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Tactical Philosophy: Eddie Howe

While this website has made its name focusing on the lesser known youth of this beautiful sport, and combined it with a tinge of tactical flavour meant for the football enthusiast, we found a large gap to be exploited in terms of combining the two. This mini-series thus focuses on young managers (below the age of 45) and their tactical philosophies, deriving what got them here and where they could go. Patrick Mills has a look at Patrick Vieira’s rise in recent seasons.


Eddie Howe’s journey through the Football League is nothing short of incredible. Aged just 39 it is hard to believe he has been at the helm for over 410 games, a record most managers could not comprehend at that age. Howe has ensured success has been achieved by playing attractive football the right way.

It all began at Bournemouth, where a 13-year playing career ended abruptly at just 28 after spending his youth career and 11 of those years at the Cherries. The end of one chapter was the start of the next. With experience of reserve player-manager, whilst also playing in the first-team accompanied by a short stint of assistant manager duties, you wouldn’t have thought Howe would be thrown in at the deep-end with the club’s existence depending on him. But that is exactly what would be done. Howe took the reigns as caretaker manager at the start of January 2009, he would lose his first two games and then be challenged with the role of permanent manager. Howe would then unexpectedly guide Bournemouth away from the relegation zone despite them starting the campaign on -17 points.

His first full season in charge is where it would all come together. Despite a transfer embargo throughout the season, the English boss would make good use of what he had. A new club record would be set by Bournemouth winning eight out of their first nine games which put them well on the way to promotion. The Cherries continued their adventure into League One with Howe abandoning the ship just after the turn of the year. At that point he had led Bournemouth into a position that should consolidate their status in League One.

On the 14th of January 2011 Howe was announced as the new Burnley manager, just after controversially committing his future to Bournemouth. Howe guided Burnley to an eighth placed finish that season, just narrowly missing out on the play-offs and that was followed by five places worse off the next. A merely two months into his third season at Burnley, Howe would return to Bournemouth for “personal reasons”.

A second stint at his boyhood club ended in success. He returned and in the same season, Bournemouth would defy the odds and navigate their way to promotion into the Championship. A return to the second division in English football, this time with a different side would see Howe cement their position with a 10th placed finish.  Bournemouth again defied the odds to kick on and gain promotion to the Premier League, something that had never been done in Bournemouth’s history and Howe had acquired LMA award for Manager of the Year after his managerial masterclass. Howe then steered them to Premier League survival with a 16th placed finish ensuring at least another year in the most competitive league in the world. In Bournemouth’s second season in the Premier League they had a late surge for a top-half spot and did exactly that, finishing ninth. Howe now has a chance to build on such an impressive season with the notable additions of Nathan Ake, Asmir Begovic and Jermain Defoe which show a clear sign of intent for the future.

Tactical Philosophy

Howe’s philosophy is very much based around keeping possession and playing attractive football. His side must work hard to retrieve the ball through pressing high beginning with the opponent’s defence. Howe’s team would then either dispossess them or force the opponent into an error creating a turnover of possession. When Howe’s side has the ball, they must look after it carefully and delicately. The style of football is very attacking with the aim to create as many chances as possible, as then they are obviously more likely to score.

Howe bases his ideas on not getting the best out of an individual, but to bind the group together to play for each other, creating an unrivalled team spirit so that regardless of the talent at his disposal, they all leave 110% on the pitch.

Formation and Tactical Structure

As seen in the image above, Howe uses an established formation but has modernised it to suit his playing style and his squad at his disposal over the years he has been in the dugout at Bournemouth. He diverges away from the traditional 4-4-2 into a 4-4-1-1 for the Cherries. Different formations have been tried and tested with but this suits Howe’s philosophy best as they are able to move the ball from defence to attack, but this is through patient build up play and not the stereotypical lower English side desperately launching long balls to a target man. The whole team works together in great cohesion, reflective of their team-spirit to battle and overcome opponents whilst adhering to Howe’s ideologies.

