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Chelsea vs Bournemouth: Match preview and predicted line-ups

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Much talk in the Premier League has been about the Chelsea machine in recent weeks, no more so than their most recent outing, a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace, which equalled a club record of 11 consecutive victories. Going into their Boxing Day clash at home to Bournemouth, Antonio Conte’s Blues are seeking to provide the perfect late Christmas present for their fans by breaking that record with one more win.

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They will, however, have to do it against a Cherries team that stunned them in this fixture last season, after Glenn Murray’s late strike was enough to beat the Blues at Stamford Bridge in the first ever Premier League meeting between the sides. The surprise result came in the midst of the poor run of form shown by the hosts last season, which culminated in the eventual dismissal of José Mourinho from the hot-seat of the West London club.

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Recent form

Chelsea’s form of late has not only been record-equalling, but generally impeccable all-round. They are on a run of 11 straight wins, looking to make it a record 12 with three points at home to Bournemouth. Recently however, it has been a case of shutting out the opposition and being clinical, rather than free-scoring, given that under 2.5 goals have been scored in each of the Blues’ last three, and they have won by merely a one-goal margin in five of their last six matches. They can rely on a defence that at times seems impregnable, which has kept a clean sheet in nine of the club’s 11 match winning run in the Premier League.

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Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth however will be no pushovers for the Blues. They did famously win on this ground last season, although a 4-1 scoreline in favour of Chelsea in the return match on the South Coast settled the score. The Blues have the upper hand historically against the Cherries, winning five out of seven meetings between the two in all competitions throughout history, but one win each in the Premier League and key suspensions for both teams will mean this one is very much up for grabs.

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Bournemouth will need to improve their poor away form if they are to get anything from the game though, having failed to win nine of their previous ten on the road in the league and conceding at least twice in five of their previous six away from home. Their last victory on the road came at Stoke, but they have lost their last two away from the Vitality Stadium at Arsenal and Burnley since. Their home form however remains a strong point, and ensures they go into the visit to the league leaders in an admirable 10th place.

Predicted line-ups

Antonio Conte is heavily likely to persist with the 3-4-3 formation that has transformed the fortunes of the Blues and culminated in their 11-game winning run. Cesc Fabregas and Michy Batshuayi are expected to feature in the side this week though, profiting from the absences of N’Golo Kante and Diego Costa, who are missing through suspension after picking up their fifth bookings of the season at Selhurst Park last time out.

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Eden Hazard has spent the first part of the week at Cobham in order to receive treatment to a minor knee injury. He remains a doubt for the Boxing Day encounter but is expected to start. Willian, who has shined in his absence, is favourite to feature on the right of the attacking trio, at the expense of Pedro. Michy Batshuayi would be the central figure in the front three in place of the suspended Diego Costa, with Cesc Fabregas in next to Nemanja Matic in centre-midfield.

For Bournemouth, Eddie Howe told the media last week following his team’s defeat against Southampton that he should have rotated his side to a greater extent, but few surprises are expected here given that the Cherries have enjoyed well over a week’s rest since. On-loan Chelsea man Nathan Aké is ineligible to play against his parent club thanks to the terms of his deal, so Simon Francis is likely to partner Steve Cook in central defence in his stead, with Adam Smith coming in at right-back.

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Howe did hint he could rest Callum Wilson following his return from a long-term knee injury this season, so Benik Afobe is expected to start at the top of a 4-2-3-1 setup on that basis. Junior Stanislas is nearing fitness following an injury sustained in Bournemouth’s win over Liverpool, but the Boxing Day trip to the Bridge is likely to come too soon. Marc Pugh, therefore, should start on the left of the attacking three operating behind Afobe, with Joshua King occupying the central role and Jordan Ibe on the right. Jack Wilshere is expected to continue his run of regular football in centre-midfield, alongside Harry Arter.

 

                                   Chelsea predicted starting XI                AFC Bournemouth predicted starting XI

 

Injuries/suspensions

Chelsea are missing the suspended duo of Diego Costa and N’Golo Kanté after both players picked up their fifth bookings during their record-equalling triumph at Crystal Palace last time out. Eden Hazard is rated doubtful but is expected to feature, but John Terry is a confirmed absentee through injury. Marco Van Ginkel and John Obi Mikel are also doubts, whilst Oscar will not feature after completing his big money move to Chinese outfit Shanghai SIPG.

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The biggest blow for Bournemouth will be that of on-loan Chelsea defender Nathan Aké. The youngster has been a revelation for the Cherries since his move to the South Coast and has scored the winning goal in two of Bournemouth’s previous six games (away to Stoke City and at home to Liverpool), but is ineligible to play against his parent club due to the terms of his loan agreement. The visit to the Bridge is likely to be too soon for winger Junior Stanislas, as he nears a return to fitness following the injury he incurred against Liverpool, whilst summer-signing Lewis Cook and Andrew Surman are both out injured.

