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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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