There are some managers in the Premier League who have genuinely good reasons to be quite happy. Eddie Howe and Antonio Conte both certainly have reasons to rejoice this Christmas. This week, Conte expressed his pleasure and was thankful for the pressure that comes with the tag of early season favorites to win the league. Eddie Howe, on the other hand, would surely be happy with his team’s showing in the first half of this season, despite the dampener that was the defeat against the derby rivals Southampton on last Sunday.
To say that Chelsea are on a roll, is an understatement. Only four other teams have won eleven consecutive matches in the Premier League and only one (Arsenal, 13 in a season) has won more than eleven. Conte’s men have the Gunners’ record in their sights and are quite the favorites to at least equal it, if not break it. Although the last three victories have all seen 1-0 score lines, they boast one of the more miserly defenses in the league and while other teams might have worked out a bit about how to restrict Chelsea’s attackers, they definitely are yet to work a way through their defenses.
At tenth, Bournemouth are currently at the top most position they have ever held in the English league pyramid. They are literally winning every other game and have beaten Liverpool and Leicester, while drawing with Tottenham. Their loanees from Chelsea and Arsenal are doing great and helping them sustain another good season in the Premier League. Junior Stanislas, who has contributed to six of their 22 goals is nearing return from his injury. So, for both teams the reasons for happiness are plenty.
Chelsea are getting ready for permanent life without Oscar, who is moving to China at the age of 25 for a several fold increase in his wages. No such worries about Costa and Kante, who are both suspended for collecting five yellow cards. Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fabregas are likely to be their replacements in the starting team. Although Eden Hazard has spent some time earlier in the week receiving treatment for a minor knee injury, he is likely to start.
For Bournemouth, Nathan Ake will have to sit this one out as he cannot take field against his parent club. This will trouble Howe, as Ake has been instrumental in some of the recent and important goals. This could mean that Adam Smith moves behind to right back, allowing Jordan Ibe to start. As mentioned, Stanislas and Wilson are also unlikely to start, and Afobe is likely to lead the attack.
- Chelsea haven’t lost a league game on Boxing Day since being beaten by Charlton 4-2 in 2003 (W6 D5 L0 since).
- Bournemouth are unbeaten in each of their last six league games played on December 26th (W4 D2 L0) and they have only conceded one goal in these games.
- Bournemouth have only won one of eight away games this season (at Stoke City in November).
- Chelsea have won with a 1 goal margin in 5 of their last 6 matches.
Although Diego Costa has been the main goal outlet for Chelsea with 13 goals and 5 assists, out of a total of 35 goals, he is unavailable for this game as he is suspended for getting five yellow cards so far in the season. Eden Hazard is the next best goal scorer with eight, but of late he has been absent in either the goals scored or assisted columns. Willian has played almost half the minutes that Hazard has played and has scored 3 goals and assisted one. In notable games like the Manchester City game, he made a decisive impact. His form over the last 3-4 games is also better. This leads me to believe that he is likely to be the player who will drive Chelsea’s performance on Monday.
With Junior Stanislas yet not fit and Callum Wilson deemed to be in need of rest by Eddie Howe, it seems that the responsibility of leading Bournemouth’s attack will fall to Benik Afobe. In 2 starts and 11 substitute appearances, the forward from DR Congo has one goal and assist each. He does not shoot much as he takes only one shot per game but he puts in several offensive aerial challenges and wins a fair share of them. He might be a threat if he gets a lot of aerial service and the three players behind him are able to benefit when he brings the ball down in the Chelsea box.
Some of the better players for Bournemouth are likely to miss the game, and their replacements will really have to perform well to get even one point at the Stamford Bridge. On the other hand, while the Blues are also missing their top players, they have enough strength on their bench to continue their march of victories. The situation for the Cherries is compounded by their poor away record, which means that Chelsea should be able to easily record their 12th consecutive victory and break at least their own record (from 2009) of 11 victories.