By Jonathan Nagioff (@jonathannagioff)
The Cherries’ tough Christmas period is about to reach new heights, when they face unbeaten league leaders Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Bournemouth have failed to pick up a win in December with the festive schedule taking its toll both on and off the pitch for the South Coast team.
Eddie Howe’s side were thrashed 4-0 in their last Premier League outing at home to Liverpool and were agonisingly knocked out of the Carabao Cup in the week, conceding an injury time Alvaro Morata winner against Chelsea to deny them a spot in the last four of the competition.
A narrow defeat to Manchester United and draws against Crystal Palace and local rivals Southampton, mean that the Cherries head to Manchester in no real form or confidence.
Wednesday night’s quarter final loss against Chelsea had far greater consequences than simply the heartbreak of falling to a last-minute defeat, after Dan Gosling had equalised just a minute beforehand.
A worrying injury crisis has developed, with Howe having to fair without at least four key players ahead of the trip to the runaway leaders.
Harry Arter and Jermain Defoe were the main casualties from midweek, with the latter’s injury looking more serious.
Defoe, hobbled off after a strong challenge from Chelsea defender Ethan Ampadu and the England international is set to see a specialist for suspected ligament damage.
Arter’s setback is expected to be shorter with a calf problem ruling him out of the match, but both will join left-back Charlie Daniels and forward Josh King on the sidelines, with Callum Wilson also a slight doubt.
The Cherries are set to face their toughest test of the season against a City side which have won 17 of their 18 Premier League games and have netted an astonishing 56 goals, sitting comfortably at the top of the pile, 13 points ahead of their neighbours Manchester United in second place.
It will take a formidable effort to contain Pep Guardiola’s fire power in attack, but Howe believes that his side are due “a bit of luck.”
He told the media at his pre-match press conference ahead of the game: “We have to believe.
“We will need to be defensively very good considering the attacking players they have, but as importantly we will need a bit of luck.
“In recent games we’ve played well but not always got what we deserve.”
The two sides last met in August in an entertaining 2-1 victory for City at the Vitality Stadium.
Bournemouth were once again condemned to a cruel, injury-time defeat, with Raheem Sterling grabbing a 97th minute winner, in a match which featured a goal of the season contender from Charlie Daniels.
And Howe has encouraged his side to draw inspiration from that very narrow defeat.
He said: “The home game here this season was the closest we’ve got to them and we took an early lead through an outstanding goal.
“Maybe we’ll need something like that again, but we take confidence from that performance.
“You need to work out a defensive strategy to nullify their threats but one which also leaves you with an attacking plan. We’ll think long and hard before we finalise our game plan.”
A win or at worst a draw for the Cherries, could prove crucial and would provide much needed confidence ahead of two pivotal home fixtures against West Ham United on Boxing Day and Everton to close out the year.
And Howe insists that his team must play without fear.
He continued: “If you’ve watched us away from home recently, we don’t look like a team that’s struggling at the wrong end of the table.
“We’ve been defensively organised and got men into the box in the attacking sense.
“We’ve always looked at the bigger challenges as being better for us, and the underdog tag I think suits us.
“We don’t have too much pressure on us and we can go and be ourselves without the burden of the expectancy in terms of getting a result.”
AFC Bournemouth face Manchester City at 3pm on Saturday.