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Our prediction 

Chelsea’s 1-0 victory on the road last time out at the expense of Crystal Palace sees them gunning for that elusive club record of 12 straight wins going into the game with Bournemouth. They will surely now have Arsenal’s record of 14 wins in a row in their sights, but they will have to overcome the Cherries without key players N’Golo Kanté and Diego Costa. The absence of the latter in a particular may hinder Chelsea’s prospects going forward.

Bournemouth have only won one of eight away games this season, which came at Stoke City, but they can take heart from their impressive showing in the first-half of the season, which has seen them rise to a respectable 10th place. 16 of their 21 points accrued this campaign have come on home soil however and they tend to misfire away from the Vitality, so they are not expected to win here, but Chelsea may struggle themselves in breaking through. Our call therefore is another 1-0 shutout in favour of the Blues.

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Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

Arsenal

Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth
Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth came from behind to claim a much-needed victory over Arsenal, whose hopes of qualifying for the Champions League have suffered another blow.

After an insipid opening period at the Vitality Stadium, the action sparked into life when Hector Bellerin broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.

But Arsenal’s lead was short-lived, as goals from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe – his first for the club – secured the Cherries’ fourth home win of the season, which lifted them to 13th in the table.

Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped further adrift in the battle to finish in the top four after their third consecutive league game without a win. Here are three talking points…

Alexis Sanchez moves closer to the Emirates exit door

All the pre-match talk centred on a player who wasn’t involved in the contest. Not only was Alexis Sanchez not named in the starting XI, he wasn’t even on the bench having not travelled to the south coast.

Manager Arsene Wenger was ambiguous when pressed on this in the aftermath of the defeat, but the insinuation was clear; the want-away Chilean will not be an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window.

Both Manchester City and Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Sanchez, whose contract at the Emirates expires in the summer. Despite his uncertain future, this match was crying out for his never-say-die attitude.

Arsenal controlled the first half and deserved to be in front when Bellerin fired home. However, the Gunners were unable to add a second and Bournemouth capitalised with two late efforts. Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in four games in 2018 as their troubles mount.

Bournemouth buck the trend against the ‘Big Six’

Before this fixture, Bournemouth had lost all of their matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season, scoring only one goal in seven outings.

While those are not necessarily the games that will define their campaign, it was a worrying statistic that Eddie Howe needed to address. Facing an Arsenal team without Sanchez or Mesut Ozil looked like being the Cherries’ best opportunity to buck that trend, and so it proved.

With only nine points separating all the teams in the bottom half, an unexpected win can do so much to alter the picture. The Cherries didn’t fold after going a goal behind and they merited the three points for an enterprising second-half display.

Having beaten Arsenal for the first time in their history, Bournemouth are now four points clear of the drop-zone. They are by no means safe because of this result, but the psychological impact could be immense.

Jack Wilshere getting back to his best

Returning to the club at which he spent last season on loan, this was not the afternoon Jack Wilshere would have hoped for. Though it didn’t go well from a team perspective, the 26-year-old was close to his best at the Vitality Stadium.

He touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch and also completed more passes. After a frustrating start to the campaign where he struggled for minutes in the Premier League, Wilshere is now establishing himself in the starting XI.

He was Arsenal’s best player against Bournemouth and in a team that lacks leaders, he was one of the few who looked like he wanted the ball. Wilshere ran the show in midfield and was always keen to move forward with purpose.

England manager Gareth Southgate surely can’t ignore Wilshere’s form and, fitness permitting, he must be a shoo-in for the next squad. In a World Cup year, Wilshere is peaking at just the right time.

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Bournemouth 2-1 Everton: Three talking points from the Vitality

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Ryan Fraser scored twice as Bournemouth claimed their first Premier League victory since November to move out of the relegation zone. The Scotland winger, who opened the scoring in the first half before Idrissa Gueye equalised for Everton, netted an 88th-minute winner as the Cherries ended a run of eight matches without a win.

It eased the pressure on boss Eddie Howe, whose side have climbed to 14th thanks to their fifth triumph of the campaign, and condemned the Toffees to their first defeat under new manager Sam Allardyce. Here are three talking points from an engaging clash at the Vitality Stadium.

Good things come in small packages

Although he may be small in stature, Fraser is having a big impact for Bournemouth this season. After a spell out of the team, the diminutive Scotsman has regained his place and become an integral player for Howe. Fraser’s third and fourth goals of the campaign could not have been more timely, as the Cherries celebrated only their third home triumph.

His first of the afternoon was a tidy finish after being found in space by Joshua King. His second, with the clock running down, was aided by a deflection to divert the ball past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, but that did not detract from the mazy run that took him into the box and in a position to shoot.

