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Preview: Chelsea vs. Bournemouth

Sports Mole previews Saturday evening's Premier League meeting between Chelsea and Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge.

Fallen champions Chelsea play host to strugglers Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening aiming to make it four games without defeat in all competitions.

The Cherries head to West London sitting inside the Premier League relegation zone, but they have won on four of their last five visits to the capital.


Pedro reacts to a missed shot during the game between Chelsea and Spurs on November 29, 2015© AFP

Slowly but surely, there is a sense that Chelsea may finally have got their season back on track in recent weeks following what was conceived to be their worst ever start to a season.

A three-match unbeaten run spanning across two separate competitions has eased the pressure on Jose Mourinho somewhat, although the Blues are still very much the Premier League's crisis club of choice at this moment.

Mourinho's decision to drop Diego Costa to the bench was the main talking point following a rather bland goalless London derby draw with an in-form Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, in a result that did little to improve Chelsea's lowly league position.

The gap between themselves and current leaders Manchester City is now back at a whopping 14 points while, perhaps more relevantly, it is a 12-point difference on fourth spot and a place in next season's Champions League.

It has certainly not been all bad news for the champions, however, with plans being submitted for a newly-revamped stadium - taking the capacity up to 60,000 - while defender Gary Cahill also penned a new contract at Stamford Bridge.

While there may be an underlying sense that the good times are back on the horizon, there is still plenty of work to be done if Chelsea are to truly put their poor start to the season behind them, starting with a maximum-point haul against Bournemouth.

The Blues' current ground may no longer be quite the fortress it once was, with Crystal Palace, Southampton and Liverpool all picking up wins there already this term, but they can point to a 43-match unbeaten run at home to newly-promoted teams.

It would not be the first time this season that Chelsea have lost a game that they were strong favourites to win, however, and with transfer talk continuing to mount over certain key men, it is vital that they finally put their mental frailties to one side for good.

Recent form in Premier League: WLLLWD
Recent form (all competitions): LWLWWD


 Bournemouth player Joshua King (l) and Dan Gosling celebrate the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Liberty Stadium on November 21, 2015© Getty Images

The record books may suggest that Bournemouth have now gone eight games without a win in the Premier League, but last weekend's 3-3 draw at home to Everton would have no doubt felt like a victory for Eddie Howe's men.

Having trailed for over an hour, and conceded a seemingly costly third goal right at the death, the Cherries showed the character and willpower to somehow rescue themselves a point in the most dramatic style imaginable.

That can not gloss over what was looking for so long like being yet another defeat, though, and Howe will know better than anyone else that his side must now turn brave performances into victories.

Not since triumphing against fellow strugglers Sunderland in mid-September have Bournemouth tasted victory, although the well-earned point against Swansea City a fortnight ago - albeit one that they almost threw away - does offer further hope.

Bournemouth have a tendency to start games strongly, having scored 10 of their 17 Premier League goals inside the opening 30 minutes of games - a league-high tally - but the defence certainly needs tightening up if their aim of survival is to be achieved.

Thirty goals have been shipped so far at a rate of more than two goals per game, yet despite dropping into the bottom three the mood still remains high in the Goldsands camp.

Tyrone Mings became the latest player to speak out earlier this week, claiming that his side are mentally and physically strong enough to see the battle right through until the end.

With Manchester United and Arsenal still to come this month, on top of this weekend's clash at the home of the fallen champions, the mental toughness - as witnessed against Everton last time out - must now be on show once again if Bournemouth are to pull off the biggest league result in their history.

Recent form in Premier League: LLLLDD
Recent form (all competitions): LLLLDD

Team News

Diego Costa watches on from the bench during Chelsea's game at Spurs on November 29, 2015© Getty Images

While his side may not have scored at White Hart Lane, Mourinho's gamble to field Eden Hazard as his most advanced forward appeared to pay off which could mean a similar selection this weekend.

Costa certainly did not help his cause when pictured partying until the early hours of Thursday morning with teammates Ramires and Kenedy, meaning that a place on the bench is likely once more.

John Terry remains sidelined at the back, so the Kurt Zouma and Cahill partnership will be given further time to blossom at the Bridge, but further forward Loic Remy may still be absent following the birth of his child.

The big news for the Blues is the potential return of Thibaut Courtois in goal, with the Belgian international expected to be fit enough to take his place back in the starting lineup.

In terms of the visitors, they could be without a whole host of players for the trip to the capital, as Adam Federici, Marc Pugh, Harry Arter and Artur Boruc are all injury doubts.

Christian Atsu will certainly miss out against his parent club as per his loan agreement, but it is between the sticks that Howe will be particularly worried due to the potential absence of Federici and Boruc.

It could mean that Ryan Allsop is handed a first Premier League start, with Jordan Holmes - fresh on the back of a loan stint at Southern Premier side Weymouth - providing cover on the bench.

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Zouma, Azpilicueta; Fabregas, Matic; Willian, Oscar, Pedro; Hazard

Bournemouth possible starting lineup:
Allsop; Smith, Francis, Distin, Daniels; Ritchie, Gosling, Surman, King, Stanislas; Murray

Head To Head

Chelsea have won their last three meetings with the Cherries, keeping a clean sheet in each of those outings.

Bournemouth do boast an impressive recent record on their travels to London, though, winning three of their last four games in the capital.

The two sides have not met since 1994, when they faced off in a League Cup double header which Chelsea prevailed in 2-0 over the two legs.

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We say: Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth

While Chelsea are still a long way from the title-winning machine of last term, there do appear to be some visible signs of improvement. Bournemouth will be on a high following the impressive manner in which they claimed a point against Everton, but this will be a challenge too far for the South Coast club.

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Who will win Saturday evening's contest at Stamford Bridge?

Diego Costa watches on from the bench during Chelsea's game at Spurs on November 29, 2015
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