Crystal Palace-Bournemouth Preview
It's shaping up to be a very happy Boxing Day for Bournemouth, and all they have to do is take down Crystal Palace on Saturday at Dean Court to keep their club-best form going.
The Cherries enter this contest riding a club-best five-match unbeaten streak - including three straight wins - in Premier League play. That has allowed Eddie Howe's men to overtake defending champions Chelsea and climb into 14th place on 19 points, four clear of the relegation zone.
Last week's 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns furthered their momentum, with Charlie Daniels scoring the winner three minutes from time to seal the points.
The Cherries will have to be better at home over the second half of the season if they want to secure a second season in the top flight. The club's only clean sheet at Dean Court came in a 2-0 win over Sunderland back in September.
However, if they can get off to a fast start, they are usually in for a good result, and Howe seems to have his side ready to play early in the match. The Cherries have scored a league-high five goals in the opening 10 minutes of fixtures this season and gone 2-1-1 in those matches.
Conversely, the Cherries (5-4-8) have conceded 13 times at home this season. Only Everton (15) and West Brom (16) have shipped more on their own ground.
"We are certainly enjoying our best moments in the Premier League," Howe explained. "But the challenge at this level is to keep that going, which is extremely difficult. We now enter a key run of fixtures. We've been dealt a tough hand at Christmas, so this will be a good examination of our team."
The Cherries also received a bit of an injury scare heading into the busy holiday period as forward Josh King missed last week's match. Midfielder Junior Stanislas, who scored an impressive Olimpico goal direct from a corner kick against Manchester United, limped off after 70 minutes against the Baggies.
"We've got no long term injuries from West Brom," Howe continued. "Josh just felt a slight niggle in his hamstring so we didn't want to risk him. Junior was similar really, so we don't think it's anything that's going to keep any player out for weeks."
Crystal Palace (9-2-6) are in sixth place in the table, aiming to continue their climb with a win on the south coast.
Alan Pardew's Eagles are in a bit of a purple patch, going unbeaten in four (3-1-0) and dropping just one of their last seven league contests. Last week's 2-1 victory over Stoke City saw Chung-Young Lee score the winner two minutes from time.
Palace have relied on their strong back line to claim results on the road, as the Eagles have yielded just seven goals in their eight away matches this season, tied for fewest goals shipped away from home.
Pardew, though, could be without one of his key midfield generals as Yohan Cabaye is questionable due to a heel problem that caused him to miss the victory over Stoke City.
"We've got additional ones that I'm going to keep in-house for now, but we need to assess them going forward," the manager said. "We've got two games in quick succession, so it is about the squad.
"Sako and Gayle, no they won't be. Cabaye I think has got a chance - 50/50 - and Jedinak is in the group, yes."
This will be the first meeting between the sides since they were in the old Second Division in 1988-89.