Fraser often struggled to complete 90 minutes last season, but his stamina has noticeably improved thanks to extra strength and conditioning work. Direct running with the ball has always been a feature of the 23-year-old’s play and now he is adding goals and a threatening dead-ball delivery to his repertoire.

Everton suffer first setback under Allardyce

The Toffees headed into this fixture high on confidence, having conceded only two goals in the six games under Allardyce’s stewardship. But this was a lacklustre performance and the Everton manager could have no complaints as they left the Vitality Stadium empty-handed.

Bournemouth controlled the game in the first half and deserved to go ahead, although the goal did stem from a misplaced pass by James McCarthy. The introduction of Wayne Rooney at the start of the second period had a positive impact and the Toffees duly equalised. But Cherries’ keeper Asmir Begovic was not called into further action and Everton’s defence could not withstand the pressure as Fraser bagged a late winner.

Allardyce has built his reputation on defensive stability and this was a rare lapse. A more pressing concern though, is a lack of firepower in attack, with Everton relying too heavily on youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin. A striker capable of scoring regularly is surely top of his wish-list for the upcoming transfer window.

Howe’s trust in his players is rewarded

While not at the stage where he was fearing for his job, there is no denying Howe was feeling the heat after a club record-equalling sequence of eight Premier League games without a victory. With a mounting injury crisis and his side sitting in the bottom three, questions were being asked about Howe’s credentials.

As ever, he stuck to his principles. And by naming the same team that drew with West Ham United four days earlier, he backed his players to respond. Howe was rewarded with a fluent performance that showed the players remained fully committed to their manager and his methods.

This was the first time Bournemouth had beaten a team in the top half this season and undoubtedly their most important three points. What will especially delight Howe is that, for the second game in succession, they netted a late goal when it was required. This character is sure to be crucial, with more twists and turns to come.

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Bournemouth

Bournemouth 3-3 West Ham: Three talking points from the Vitality

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

A controversial injury-time goal from Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson denied West Ham United victory in a pulsating Boxing Day clash on the south coast. In atrocious conditions, six goals were shared between two sides struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League table.

The Hammers had taken the lead through James Collins before Dan Gosling and Nathan Ake turned the game in favour of the hosts. But two errors from Cherries keeper Asmir Begovic gifted Marco Arnautovic a quick-fire brace, which looked certain to condemn Bournemouth to a third straight defeat.

However, there was a dramatic twist when referee Bobby Madley awarded the Cherries a goal despite his assistant having flagged for offside against Wilson, who also appeared to handle Ake’s header over the line. Here are three talking points…

Referee Madley takes centre stage

The farcical scenes that occurred at the death were a fitting finale to a match that had everything. Chasing a last-gasp equaliser, Ake nodded the ball past West Ham stopper Adrian, only to see the referee’s assistant raise his flag for offside against Wilson who had been lurking at the far post.

The question for referee Madley, as the two conferred, was whether Wilson, who had appeared to be marginally offside, had touched the ball. After a considerable deliberations, Madley awarded the goal, presumably having decided Wilson had not interfered. It was the wrong decision.

Ake’s header may well have sneaked in anyway, but the Bournemouth forward did touch the ball and the goal was credited to him. West Ham can rightly feel aggrieved, as it’s uncommon for a referee to overrule his assistant on an offside call. The decision-making process was flawed and Madley may expect to be given a weekend off.

Bournemouth show signs of improvement

Although the dramatic leveller was steeped in controversy, it should not detract from the fact that a point was the very least Bournemouth deserved. Manager Eddie Howe would have asked for a response following a difficult run of results – and his players delivered with one of their best performances of the season.

It was only wasteful finishing, particularly from Joshua King, that kept West Ham in contention as the Cherries peppered Adrian’s goal. Defeat would have been extremely harsh on Bournemouth and a major blow to their survival hopes, but Wilson’s equaliser gives them some encouragement ahead of Saturday’s home fixture with Everton.

The Cherries are still in the drop-zone but such is the tight nature of the league that they are only two points behind 14th-placed Southampton. Howe will have been delighted with the spirit and never-say-die attitude his troops displayed; less so with the individual errors that continue to plague them.

Defensive troubles undermine West Ham

David Moyes was left fuming with the nature of Bournemouth’s last-gasp equaliser but he will know his own side were fortunate to escape from the Vitality Stadium with a point, having been outplayed for the majority of the game. A valuable point it was too, following their surprise defeat at home to Newcastle United three days earlier.

Moyes’s appointment has had the impact the club’s under-fire owners desired, with the victory over Chelsea at the London Stadium a particular highlight. But the Scottish boss will know they are far from safe, with basement boys Swansea only five points adrift.

What will concern Moyes, who is renowned as an organiser of men, is that West Ham conceded three times for the second game running – and but for the heroics of his goalkeeper it could have been worse. Only one club have shipped more goals than the Hammers this season, so shoring up the defence will be uppermost in Moyes’ mind.

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