Aston Villa-Bournemouth Preview
AFC Bournemouth will make their Premier League debut Saturday when the Cherries welcome Aston Villa to Dean Court.
Bournemouth enjoyed an excellent season in the Championship last term, finishing on top of the table with 83 points to earn automatic promotion. But for a club that has never seen Premier League life before, it could be a struggle for manager Eddie Howe to keep the Cherries up for a second straight season.
Bournemouth began play in 1899-1900 under the name Boscombe FC and made their FA Cup debut in the 1914-15 season. The club name was changed to Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic Football Club in 1923 and further shortened to AFC Bournemouth in 1972.
The early 20th century saw several managers come in and out, and the club was forced into financial administration in 2008 as a result of unpaid debts totaling around four million pounds, but the club has been trending upward since Howe returned for his second stint as club manager in October 2012 after a brief spell with Burnley.
Howe's club certainly has strength in net in the form of former Southampton goalkeeper Artur Boruc and former Reading netminder Adam Federici.
Boruc made 37 appearances last season while on loan with Bournemouth and had 14 clean sheets in 29 matches with Southampton in 2013-14. The Poland international made 49 starts for the Saints in the top flight from 2012-14.
Defence might be a bit of a struggle as former Everton centre back Sylvain Distin will likely anchor the group. The 37-year-old will be helped by Tyrone Mings, whom Bournemouth acquired from Ipswich Town and will play at left back.
Midfield is also a strength with the addition of Cristian Atsu to pair with Matt Ritchie, who netted an impressive 15 goals and added 17 assists last term. The Cherries also have an impressive young forward to carry the load in 23-year-old Callum Wilson, who finished last season with 20 goals and seven assists. The club also signed winger Max-Alain Gradel from Ligue 1 side St. Etienne.
"The training has been very intense, the players have been excellent in their approach to their work and the games have been very competitive," Howe told the club's official website. "We have had to show different sides to our game, which is something we will have to do this season. The most important thing is the players look fit and that most have come through it without any injuries. "
For Aston Villa, the club must get off to a better start in 2015-16 if they want to avoid another relegation scrap at season's end.
Tim Sherwood's men barely avoided the drop last term, finishing in 17th place with 38 points, just three clear of relegated Hull City. Despite their poor league results, the Villans made a stunning run to the FA Cup final, where they were throttled 4-0 by Arsenal at Wembley Stadium.
The club also had major issues scoring goals, netting a league record-low 12 tallies in their first 25 matches. Those difficulties seem likely to continue following the departures of top scorer Christian Benteke to Liverpool and Fabian Delph to Manchester City.
Losing Delph will be quite a blow for the Villans, who are left with Carlos Sanchez, Ashley Westwood and Idrissa Gueye in central midfield. The wide spots will feature some combination of Jack Grealish, Charles N'Zogbia and Scott Sinclair.
With Benteke gone, the Villans will lean on Gabriel Agbonlahor and new signing Jordan Ayew to consistently find the back of the net. Ayew came to the West Midlands club from Ligue 1 side Lorient, where he scored 12 goals in 29 appearances.
"Jordan can play a number of positions," Sherwood told the club's official television network. "He can play on the left side of the attack or as a No. 9. Jordan has good pace and strength. His all-round game is what we're looking for. He's at a very good age with a good pedigree. We think we have a star in the making there."
The clubs met last season in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Villa Park, where the home side claimed a 2-1 win. Their last meetings in league play came back in 1987-88 in the second division.