When the game is in motion, the formation alters slightly with positions and movements of the players, which have been shown with circles and arrows. The fullbacks push up high to support the attack, either by overlapping the winger or coming inside to give an extra passing option. Andrew Surman tends to drop the deeper of the two central midfielders being the main man in shielding the defence and picking up the loose balls, leaving Harry Arter to play the box-to-box role. The wingers push high and wide to take their opponents into one-on-ones, isolating them and the extra support of the fullback often overloads the opponents near to their goal. The second striker; Joshua King, tends to roam in the space circled in between the midfield and attack, causing chaos for the opposition who struggle to keep an eye on the Norwegian forward.

Attacking approach

The main aim of Howe’s attack is to slowly but surely build up the play, from defence, to midfield and then to attack. His side tend to dominate possession looking for the perfect attacking solution, they don’t force the opportunity if it is not there and will just recycle possession until the desired chance is there, this can happen in one of two ways.

Wide men are heavily utilised

Bournemouth deploy pacey and tricky wingers who thrive in one-on-one situations to be their viable attacking option, the wide players must excel in taking their fullback on either side and able to deliver a quality final ball. By taking the fullback high and wide, they use their technical excellence to leave them trailing and enter the box, often the fullbacks in Charlie Daniels and Adam Smith will overlap if the winger is struggling to beat their man or come inside to create an extra option in attack. The preferred pairing is Adam Fraser and Junior Stanislas, but also at their disposal is Jordan Ibe, Mark Pugh and Max Gradel (now loaned to Toulouse). They all possess common attributes in an attacking sense, but the dynamic duo of Fraser and Stanislas both possess a greater work ethic which helps them to win the ball back and recycle the style of getting down the wing and creating chances for the forwards.

As seen in the image above during a pre-season friendly between Bournemouth and Napoli, the winger, Gradel in this case, is found positioned high and wide when receiving the ball. The arrow represents his run directly past his marker, forcing the defender onto their backfoot.

Once Gradel has eased past his man he shapes the ball onto his left to deliver a low, drilled ball into the danger area which encounters a deflection and is eventually turned in by Benik Afobe who is wisely lurking in between the two defenders. This is an example of exactly what Howe requires in his wingers when attacking and being capable of a visionary final ball.

The second striker

The role of the second striker is simple, to provide an interlink between the central midfielders and the striker. King plays this role in the set-up and does so fantastically, this is through his experiences playing both on the wing and as the striker. He can drop deeper, collecting the ball from the midfield and use his technical prowess to beat a man and shoot or create a chance. King’s awareness allows him to find space others can’t to provide another passing option, hence why he is at the cornerstone of the vast majority of their attacks. King knows exactly how to provide for the striker, in Bournemouth’s case Benik Afobe, due to their chemistry and King’s time playing as the lone striker. The attacker is heavily adept to playing this position now and seems to enhance his ability every season when doing so.

Defensive approach

Howe’s key ideology surrounding his defensive approach is that his sides attempt to win the ball back as quickly and competently as possible, therefore that prevents the opposition from having the chance to directly hurt them when the Cherries are out of their usual stern shape.

High pressing

Howe instructs his players to close down the opponent whenever they have the ball, if the opposition is in control and just maintaining possession, the nearest player must go to press than player, but if an opponent has found themselves in an uncomfortable position where they are likely to make a mistake that Bournemouth can pounce on, this is where Howe’s tactical genius comes into play. Howe uses pressing triggers, they vary from the opponents playing a poor pass to the opponent taking a poor touch, both will trigger instant pressing from Bournemouth and overload the space to limit the opponent’s options.

During the same pre-season friendly as before, Howe’s high pressing is provoked when Vlad Chririches is forced into a corner and made to pass across goal due to King and Connor Mahoney’s pressing. The Napoli defenders then are playing a profoundly risky game. As seen in the image above Jorginho, who is in control of the ball, has an oncoming Dan Gosling to resist and must find an accurate pass otherwise the Cherries can pounce. King is on the tail of Piotr Zielinski, Mahoney is marking the unfavourable option of Chririches and with Simon Francis able to intercept the runs of Zielinski and Insigne due to his excellent positioning, Jorginho is forced into playing a suicidal pass to Zielinski who is disposed by Francis’ high press from right back where he and King combine to allow the Englishman through on goal to capitalise on Napoli’s error.

