If Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe (pictured) and the south coast club’s supporters had been told in the summer that they would move within two points of champions Chelsea with victory at Stamford Bridge this weekend, they would have been envisaging an unlikely top-six placing (5.30pm Saturday on Sky Sports 1).
Unfortunately for both sides, that is not the case. While the Cherries will indeed close the gap between them and Chelsea to just a couple of points with a win on Saturday, an improbable triumph will still see them end the day in the bottom half of the table.
Chelsea’s slump has been one of the most intriguing stories of the season so far, but the Blues have shown glimpses of late that they may be belatedly about to turn the corner. A narrow 1-0 victory over Norwich City two weeks ago was followed by a dogged 0-0 draw at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, making it two matches unbeaten for the Londoners – their joint-longest run without defeat in the Premier League in 2015/16.
In many ways, that point at White Hart Lane came as a result of a vintage Chelsea performance: the visitors sat deep, cut off space and generally stifled an uncharacteristically flat Spurs side, who were unable to display the vibrancy and vigour that has won them so many admirers in the last couple of months.
Chelsea’s solidity would have delighted Mourinho, but there was still a distinct lack of spark in their attacking efforts. While Oscar, Pedro and Eden Hazard – deployed up front with Diego Costa relegated to the substitutes’ bench – all had their moments going forward, Chelsea did not create anything more than a couple of half-chances against a team whose preparation for the game had included a 5000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan to take on Qarabag in the Europa League.
It will be interesting to see whether Costa returns to the starting XI against Bournemouth. The striker, who was criticised by his manager for a perceived lack of movement in last week’s Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv, petulantly threw his training bib in Mourinho’s direction when it became apparent that he would not be entering the fray against Tottenham, an act that is unlikely to have gone down too well in Chelsea’s coaching circles. Given that the goals have dried up but the antics have not, Costa may well find himself with another watching brief this Saturday evening, with John Terry, Ramires and Radamel Falcao also likely to sit this one out through injury.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, will make the journey to the capital in high spirits after they rescued a point in a dramatic encounter with Everton last time out. The Merseysiders looked to be strolling to a comfortable victory at the Vitality Stadium after a taking a 2-0 lead in the first half, but Bournemouth bit back late on, Adam Smith and Junior Stanislas both scoring in the final 10 minutes to level the scores.
Ross Barkley then looked to have won it for the visitors deep into injury time, his strike leading to Toffees fans invading the pitch in delight. The stoppage that the incident caused, though, meant there was just enough time for the Cherries to race down the other end and instantly make it 3-3. Stanislas’ second equaliser was virtually the last kick of the game.
There has been a great deal to admire about Bournemouth up to now. Despite some rotten luck with injuries, no-one at the club has used the absence of the likes of Tyrone Mings, Callum Wilson, Tommy Elphick and Max Gradel as an excuse for poor performances or results. It is to the newly-promoted outfit’s credit that there have not been too many of the former anyway, with Bournemouth’s displays often not yielding the scorelines they deserve.
If their showings up to now are anything to go by, Bournemouth are unlikely to temper their attack-minded approach at Stamford Bridge. With 30 goals conceded – the most, along with Newcastle United, in the division – it is clear that Howe’s focus is on outscoring opponents. It is a refreshing mindset but one that brings its own risks if employed at the home of one of English football’s foremost teams.
Chelsea, chiefly for that reason, are likely to have simply too much for Bournemouth this weekend.