Two blanks fired in a row leaves Coventry City looking over their shoulder in the top six, when there had been an opportunity to make that position more comfortable. While back-to-back clean sheets should be commended, there is a lurking sense that this Sky Blues side is in danger of running out of steam, missing that explosive, exuberant element to their play that had defined the early part of the season.
A trip to second-place Bournemouth feels like an afternoon to be persevered, rather than looked forward to. With the team’s goalscoring touch having deserted them of late, it is hard to see Coventry City taking anything more than a point here. Of course, a win here could change a lot about the feeling around the team at moment, it’s just that it will be a very tall order.
For all the calls for Mark Robins to do something different, there isn’t really a lot that he can do with the squad right now to change things up. There are a handful of players that are in need of a rest, but a lack of quality in reserve means that there is little choice but to hope individuals can play themselves into form.
At the very least, the defence looks in good shape at the moment, with Michael Rose having stepped up adeptly as cover for Jake Clarke-Salter on the left of the back three. With Ian Maatsen impressing at left wing-back on Tuesday night, the only area for change would be Todd Kane coming in for Fankaty Dabo. However, Mark Robins doesn’t seem inclined to hand Dabo the rest that he could probably do with, meaning it is likely to be the same back five as the Birmingham City game.
Liam Kelly was a surprise inclusion in central midfield ahead of Ben Sheaf for the midweek game, given the latter’s strong recent form. Gustavo Hamer picking up a knock against Birmingham could be Sheaf’s route back into the side, however, there is little indication as to whether Hamer is unavailable for this game, at the time of writing. Regardless, Mark Robins has continued to chop and change in central midfield in recent months and that could well be the case for a while to come.
In attack, there is a debate as to whether to go back to the 3-4-2-1 system that kept things tight in the Sky Blues’ last away game, against Sheffield United, or to continue with two up front and surrender control in order to give the team a presence in the final third. With Mark Robins seemingly having been pretty happy with what he saw against Sheffield United, the likeliest call will probably be a reversion to the 3-4-2-1, placing onus on Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O’Hare to find some confidence in front of goal.
Last Time We Met
If there is a lesson to be learned from Coventry City’s last game against Bournemouth it is that using Josh Pask and Josh Eccles as the main defensive measure against a Champions League quality forward, in Arnaut Danjuma, isn’t likely to be a successful one.
There was a clear gulf in class between the two sides at the back end of last season, as Bournemouth chased automatic promotion and the Sky Blues were looking ahead to some key games in their fight for survival. The tone for the game was set within seconds of kick-off, with Bournemouth racing in behind Coventry City’s ramshackle back-line with Josh Pask unable to cut out a ball across the defence, handing Arnaut Danjuma an easy chance to open the scoring, which he did.
While the Sky Blues rallied reasonably well from that early blow, with Matty James scoring a wonderful free-kick just two minutes later, there was little stopping Bournemouth as they mercilessly exploited the mismatch down Coventry City’s right side. That saw Danjuma get in a position to beat Marko Marosi at the near post to make it two before half-time, before setting up the killer third goal with an excellent burst down the wing and cross for David Brooks. With Coventry City giving up the ghost at this point, Bournemouth waltzed to a fourth and final goal in second-half stoppage time when Ben Pearson’s shot deflected in off Dominic Solanke.
The Manager – Scott Parker
Former Fulham manager, Scott Parker, is demonstrating just how much of a waste last season was for Bournemouth in how comfortably he has been able to get the Cherries in the automatic promotion places. With a weaker squad than last year, Parker is showing up both Jason Tindall and Jonathan Woodgate, who had been entrusted with the manager’s job over the course of last season, for the amateurs it was apparent to all but Bournemouth’s board that they were.
While Bournemouth retain a large part of the squad that has been so stable in the top-flight a few years ago, Scott Parker has had to deal with losing a handful of important players from last year – not least, Arnaut Danjuma – plugging the gaps with free agents, loans and promoting players from the youth team. Although the additions of Gary Cahill, Robbie Brady and Ryan Christie underline that Parker can hardly plead poverty at Bournemouth, he has made what could have been quite a difficult job look straightforward.
Who To Look Out For?
Bournemouth continue to boast a number of players who are not just Premier League quality but probably mid-table Premier League quality. Most notably, Dominic Solanke in attack has continued to demonstrate that his reputation as a youth player wasn’t overblown with another prolific season in front of goal. Along with the classy and physical presences of Philip Billing and Jefferson Lerma in midfield, there would be top-flight managers envious of some of the quality Bournemouth possess.
This season hasn’t just been about those kind of players, once again, outclassing the Championship, the emergence of youngsters, such as Jaidon Anthony, Jordan Zemura and Gavin Kilkenny has an injection of energy and enthusiasm they had been short of last years. Anthony has been the most impressive of the lot, a lanky wide player who can hold the ball up and use it effectively, he has been one of the club’s key creative outlets. Zemura is an effervescent presence at left-back, although he is injured currently, while Kilkenny has been impressive in his energy and metronomic passing in central midfield.
Providing Scott Parker with even more options has been the recruitment of top-tier Championship players over the past two seasons. That players of the quality of Jamal Lowe, Ben Pearson and Emiliano Marcondes cannot consistently get into this Bournemouth side says a lot. It says even more that the Cherries were able to sign Celtic star, Ryan Christie, over the summer, who could easily have joined a Premier League team, and has demonstrated just why with some wonderful creative contributions over the course of the campaign.
At the back, the signing of Gary Cahill has provided leadership and organisation to what is otherwise quite a young defensive unit. Cahill has generally partnered the left-footed Lloyd Kelly in central defence, with either Leif Davis or Jordan Zemura at left-back in their first seasons as regular starters, along with Mark Travers in goal. In what could have been quite a weak back-line, Cahill’s presence has made it into the best in the division.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Had this game been played a month or so ago, it would feel as if Coventry City had especially little hope of coming out of it with anything, however, Bournemouth’s form has dipped to just below imperious recently, presenting the Sky Blues with a smidgeon of a chance. With Bournemouth likely to be in control of this game, being decisive and clinical with opportunities to get forward is going to be absolutely crucial for Coventry City here.
Bournemouth are a team that will look to dominate possession and will attempt to pen the Sky Blues into their half of the pitch. While Coventry City’s energy without the ball could be useful in breaking up Bournemouth’s rhythm, they will, in turn, look to squeeze the Sky Blues in order to win the ball back quickly. The pragmatic move would be to try and avoid playing short too often in order to prevent handing Bournemouth an easy goal from pressing the Sky Blues, however, there is an opportunity to isolate the home side’s defence if Coventry City can play accurately and confidently around their press.
This could well be the kind of game where it makes little difference just what Coventry City try to do because Bournemouth have players who can find moments of quality out of nowhere. If the Sky Blues are to lose here, it would be nice to try and force Bournemouth into those moments of quality rather than hand things on a platter to them by being too negative and error-prone.