Bournemouth entertain Watford at the Vitality Stadium tomorrow, with both sides looking for a morale-boosting victory to kick-start 2017. The Cherries are hoping a return to home comforts will do the trick after a disappointing performance on their travels last time out, when they lost 3-1 to relegation-threatened Hull City. For Hornets manager Walter Mazzarri, this could be a key fixture as he attempts to alleviate the pressure that has been growing on him. After a good start to the season, Watford have stumbled in recent weeks and Mazzarri’s position has come under scrutiny.
Eddie Howe’s men currently sit 11th in the Premier League and their record of two wins, three defeats and one draw in their past six games reflects their inconsistency. Bournemouth’s home form has generally been good though; who could forget the memorable 3-3 draw with Arsenal the last time they were on home soil? What will concern Howe, however, is the alarming statistic that Bournemouth have conceded three goals in eight of their past 10 fixtures. Watford, meanwhile, are winless since December 10, a period in which they have collected just two points that has seen them plummet down the table. They are seven points clear of the drop zone in 14th, but need to return to winning ways sooner than later.
Cherries skipper Simon Francis serves the final game of his three-game suspension, which means Adam Smith will continue to deputise at right-back. Striker Callum Wilson is pushing for a recall, while Tyrone Mings, who made his first Premier League start for the club in the 3-1 defeat by Hull, is once again set to partner Steve Cook in central defence. Mazzarri could hand new signing Tom Cleverley, on loan from Everton, his first start for the club and is likely to pick Costel Pantilimon in goal with Huerelho Gomes out injured. Nordin Amrabat and Adlene Guedioura are on African Cup of Nations duty.
Since both teams were promoted to the Premier League in the summer of 2015, each encounter between them has ended with a share of the points. In the reverse fixture at Vicarage Road back in October the match finished 2-2 – and you wouldn’t bet against the same scoreline this time. Bournemouth have been leaking goals regularly while Watford have struggled to get over the winning line. Mazzarri will probably be the happier of the two managers if the two sides can’t be separated, with Howe eyeing a victory to return to the top half.
Score prediction – Bournemouth 2-2 Watford
Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook looks destined for a top-four club
The 21-year-old has been called up to Gareth Southgate’s squad as a reward for his recent form.
His form has largely gone under the radar, but Lewis Cook’s England call-up for the prestige friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy has brought him fully into the public consciousness.
The Bournemouth midfielder has been rewarded for his eye-catching performances since establishing himself as one of the first names on Eddie Howe’s team-sheet.
Keeping the likes of Harry Arter out of the starting XI, Cook has become a fans’ favourite at the Vitality Stadium.
With each appearance, the 21-year-old looks increasingly at home in the top-flight and is growing in maturity.
Cook had been enlisted as cover by Gareth Southgate during last November’s friendlies but didn’t feature. This time, however, he is in the 27-man squad on merit alone.
Despite being a newcomer, Cook has international pedigree.
He captained England at the Under-20 World Cup and followed Bobby Moore as only the second Englishman to lift a global trophy when the Three Lions defeated Venezuela in South Korea.
His progress has been tracked by Southgate, who wants to build a pathway from the age groups to the senior team.
It is a model that has proved successful in Germany, whose 2014 World Cup winners featured a nucleus of the dominant under-21 outfit.
Southgate has made it clear that, ideally, he wants to pick those who are performing regularly for their clubs.
With an increasingly shallow pool of players to choose from, this is not always possible.
But for the likes of Cook and James Tarkowski of Burnley, their call-ups are proof that you do not have to play for a so-called ‘big club’ to receive England recognition.
It gives hope to all those who harbour international ambitions.
Cook arrived in Dorset with high expectations after joining from Championship outfit Leeds United in the summer of 2016, but his maiden season was bedevilled by difficulties.
He lined up for his competitive debut in the 2016/17 Premier League curtain-raiser against Manchester United, only for a persistent ankle injury to sideline him for seven months.
He featured only sporadically at the back end of the campaign.
This season began similarly frustratingly for Cook, who failed to make the match-day squad for the opening fixtures.
However, he made his first Premier League start of the term against Leicester City last September and never looked back.
First, in partnership with Andrew Surman and latterly alongside Dan Gosling, it is no coincidence the Cherries’ revival has occurred with Cook at the heart of the action.
He has been instrumental in their improvement.
Cook’s style has been compared to Jack Wilshere, who spent last season on loan at Bournemouth.
Howe has credited the Arsenal man with aiding his protege’s development, culminating in this England selection.
Like Wilshere, Cook could not be described a prolific goalscorer. In fact, he has netted only two goals in 120 career appearances.
Where he shines is in possession of the football.
Linking defence with attack, Cook’s vision and ability to execute a pass are stand-out qualities. He rarely gives the ball away and always wants to move the play forward.
Occasionally he picks the wrong option, but at such a tender age mistakes are inevitable.
Despite the microscopic scrutiny involved in the top-flight, he can never be accused of hiding.
Cook always demands the ball from his team-mates, no matter how well he is playing.
Speculation has risen that Cook might be a target for some of the Premier League’s elite clubs, most notably Liverpool, who were reported to be targeting him to replace the Juventus-linked Emre Can.
Whether this interest materialises remains to be seen, but should Cook’s form continue then Howe may face a fight to keep his prized asset on the south coast.
There is little doubt from those who watch him regularly that Cook has the potential to reach the very top.
England recognition – and a spot at this summer’s World Cup – will only accelerate his rise.
