Ahead of tomorrow's visit to AFC Bournemouth, we got the lowdown on the Cherries from Bournemouth Echo journalist Neil Perrett.
What’s Bournemouth’s form like at the moment?
The away form has been excellent since the end of November. I think they’ve only lost one away game out of eight, winning at the likes of Chelsea and West Brom, and that has really boosted their chances of avoiding the drop. There’s no question that they need to start winning at home as well, because it’s such a difficult league to win away from home. They’re meeting Southampton on the back of losing their last three home games, one of which was in the FA Cup against Everton. They’re playing well. They haven’t always had the rub of the green, but you can’t keep using that as an excuse. They will know they need to start turning home draws into home wins, and that could be the difference between staying up and not staying up.
What’s their style of play like right now?
Eddie Howe on Saturday against Watford changed his starting system for the first time in a long time. He partnered Benik Afobe and Josh King up front in a more conventional 4-4-2 line-up, which worked well. They had the better of a 0-0 draw at Watford. Prior to that, Howe had been playing a more conventional Premier League 4-5-1, or 4-3-3, with a lone striker supported by two pacy wingmen. It worked very well and they were certainly on the front foot for a lot of the game. Eddie’s invested in people like Afobe, the club-record signing in January, and Josh King’s another new signing. It’s all very well having four or five strikers, but they need to play eventually, so to have two on there on Saturday was a forward-thinking move.
How, if at all, do Bournemouth differ from when the teams met earlier in the season?
There is a lot more confidence in the team and squad since they met at the start of November. I would suggest that then they were probably at their lowest ebb of the season, and that showed in the first-half performance at St Mary’s. But I would say the overall performance at St Mary’s has mirrored their whole season, with the fact that they came on very strong in the second half – you could argue the game was already gone by then, but they certainly showed they can hold their own at this level with that second-half performance. That was possibly a springboard for what’s happened certainly throughout the remainder of November, when they started to turn the tide with a couple of good results, and then a fantastic December, when they won three on the trot, beating Chelsea, Man United and West Brom.
Who are the team’s key men at the moment?
Benik Afobe, who came in from Wolves in January, has certainly hit the ground running. He’s scored three in six and is certainly one to watch. He’s given them a renewed impetus if you like. They’ve also been really solid at the back in a lot of games, and a lot of that has been down to stand-in captain Simon Francis. He had to shuffle across from right-back to centre-back when Sylvain Distin fell ill ahead of the Chelsea game and he’s formed a very good central defensive partnership with Steve Cook, then they’ve got left-back Charlie Daniels, who’s being mentioned for a possible England call-up. While they haven’t kept as many clean sheets as they would have liked, they’ve certainly kept some that people wouldn’t have expected, such as at Stamford Bridge and at Leicester. So they are hard to break down.
What kind of game are you expecting to see?
I think it will be quite a different game to the one we saw at St Mary’s. Bournemouth are a much-improved team. While their home results haven’t been fantastic recently, their performances have been fairly good. They are a good attacking side, and that’s borne out by the fact they’ve got these fantastic stats for being the hardest working team in the Premier League I think it is, so they’ve got some real runners and real pace in the side. I think it’s going to be an open game. Southampton obviously have got no relegation worries, so there’s an element of freedom there. Bournemouth can also look on it as a chance to widen the gap from the bottom three. There’s two monumental fixtures coming up after tomorrow – Newcastle away and Swansea at home. I’m going to stick my neck out and say tomorrow night is Bournemouth’s best chance in recent years of getting a victory over Southampton, which hasn’t happened in a long time.