An in-form Chelsea will host Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth on boxing day, as they look to continue their historic winning streak at the expense of the Cherries.
There seems to be no stopping Antonio Conte’s side these days. Since that loss to Arsenal in September, the introduction of his new 3-4-3 formation has seen them storm to the top of the Premier League table after racking up 11 consecutive victories.
Bournemouth currently sit at 10th placed on the League table and seem well on their way to securing top flight status for another season. But their away form this season has been dreadful, which doesn’t bode well for Eddie Howe’s side as the gear up to do battle at Stamford Bridge.
However, the Cherries will take confidence from the fact that they have managed to pull off some surprising upsets, most recently against Liverpool, and that in this fixture last season, they left Stamford Bridge with all 3 points after a shock 0-1 victory.
Diego Costa and N’golo Kante will miss this tie due to suspension, which give Antonio Conte a small selection headache for his midfield. John Terry has returned to training, but is still expected to miss out as David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta are all fit.
Cesc Fabregas is expected to start alongside Nemanja Matic in the middle of the park, and while he is a completely different player from Kante, the Spaniard adds a whole new dimension to the squad.
Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso will take their place on the wings, with Hazard and either Pedro or Willian. The latter has started in place of the former Barcelona winger recently, so there is every chance that he might start again.
Michy Batshuayi is expected to start upfront, given that he is the only other recognised striker in the squad. However, Conte could opt for a different 3-5-2 formation with Hazard up front as well. Dominic Solanke is available, but he is much too young to fill in Diego Costa’s boots.
Without N’golo Kante in the squad, Nemanja Matic will be restricted to defending more often than he’d like, while Moses and Alonso will focus on providing more width to the Chelsea attack, providing backup for the wingers and also fulfilling their primary defensive duties.
Fabregas will pull the strings from midfield and focus on distribution. Batshuayi should expect a lot of service upfront from his wingers and central midfielders. How well he takes his opportunities tomorrow will play a big part in determining the fate of this tie.
Predicted Starting XI (3-4-3): Courtois; Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta; Alonso, Fabregas, Matic, Moses; Hazard, Batshuayi, Pedro
Bournemouth will be without the services of Nathan Ake, which might prove to be a huge blow for Eddie Howe, given his form in recent weeks. Lewis Cook is also out with a long term injury and Andrew Surman is expected to miss out as he is still recovering from a hamstring injury.
Brazilian Junior Stanislas was also absent from first team action due to an ankle injury and is reportedly making good progress regarding his recovery. The injury wasn’t as bad as feared, and if he doesn’t start, he will likely feature in some capacity over the course of the game.
Bournemouth usually lineup in a very rigid 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1. There is no competition for Artur Boruc in goal. With no Nathan Ake, Cook and Francis will likely team up at center-back, with Arsenal loanee Jack Wilshere and Harry Arter in a double pivot role in midfield.
Jordon Ibe is expected to make his return to the starting XI, but Eddie Howe can pick from Brad Smith, Marc Pugh, Dan Gosling and Junior Stanislas to deploy as wingers. Joshua King will play a deeper role in behind Calum Wilson, who will be leading the line for Bournemouth.
The Cherries aren’t the best attacking side and they aren’t used to enjoying long periods of possession. They try and maintain their formation at all times and close down opposition players nearest to them, thereby making it difficult for the opposition to move forward with their attacks.
Much of the same will be expected against Chelsea, with a little more focus on the midfield as Harry Arter and Jack Wilshere will be instructed to keep Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic at bay as much as they can, in order to restrict their influence on the game.
Predicted Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Boruc; Daniels, Cook, Francis, Smith; Wilshere, Arter; Stanislas, King, Ibe; Wilson
- Bournemouth have won only 1 out of their previous 10 away matches in the Premier League.
- Chelsea have conceded 2 goals in their last 11 Premier League matches.
- Chelsea have not lost a boxing day fixture since 2003.
- Bournemouth are unbeaten in their last 6 Boxing Day fixtures
- Bournemouth have won 3 out their last 6 Premier League games.
- Chelsea have won 5 of their last 7 encounters against Bournemouth in all competitions.
Players To Watch
Chelsea: Michy Batshuayi
This is the Belgian’s chance to prove himself to Antonio Conte and his critics, some of whom have said that he is not an adequate back-up for Diego Costa. He has barely featured this season, as Costa’s brilliant form has restricted him to appearances from the bench.
After 1 assist in his first game and an equalizing goal in his second, he has not made any significant contribution in the Premier League in 8 appearances since, but he hasn’t really been given enough opportunities to be fair.
Costa’s absence from the starting XI tomorrow might finally result in Batshuayi getting his first Premier League start of the season, and all eyes will be on him to see how he shoulders the responsibility of leading Chelsea’s attack.
Bournemouth: Jack Wilshere
The 24-year-old has been a mainstay in Eddie Howe’s side this season after making the switch from Arsenal this past summer. He has played in every Premier League game since joining Bournemouth, except the match against his parent club.
He recently stated how he hoped to do Arsenal a favour by ending Chelsea’s win streak, and it should be interesting to see how he copes with Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas in the middle of the park, which promises to be his most difficult test so far this season.
Chelsea 2-0 Bournemouth
Despite not having Costa and Kante, Antonio Conte will not settle for anything less than 3 points and rightly so, as Chelsea have enough quality in their ranks to win this tie with a 3 or 4 goal margin.
But the Blues have been on an unconvincing run of form over the past few weeks, only managing narrow victories against the likes of Sunderland, West Brom and Crystal Palace, and the Cherries will fancy their chances of coming away from the Bridge with a surprise result, much like they did last year.