However, a disadvantage of Howe’s tactic is that if high pressing is in full swing with bodies in ambush and the opponent can either keep control or clear the ball, then the opponents can push forwards against lesser numbers and have more chance of scoring.

Three Career Defining Games

2009/10 League Two- Bournemouth 3-1 Wycombe Wanderers-

Eddie Howe’s third ever game in charge was the turning point for his side. After losing the two preceding games, the Cherries bagged three against league leaders Wycombe. Although Wycombe broke the deadlock early on with Harrold scoring in the ninth minute, Bournemouth came back fighting with Pitman (24), Pearce (32) and Thompson (64) all getting on the scoresheet. It proved to be a defining game as Howe’s record within the next two months was seven wins, three draws and just one loss.

2012/13 Championship- Crystal Palace 4-3 Burnley-

This game proved to be decisive in his career not so much for Burnley but for their current Premier League counterparts Bournemouth, it was Howe’s last game in charge of the Clarets. The loss certainly put things into perspective for Howe whose fourth game without a win left him desperate to return to Dean Court. McCann opened the scoring (26), followed up by Paterson (29). However, this lead was short lived as a brace from Zaha (41, 53) and two more from Delaney (66) and Murray (75) put the comeback out of reach. Austin (81) bagged a consolation goal but the damage was done. Less than a week later, Howe retuned to Bournemouth citing personal reasons for his departure, which subsequently instigated their Football League turnaround.

2014/15 Championship- Bournemouth 3-0 Charlton-

On the final day of the Championship season, Bournemouth triumphed to Championship winners with a 3-0 win at the Valley, the goals were courtesy of Matt Ritchie netting twice (10, 85) and Arter (12). The Cherries had made the impossible possible as Sheffield Wednesday held Watford to a 0-0 draw which meant that Howe’s side came out as champions. Howe’s journey had finally reached the end goal, to be in the Premier League and considering when he took over six years prior, no one could have expected this masterclass from the young manager. It was the start of a new chapter in Bournemouth’s history as they had reached the Premier League for the first time and has been to greatest achievement of Howe’s to date.

Three Key Players Developed

Harry Arter: Over seven years ago, Arter joined League One side Bournemouth from non-league Woking. Seven years later, he has been a mainstay in the team and is at the heart of their dynamic midfield. Arter’s rise has been somewhat meteoric and he has grown as a player coherently along with the stature of the club through the divisions and two different tenures of Eddie Howe. Howe has significantly developed Arter into a box-to-box, hardworking midfielder with technical ability in abundance, the Republic of Ireland international has the capability to single-handedly change a game and his growth has certainly been enhanced by Howe, who has drilled these traits into him since day one.

Charlie Austin: Charlie Austin was one of Howe’s earliest and most rewarding buys, even though it was at Burnley and not Bournemouth. Austin signed in the January transfer window of 2011 from Swindon Town and fitted the bill of a remarkable finisher who is proficient in and around the box, reflecting his 41 goals in 82 games, exactly one goal every two games. Howe enhanced his tactical side of the game, with Austin moving from League Two to the Championship, improvements in his positional sense which lead to more goals were clear to see under Howe’s guidance. Austin stayed at Burnley for just over one and a half years, much like the manager, and was a goal machine during his time at Turf Moor.

Nathan Ake: Signed on a season long loan from Chelsea at the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign, Ake has come on leaps and bounds under Howe. The Dutch youngster quickly established himself as a regular, either at left-back or centre-back with assertive performances and demonstrated his comfort in possession, a trait that fits perfectly with Howe’s philosophy. A recall back to Chelsea at the business end of the season due to injuries meant Ake was again warming the bench so Bournemouth came back with a £20m bid that was accepted meaning he is now a Cherries player for good and will be heavily influential in the future successes of Howe’s side.

Read all our Tactical Philosophy articles here.

Jack Heale
Latest posts by Jack Heale (see all)

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