winning or drawing would be to minimize the number of goals City scored. Relative to Bournemouth, City is even better at preventing goals than scoring goals. Bournemouth couldn’t hope to score many, which means they couldn’t afford to concede many.

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This is exactly the logic that drove Antonio Conte. Had Conte or Howe “gone for it,” they would have had a Sarri-esque result. City does not need any help scoring goals. When a team plays expansively, leaves gaps in midfield and plays the defence in a high line wide across the pitch, they fulfill Pep Guardiola’s wettest dreams. A team “going for it” in such a way is giving the game to Manchester City.

And once a team goes down 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 to Manchester City, they are not coming back. Persisting with nominally offensive-oriented tactics when you are that far behind amounts to your nomination reel for Dumb Martyr of the Year. No wonder Guardiola is always praising Sarri.

Figuring that the last thing his club, his players and he personally needed was another blowout, he took the Conte route. He played the Conte game, his team got the Conte result and he received the flatulent scribblings of the press, just as Conte once did.

The upside for Eddie Howe is that his own fans do not seem as deficient as pundits or ChelsTwit. We have yet to see any Bournemouth fan blogs, forums or tweets wishing for a 6-0 loss.

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No matter. This is good practice for what’s in store if he answers the call from Roman Abramovich. Put your top-six boots on, Mr. Howe. You’re proper Chels now.