Several months after confirming their places in the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League, new boys, Bournemouth, fresh off the back of a championship winning season, entertain Premier League stalwarts, Aston Villa, a side that barely escaped the trap door last time out. The south coast side enter the new campaign with nothing to lose, and will see this home encounter as an excellent opportunity to pick up the first three points of their debut campaign in the top flight. After guiding his team to safety, Tim Sherwood has invested the £32 million acquired through the sale of Christian Benteke back into his squad, and this curtain raiser will be a great chance for fans to catch a glimpse of their new heroes in action.
Manager, Eddie Howe, recently stated that this was the ‘best Bournemouth side he had ever seen’, and his team kick off their campaign with no major injury worries. Midfielder, Harry Arter, is one who will definitely miss out having struggled through pre-season with groin and hip injuries, but expect debuts to be handed to new signings Sylvain Distin, Tyrone Mings and Max Gradel, with recent acquisition, Lee Tomlin, likely to feature after his move from play-off final losers, Middlesbrough.
Aston Villa have the joint second most injury concerns going into the curtain raiser, with Gary Gardner, Jores Okore and new signing, Jose Crespo, looking likely to miss the game. Commanding centre-half Ron Vlaar is a certain absentee, having recently undergone surgery on a troublesome knee problem. Last season’s teenage revelation, Jack Grealish, is nursing a hamstring injury, and will be touch and go right up till kick-off. A number of stars have been added to the Villa squad over the summer, and debuts are likely to be handed to defenders Micah Richards and Jordan Amavi, midfielders Jordan Veretout and Idrissa Gueye, and new striking duo Jordan Ayew and Rudy Gestede.
Head to Head
Although this will be the first Premier League encounter between the pair, the sides have faced each other on no less than 5 previous occasions, with Villa coming out on top in 3 of these, most recently in a 2-1 FA Cup success at the turn of the year. The last time Bournemouth beat Villa in a competitive fixture was way back in 1971, where they recorded a comfortable 3-0 victory in the old Division 3.
Ones To Watch
Bournemouth full-back, Simon Francis, was instrumental in the club’s rise to the top flight. Last season he recorded 6 assists, and was a regular in the side, absent on only 4 occasions across the course of the campaign. Winger Matt Ritchie was a standout performer last campaign, and the form shown by the player was enough to see him handed a full international cap by Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan. The player recorded an incredible 15 goals and 17 assists last year, and was a defining factor in his side reaching the Premier League.
New Villa signing Micah Richards promised so much coming through the ranks at Manchester City, but after time away from English football with Fiorentina in Italy, the versatile defender will see the opportunity handed to him by Tim Sherwood as a chance to force his way back into the England set up. Strong in the air, expect Richards to be deployed in the heart of the Villa back 4 in the absence of Vlaar. Scott Sinclair was another that promised much with Swansea City, but saw his career stagnate on the Manchester City bench. Having spent last season on loan at Villa, the winger-cum-striker will be desperate to exhibit the form he showed in South Wales, and 4 pre-season goals is excellent form to be carrying in to the new campaign.
Bournemouth: Callum Wilson
Wilson’s goalscoring ability proved to be a defining factor in Bournemouth’s promotion campaign, and his 20 league goals fired his side to the title. A £3 million club record signing at the time, Wilson proved an excellent addition to the squad, and his natural goalscoring ability may prove to be the difference between whether or not Bournemouth remains a Premier League side by May 2016. One of the first names on the team sheet, expect Wilson to play a big part in Saturday’s game.
Aston Villa: Rudy Gestede
New signing Gestede cut a forlorn figure during his days at Cardiff City, but was reinvigorated by a move to Blackburn Rovers, where he found the net every other game. A £6 million price tag now upon his head, those associated with Villa will hope the powerful forward will fill the void left by Christian Benteke’s move to Liverpool. Bournemouth will be wary of the threat posed by Gestede, having seen the striker score against them last season, and after 20 Championship goals last season, the Benin international will look to continue his form with his new side.
The opening fixtures of a Barclays Premier League campaign are always challenging to gauge. New faces are difficult to evaluate, managers are often undecided as to their best eleven, and pre-season fixtures often mean nothing once the curtain has been raised, and the league campaign kicks off. Bournemouth have added several new faces to their side and retained those who fired them to promotion, and will be looking to start the campaign in a positive fashion in front of their own fans. Despite losing best asset, Benteke, the fee for the player has been invested wisely, with the club bringing in a number of talented performers. Goals are in abundance in both sides, so expect the match to be an open affair. With that in mind, I believe this will be an entertaining clash, with the two sides cancelling each other out in a high scoring draw.
Prediction: AFC Bournemouth 2 – 2 Aston Villa