A top-10 finish in sight for Howe, Bournemouth if they can top Leicester
Bournemouth travel to Leicester on Sunday in the final game of the season in a bid to secure their best ever Premier League finish. It may be a mid-table clash with little relevance to the outcome of the league but it's not only a chance for the Cherries to secure their first top-10 position but also for Leicester to bow out in style in their last game with the tag of reigning champions.
It's three points that have a lot of pride attached to them with the Foxes also looking to secure a place in top half of the division with a win. It may just be three points up for grabs but they will be a welcome three for whichever side manage to acquire them.
Securing Bournemouth's status in England's top division for a third consecutive season is a brilliant achievement but now the vision should change from a small club living the dream to an established Premier League team looking to push on. Eddie Howe said this week their wage bill is is only going to increase and with that so will expectations. While it is too soon to put solid targets in place for the next campaign and beyond before seeing the shape of the squad come the start of the new season, securing a top-10 finish comfortably should really be what the club should be aiming at.
Jermain Defoe and John Terry have been linked with the Cherries for the 2017-18 season with the latter reportedly offered £130,000 a week. Both come with big reputations and would definitely improve the squad, but these are the sort of players the club should be steering clear of given their age. While they both might add stability for the next year or two at a stretch they shouldn't be first-choice targets. Players like Lewis Cook and Emerson Hyndman are the real future of Bournemouth and should be given the opportunity to impress.
If there is any club that know how to develop young and lesser-known players then it's the Cherries. One perfect example of this is Steve Cook, who has risen with in the club from the lower divisions to become one of their best players and even earned himself three Player of the Month awards this year. The central defender highlighted a desire to keep improving even in weeks such as now when the result is largely irrelevant for the most part, stating the club is improving at a "fast rate". It's this sort of attitude that is needed through the entire squad to ensure complacency doesn't set in.
The game against Leicester is still an audition for a berth in the squad for next season for certain players. Players such as Lewis Cook and Brad Smith could do with an impressive performance to convince Howe to keep them for next season rather than loan them out or even worse sell them. More-established players such as Simon Francis, Benik Afobe and Artur Boruc still have work to do to keep their place as well. It may only be 90 minutes but it could be a very important 90 for certain players.
Josh King is another one who will be looking to end the season in style. He's had a fantastic season and while he has already exceeded his initial 15-goal target, the chance to end the season with another goal would be the icing on the cake. He will definitely be attracting attention from "bigger" clubs during this summer transfer window and keeping him at the Vitality Stadium should be their first priority before then going on to seek another partner or potential backup for him.
After securing a 2-1 win in the final home game of the season on May 13 against Burnley, Howe will be just as keen to secure a victory in the club's final game of the season itself. The result may mean little in the grand scheme of things but it's a chance to add another significant moment in the club's extraordinary history with a top-10 finish.
Will Kent is a freelance journalist who has worked for AFC Bournemouth, ESPN UK and ESPN FC, among others. Twitter: @WillKentSPORT