What was the situation like when the league was suspended on 13 March? James Milner’s incredible goalline clearance at Anfield feels a lifetime ago but there were some green shoots despite a dispiriting defeat to Liverpool that in many ways was symptomatic of Bournemouth’s season to date. Unsettled from the moment Steve Cook was forced off through injury, within 15 minutes Liverpool had turned the tables after seizing on sloppy mistakes. But Eddie Howe was understandably encouraged by the manner in which his side threatened, finding joy on the counterattack and they would have equalised through Ryan Fraser but for Milner’s intervention.
A week earlier, they had Chelsea on the ropes but failed to eke out victory. Bournemouth have never been so ensconced in a Premier League relegation battle with nine games to go and, as Howe knows, there is little margin for error when they return.
What about now? Finally, Bournemouth can unleash David Brooks after an injury-plagued 12 months for the winger who has twice undergone surgery because of an ankle complaint. Meanwhile Lloyd Kelly, an exciting £13m arrival from Bristol City last summer, is primed for his first taste of Premier League action after being bogged down by ankle and thigh injuries. The treatment room is sparse compared to March, with Charlie Daniels, who is yet to return to training following knee surgery, set to be the only notable absentee when Crystal Palace visit next weekend. Howe feels this is the strongest squad he has assembled but, until now, there has inevitably been frustration at not being able to fully utilise it. The run-in is tricky, with trips to Wolves, Manchester City and Manchester United but Bournemouth should return with more oomph.
What needs to be done to have a successful end to the season? Getting a significant tune out of Ryan Fraser would be a major boon given he confessed to being sidetracked by transfer speculation for the first few months of the campaign. “I wasn’t myself, I didn’t play for the team. I’m honest enough to admit that,” he told the BBC in January. No Bournemouth player has made more top-flight appearances than the winger this season but his influence has undoubtedly waned. Fraser is set to depart on a free transfer this summer, seven years on from joining as a teenager from Aberdeen for £400,000, and one last hurrah would likely ensure a happy ending for all parties. Bournemouth yielded seven points from the last available nine at home and extending that form behind closed doors would be handy.
Have players and staff behaved during lockdown? There has been one blemish – Jordon Ibe’s foolish decision to breach lockdown guidelines by inviting celebrity barber Nikky Okyere to cut his hair and then publicising his flouting of the rules on Instagram. He posted a since-deleted image of him wearing a mask and a gown that carried the stylist’s rather apt slogan: “Breaking The Rules & Changing The Game”. Bournemouth launched an investigation and Ibe released a grovelling apology. The 24-year-old, who arrived at Bournemouth from Liverpool in 2016 for a then club-record £15m, has been training with the under-21s since December.
Any unsung/community heroes? Howe became the first Premier League manager to take a voluntary pay cut amid the coronavirus crisis, while the squad donated a six-figure sum to Bournemouth Churches Housing Association, which supports victims of domestic abuse. Several players and staff contacted vulnerable and isolated supporters. Adam Smith, who was born in east London, donated 10 iPads to Princess Alexandra hospital in Harlow to enable Covid-19 patients to communicate with their families via FaceTime. The club is also considering bearing a message to key workers on their shirts for the remainder of the season after ending its sponsorship deal with betting company M88.
Key player in the run-in? Jefferson Lerma – the lungs of the team. The combative midfielder is walking a disciplinary tightrope given he is a yellow card away from a two-match suspension, but Bournemouth need him to make his presence felt. His reputation as the team’s bouncer sometimes precedes him but there is more to Lerma than firefighting and putting his head in where it hurts.
End-of-season-prediction Things do not get any easier for Bournemouth but they have a useful tendency of raising their game when it really matters: 17th.
Remaining fixtures (all times BST): Sat 20 June Crystal Palace (h) – 7.45pm, BBC Sport Wed 24 June Wolves (a) – 6pm, BT Sport Wed 1 July Newcastle (h) – 6pm, Sky Sports TBC Manchester United (a), Tottenham (h), Leicester (h), Manchester City (a), Southampton (h), Everton (a).