Junior Stanislas winner cliches Premier League survival for Bournemouth
The Cherries came from behind to beat West Brom on Saturday.
Bournemouth fought back from 1-0 down to secure a vital three points against West Bromwich Albion, as they took a huge step towards Premier League survival.
It wasn’t the best performance from the Cherries, but one player to standout was Junior Stanislas. The winger has been in good form during recent weeks and scored the winning goal on Saturday with a superb free-kick from range.
The 28-year-old is reaching the peak years of his career and he will want to be a regular starter in the top-flight. Bournemouth are a good fit for him, as there are no superstars and the team is greater than the sum of its parts. There are sprinklings of quality throughout and Stanislas is one of the players that can produce moments of brilliance on the pitch.
During the second half of the season, he has been one of the key attacking elements for Bournemouth. He has scored four goals in his last seven Premier League matches, but the one on Saturday was the most important of those as it was directly responsible for the win.
There were only minutes remaining and the chance came from a free-kick that was a long way out. Stanislas showed great confidence to take a shot and the resulting goal will go down as one of the best in his career to date.
The overall performance from Stanislas was a positive one, as he worked hard and contributed in both halves of the pitch from the left wing. The 28-year-old completed two dribbles and made one key pass during the contest, while his pass completion rate was 80%.
He was effective in possession and rarely gave the ball away, which aided the team’s attacking play. In addition to his goal, the winger offered a threat for the entire game and had four attempts on goal. This was the joint-most of any player on the pitch.
Eddie Howe demands total commitment from his players and everyone is expected to contribute to the defensive effort. Stanislas certainly did that on Saturday as he completed both of his attempted tackles. It is important for the wingers to work back and help their full-backs in a 4-4-2 formation. Both Stanislas and Jordon Ibe did their bit for the team.
With their victory over West Brom, Bournemouth moved into the top ten of the Premier League and sit on 36 points. That should put an end to their relegation worries, as they are eight points clear of the bottom three with only seven matches left to play. Although the Cherries have been in the top-flight for three seasons now, it remains a huge achievement to stay in the division given the size of the club.
The success has been due to the team spirit and players stepping up to the highest level. Stanislas is a great example of that, as he has spent the majority of his career in the Football League. He helped Bournemouth get promoted and has continued to improve since the club arrived in the Premier League. Now he is one of the Cherries’ best players and moments like his goal on Saturday reflect that.
Leicester City 1-1 Bournemouth: Three talking points from the King Power
Riyad Mahrez’s stunning 97th-minute free-kick rescued a point for Leicester City against Bournemouth.
Mahrez, who had been heavily linked with a move to Manchester City in the January transfer window, curled the ball past Asmir Begovic from 30 yards to deny the Cherries victory in a grandstand finish at the King Power Stadium.
Joshua King had given Bournemouth a first-half lead when he stepped up to dispatch a spot-kick after being fouled inside the area.
The Foxes threw everything at their opponents in the second period but had to wait until deep into added-time for a dramatic equaliser.
Here are three talking points…
Redemption for Mahrez after troubling period
The Algerian’s attempts to engineer a switch to City and subsequent failure to report to training had not been well received by Leicester supporters.
Mahrez had been a key figure in the Foxes’ phenomenal Premier League title triumph two years ago, but his reputation suffered a battering when he made it clear he saw his future away from the club.
After a difficult period for all involved, Mahrez is back in the fold and now back in the fans’ good books.
His last-minute goal against the Cherries certainly was evidence of his redemption.
Thirty yards out, the 27-year-old started the ball outside the wall and watched it bend back past Begovic’s outstretched right hand.
Leicester, who have never beaten Bournemouth in the top-flight, are winless in five Premier League matches, but they remain eighth in the table.
With Mahrez’s reintegration seemingly complete, a fruitful finish to the season could even help them push for a European place.
Howe ‘disgusted’ as Bournemouth concede so late
Bournemouth’s backs had been firmly up against the wall in the second half as they sought to hold on to their tenuous advantage.
It looked to have been a worthwhile effort until Mahrez’s moment of magic.
A share of the spoils was probably fair in the context of the game, but Cherries manager Eddie Howe admitted he felt ‘disgusted’ after watching the visitors concede so late.
Only four minutes of stoppage-time had been scheduled, but an injury to Simon Francis as well as a substitution meant referee Lee Probert played nearly double that amount.
Despite missing out on what would have been a crucial win, Bournemouth are edging towards safety.
They have lost only once since Christmas, a run that has helped them climb out of the relegation zone and amass 33 points.
Two more victories from their remaining nine fixtures should be enough to secure Premier League football for a fourth successive campaign.
Summer will be a key time for both clubs
In a league that is dominated by the so-called ‘Big Six’, the primary aim of the other 14 clubs is survival.
As mentioned above, both Leicester and Bournemouth are all but guaranteed to be playing in the top-flight next season.
The question for both in the summer will be, how can they push on?
The first job for the Foxes’ hierarchy and manager Claude Puel will be deciding the future of Mahrez.
Do they cash in on their star player and reinvest the funds into the squad, or do they try to tie him down to a new contract?
Bournemouth’s ambitions are perhaps not as high as Leicester’s, but after finishing ninth last season, another mid-table position will consolidate their status as a bona fide Premier League outfit.
On the field, there may be some significant outgoings as Howe looks to freshen his resources.
The out-of-favour Harry Arter is one player who looks likely to leave the south coast.
Off the field, the club will hope its plans for a new stadium get closer to becoming a reality.
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