AFC Bournemouth secured a top-10 Premier League spot thanks to a final-day 1-1 draw with Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. The Cherries, who needed to avoid defeat to ensure they finished in the top half, made the perfect start when Junior Stanislas broke the deadlock in the first minute.
Leicester, playing their final match as reigning champions, equalised after the break through Jamie Vardy, but could not force a winner despite dominating the second half. The Foxes finished in 12th position, but it was Eddie Howe’s side who deserve the accolades for improving significantly on last season’s 16th place.
Here are three things we learned from this mid-table battle…
Forget Conte, Howe is the manager of the season
Since Howe returned to Bournemouth in 2012, he has bettered the club’s position in every season. It is a remarkable statistic that includes two promotions and now sees them ranked as the ninth best club in England.
Many pundits expected the Cherries to suffer from second-season syndrome, but despite the odd hiccup, that has not materialised. Howe’s men lost just two of their last 11 league matches to climb from the fringes of the relegation zone into the top half.
Joshua King has earned most of the plaudits for his goalscoring exploits, but Bournemouth’s success is built on a strong team ethic in which every member takes responsibility. Incredibly, Howe’s preferred back four is the same that earned promotion from League One.
Yes, he has spent money to add quality to the squad, but the likes of Stanislas, Dan Gosling, Harry Arter and Marc Pugh were either free or cost a pittance. Antonio Conte claimed the Manager of the Year award, but Howe’s efforts eclipse the Italian’s.
Will there be a player exodus at Leicester?
It was always going to be a difficult season for Leicester with the added publicity and scrutiny that being Premier League champions brings. Indeed, it put paid to Claudio Ranieri’s time as manager.
The club’s domestic campaign played second fiddle to the Champions League, where they performed admirably and came agonisingly close to qualifying for the semi-finals.
This could be a summer of change. The Foxes managed to hang on to everyone apart from N’Golo Kante 12 months ago, but may find it a challenge to fend off bids for stars such as Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Kasper Schmeichel.
Now that the incentive of Champions League football has gone, it is eminently possible that there may be an exodus at the King Power. The club’s owners also need to decide whether interim manager Craig Shakespeare, who won his first six matches in charge, is the man to lead the club forward.
Unsung Cook is a class apart
But one who doesn’t get the same amount of coverage, but who is arguably a more complete defender, is Bournemouth’s Steve Cook. The 26-year-old has enjoyed a stellar season, which he capped with another typically authoritative display against Leicester.
Although the Cherries conceded 67 goals, Cook was a shining light and must surely be on the cusp of an international call-up. He made more clearances than any other Premier League defender and barely put a foot wrong. He also chipped in with a few important goals, not least in the thrilling 4-3 victory over Liverpool last December.
When potential transfer fees of £20 million are being attached to Gibson and Keane, what is Cook worth? With interest sure to appear, Howe will do all he can to hold on to his star defender this summer.