Bournemouth welcome Chelsea to the Vitality Stadium on Wednesday night as the Blues return to Premier League action.
After the Cherries enjoyed a superb start to the season, Eddie Howe's side have been on the slide during recent months, losing eight from their last 11 in all competitions. That poor run has seen them slip to 12th in the Premier League, although they remain just three points off seventh placed Watford heading into Wednesday.
It hasn't been plain sailing in the Chelsea camp either. Maurizio Sarri has received much criticism for his perceived stubborn tactics, as he continues to play N'Golo Kante and Eden Hazard in unnatural positions. However, two cup victories within a week, plus the signing of Gonzalo Higuain, seems to have restored order and the Blues will be hoping to take the cup momentum into the Premier League as they look to secure a top-four finish.
Where to Watch
|When Is Kick-Off?||Wednesday 30 January|
|What Time Is Kick-Off?||19:45 (BST)|
|Where Is it Played?||Vitality Stadium|
|TV Channel/Live Stream?||Gillette Soccer Special|
Eddie Howe has three injury problems to deal with, two of them long-term. Captain Simon Francis and Lewis Cook are both ruled out for the season with cruciate ligament injuries, whilst new £19m signing Dominic Solanke is still sidelined due to a hamstring problem.
Solanke's former Liverpool team-mate, Nathaniel Clyne, has slotted in at right-back to cover for Francis and has looked impressive during his three appearances. Howe will also be delighted that Callum Wilson is back fit again and scoring after he netted against West Ham last week - the England international will likely lead the line once again.
Chelsea have the luxury of a fully fit squad heading into Wednesday's fixture, meaning Higuain could be in line to make his Premier League debut after starting against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup on Sunday. Sarri has kept a fairly settled side all season, although he does have one selection headache regarding Callum Hudson-Odoi after the youngster reportedly handed in a transfer request in order to push through a move to Bayern Munich.
Eden Hazard should be restored to the starting lineup after he was rested against Wednesday, the Belgian has been Chelsea's talisman this season racking up ten goals and ten assists in the league. Only Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has been involved in more goals in the league this season.
|Bournemouth||Boruc; Clyne, Cook, Ake, Smith; Brooks, Gosling, Lerma, Fraser; King, Wilson.|
|Chelsea||Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso; Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic; Willian, Higuain, Hazard.|
Chelsea have played Bournemouth 14 times over the years, with their first encounter dating back to 1988. It was the Cherries that came out on top that day, however, they have only secured another two wins since against the Blues.
Chelsea have won 11 of those games, including twice this season during the Premier League and Carabao Cup respectively. History would suggest Sarri's side are likely to triumph, although Eddie Howe's Bournemouth have shocked the Blues before, beating them 3-0 in January 2018.
As mentioned, Bournemouth have fallen away in recent months after a stunning start to the season. After back-to-back hammerings by Spurs and Man Utd, the wheels were threatening to come off, so Howe will be delighted by his side's response last week as they comfortably beat a resurgent West Ham side 2-0.
Chelsea's form has been indifferent of late, with the Blues unable to produce the free-flowing football promised under 'Sarriball'. A lack of a clinical striker has been their main issue, although that problem may have been solved with the signing of Higuain.
Despite the criticism received by Sarri, recent wins mean the Blues still sit fourth in the Premier League, and have made it to the Carabao Cup final, fifth round of the FA Cup and the last-32 of the Europa League. Another win on Wednesday night could be the catalyst for a strong end to the Italian's first season in charge of the London club.
|Bournemouth 2-0 West Ham (19/01)||Chelsea 3-0 Sheff Wed (27/01)|
|Everton 2-0 Bournemouth (13/01)||Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham (24/01)|
|Bournemouth 1-3 Brighton (05/01)||Arsenal 2-0 Chelsea (19/01)|
|Bournemouth 3-3 Watford (02/01)||Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle (12/01)|
|Man Utd 4-1 Bournemouth (30/12)||Tottenham 1-0 Chelsea (08/01)|
Chelsea may just have too much firepower for Bournemouth, as they have already proven this season. Buoyed by two cup wins within the week, as well as the arrival of Gonzalo Higuain, momentum should be with the away side on Wednesday night.
However, Bournemouth do always pose a threat, especially at home. They possess real pace on the counter-attack and with the likes of Callum Wilson, Josh King and Ryan Fraser at their disposal, it could be a difficult evening for the Chelsea back four.
It should be a game that provides goals, with the Blues just edging it.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-2 Chelsea