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Football Whispers
 By Will Kent

Bournemouth need Ibe and Gradel to shine in second Prem League season

Bournemouth's first ever appearance in the Premier League ended well, with the club finishing a respectable 16th in the table in 2015-16. The key now is to build on that.

Here's a look at Bournemouth's 2016-17 campaign, as Eddie Howe looks to take the Cherries to the next level.

At a glance

Without the momentum of winning the Championship behind them this time round, the Cherries face an even tougher task of beating the drop this season.

Quick predictions

Premier League: 1​4th
FA Cup: Fifth round
League Cup: Quarterfinals

Transfer business

Bournemouth's transfer business should be treated with cautious optimism. While Eddie Howe's early activity in the market suggests he has everything under control, some of the players brought in haven't arrived without their doubts.

Lewis Cook and Emerson Hyndman are exciting new prospects, but when you're expected to be hovering around the relegation zone, unproven talent is arguably not what you want in your armoury. Jordon Ibe coming in for Matt Ritchie is a decent switch, but Howe has a big task on his hands in being able to withdraw the 20-year-old's potential too.

All in all, summer has undoubtedly been a positive one with a number of promising acquisitions, but it still hasn't addressed all the gaps in the squad. No new central defender yet is the biggest concern.

Bournemouth winger Jordan Ibe
Bournemouth's new recruit Jordon Ibe must deliver if the Cherries are to avoid relegation.

Key questions

The second season of Premier League football is always a difficult one. The pressure is increased, players leave and the initial energy from getting promoted has now disappeared. This is something that Bournemouth will have to deal with.

However, there's something exciting and fresh about Howe which hints that his side will be just fine with these raised expectations. He's got them this far, and there's nothing to suggest the upwards drive is ending anytime soon ... is there?

The squad is still young and hungry for success, and as proved last year, they all thrive playing under him. They respect and buy into his philosophy, so the absence of a new big-name signing in the team can be excused despite the club raising their profile massively.

However, one characteristic that the team's still missing is Premier League experience, particularly in defence. The side gained valuable knowledge from last season's success which will help equip them for the 2016-17 battle, but that will only go so far. Question marks remain over the decision to choose against hiring at least one tried-and-tested Premier League player.

The biggest problem in 2015-16 was keeping clean sheets. The only club to concede more goals were Aston Villa, a team that also recorded the third-lowest points tally in the Premier League's history. It'll be intriguing to see if Howe can get the correct player combination along the back line to resolve this huge problem, that's if he does decide not to bring anyone else in between now and the transfer window closing.

Potential pitfalls

Getting off to a positive start will be crucial. The Cherries open the season at home to Jose Mourinho's Manchester United before traveling to the London Stadium to take on West Ham United. Manchester City and Ronald Koeman's revitalised Everton are also opponents before September is done, so the possibility of a terrible opening month is a very serious possibility.

Not replacing Sylvain Distin could also be a downfall. He may not have set the world alight on the pitch last season, but his experience and presence off it was undeniably valuable. With his departure, the squad are even more lightweight in terms of top-flight experience now. Howe hasn't addressed this during the transfer window so far, choosing to bring in youth instead, and only time will tell if that's the right way to go.

Another problem could be the abundance of strikers at the club. While there's no doubt the club has enough firepower on paper to keep them in the Premier League, translating that into performances is a different story.

Benik Afobe, Lewis Grabban, Joshua King and Callum Wilson are all bidding for starting spots, along with new signing Lys Mousset. It's often thought striker's need to be settled and playing regularly to get the best out of them and Howe could be playing with fire if he chooses to chop and change every week to keep them all happy.

Bournemouth winger Max Gradel
Max Gradel will have to prove that he is capable of cutting it at this level.

One to watch 

Cherries winger Max Gradel is the player fans will be desperate to see hit the ground running after a fairly devastating season last year.

He tore a cruciate knee ligament three weeks after joining from Saint-Etienne in August 2015, and only went on to make 14 appearances last season, not returning to first-team action until late February. His last full season of regular football is a very distant memory too. He scored 17 goals during Saint-Eitenne's 2014-15 Ligue 1 campaign and Bournemouth fans will be eager to see if he can find rediscover that form after his lengthy lay-off.

Gradel turns 29 in November, an age which is often regarded as a footballer's peak and he's also just signed a new four-year deal with the club, securing an extended stay on the south coast. With this, he clearly has the backing of Howe and now has the opportunity to secure a spot in the team for the long run throughout the crowning years of his career. It really is now or never for the Ivory Coast international. Can he really cut it in the Premier League?

Will Kent is a freelance journalist who has worked for AFC Bournemouth, ESPN UK and ESPN FC, among others. Twitter: @WillKentSPORT


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