Bournemouth-Aston Villa Preview
Bournemouth will be looking to secure their Premier League future for a second season Saturday when they travel to last-place Aston Villa.
Eddie Howe's Cherries (10-8-14) are 11 points clear of the relegation zone and almost certain of safety, but need one more win to take them past the 40-point mark that almost always confirms survival.
Back-to-back defeats have stalled Bournemouth's progress, but those losses did come against top-four sides Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, with the latter cruising to an emphatic 4-0 win at Deans Court last weekend. The Cherries conceded three times inside the opening 20 minutes and never recovered.
"When you are 3-0 down against a very good team, it's a long game," Howe said. "But credit to the players because they didn't let their heads drop and cave in. It was a difficult game to watch. The damage was done so early in the game and it was an uphill struggle from there.
"It doesn't matter what stage of the season, you want to win every game. You owe it to everyone at the club. I still don't think we're safe and I've told my players that. We've got work to do."
Bournemouth may have work to do, but it's nothing compared to the uphill struggle facing Aston Villa (3-7-22). Doomed to relegation - which could happen as early as this weekend if the Villans lose this match and Norwich City defeat Crystal Palace - the Midlands club have lost seven straight games and are manager-less after the sacking of Remi Garde.
Facing a major rebuilding job and a squad with clear commitment issues, Villa caretaker manager Eric Black was disappointed to see his players pick up six bookings - including two for Alan Hutton - amidst a toxic team atmosphere during last weekend's 4-0 defeat to Chelsea.
"We have got to get that out of them and start again, try and prepare them and make sure they continue to be professional players," Black said.
"It's a dilemma," the coach continued, addressing whether or not he should blood some of the squad's younger and less experienced players over Villa's final six matches. "I think there have been a lot of opportunities for everybody. Are the young players ready to play in that kind of atmosphere? Do we want to throw them in? Sometimes it is not the best thing for young players - the club is obviously facing difficulties right now.
"We will continue to be professional and try and get the fans, in whatever small way, back on side with us."
Villa will be without the suspended Hutton, but could have Ciaran Clark and Adama Traore back from injury. Jordan Amavi and Libor Kozak remain out.
The front-office shuffle continues at pace, with the latest rumours having newly installed chairman Steve Hollis considering former captain Andy Townsend for the role of Director of Football. The former Ireland international was a member of Aston Villa's League Cup-winning teams in 1994 and 1996, serving as the team's talisman for the second.
Visitors Bournemouth are without long-term absentees Callum Wilson, Tyrone Mings and Junior Stanislas, while Benik Afobe is also absent. Harry Arter and Adam Smith have missed midweek training with calf and groin injuries, respectively.
No team in the league has scored more goals in the first 15 minutes of games than Bournemouth's eight, while no team has scored fewer goals in the same period than Villa's one.
Caretaker boss Black has lost all three Premier League games he has taken charge of - with Birmingham City in 2007, Sunderland in 2011 and Villa last weekend.
One of Villa's three victories came at Bournemouth on opening day, as substitute Rudy Gestede scored on 72 minutes for the match's lone goal.