AFC Bournemouth kick-off their campaign with a trip to West Bromwich Albion this weekend, looking to improve on their remarkable ninth-placed finish last term.
The Cherries are now a bona fide Premier League outfit, having exceeded all expectations in their two-year stay in England’s top-flight. Manager Eddie Howe wasted little time in the transfer market, signing high-profile names Jermain Defoe, Asmir Begovic, Nathan Ake as well as youngster Connor Mahoney from Blackburn Rovers.
Here are three Bournemouth players that we are tipping to enjoy a successful season under Howe’s watchful eye…
Signed for a then club-record fee of £15 million from Liverpool last summer, Ibe failed to establish himself in the first team after a series of mixed performances. It was a frustrating campaign for the 21-year-old, who didn’t record a single goal or assist in his 22 appearances for the Vitality Stadium club.
Statistics don’t always tell the whole story however, and supporters saw more than enough glimpses of Ibe’s talent. If pre-season is any indication, then he is set for a much-improved time. Ibe looks fit, strong and more confident.
Arguably, he is the most skilful member of the squad and someone who, on his day, can tear a defence to shreds. Some players take time to get to grips with Howe’s unique training methods, and Ibe will have benefited enormously from an entire summer under his guidance.
Another player who joined Bournemouth last summer, Cook’s first season at the club never really got going. The 2016 Football League Young Player of the Year winner moved south from Leeds United 12 months ago and made his competitive debut in the Cherries’ curtain-raiser against Manchester United.
It was quite a baptism. However a troublesome ankle injury then ruled him out until April this year and he made just five more Premier League appearances.
With Jack Wilshere now back at Arsenal after a season-long loan, Cook will get more opportunities to impress in central midfield. And having captained England Under-20s to World Cup glory, confidence is high that he can become a major player for the Cherries. Howe will be careful with his young protege, but fans are excited about the impact he could have.
No relation to Lewis, Steve Cook was Bournemouth’s player of the year last season, capturing the prestigious Daily Echo/Micky Cave Award, which is voted for by the club’s supporters. That he beat 16-goal man Joshua King to the prize underlines just how impressive he was.
An ever-present in the Premier League, Cook was a model of consistency and a rock in the centre of defence. Calm, composed and assured on the ball, the former Brighton and Hove Albion star has grown in stature during each season at the Cherries.
There had been talk that he was on the cusp of an England call-up last term and although he was overlooked, he will surely be in Gareth Southgate’s thoughts. It’s surprising he has not been linked with a move to a ‘bigger’ club, but that suits Bournemouth just fine. Cook is the Cherries’ Mr Reliable and one of the first names on the team-sheet.