The Christmas period is without a doubt the most testing part of any team’s season. The beginning of a league campaign is all about generating momentum, while the back end of a season is focused on rounding off with a positive run of form. However, the run of fixtures through November and December is the most challenging for every side, and perhaps plays the largest role in deciding where a team will end up after the final matchday.
The games come thick and fast, and one team that has noticeably struggled through this period is AFC Bournemouth. The Cherries had put together a three match unbeaten run, comprising of impressive victories against Newcastle and Huddersfield, and a gritty away draw at Swansea City. But after the 4-0 home rout of The Terriers, Eddie Howe’s side have struggled to pick up crucial points.
The Cherries were narrowly beaten at home by high-flying Burnley at the end of November, before Mauricio Pellegrino’s Southampton side ground out a 1-1 draw at the Vitality, denying their south coast rivals the three points.
Howe’s men now travel to Selhurst Park to play Crystal Palace, who are still very much in a relegation scrap despite improved performances from Roy Hodgson’s side. The AFC Bournemouth manager said he was fully focused with taking on the Eagles on Saturday:
“You have to put the upcoming fixtures out of your mind, it has to be the here and now. We’re not looking at the five-point gap, we’re looking to whether we can beat Crystal Palace and having the players focused and prepared correctly for the game ahead of them.”
Despite the disappointing stalemate with Southampton, Howe was quick to pick up on the positives from the game.
“I haven’t really looked at momentum, including that of Crystal Palace. I’ve only looked at my team and that we have momentum.” The Bournemouth manager said. “I reflect back on our last game when we had a good performance, we didn’t win but we had many positives and we look to take that into Saturday’s game.”
Changes are expected to be made to the Cherries’ starting line up tomorrow, with Howe rotating his side across the busy December run of fixtures. Jermain Defoe was handed a start against Southampton, but failed to make a real impact, so Callum Wilson is likely to be recalled. Steve Cook was also rested for the Saints clash, although Bournemouth have certainly looked a more solid side at the back with the Englishman starting.
Howe explained: “It was always my plan to rotate across the three games in the last week or so, but I felt that even more strongly after the Burnley game. That benefited the team and I was very pleased with the way we played against Southampton.
“You need players who are fresh physically and mentally, in the games to come we have eight games in a very short space of time so we will be rotating the team.”
Ryan Fraser was another key player for Bournemouth last season, but has been hampered by injury so far this time around. His return to the side last week saw the diminutive Scot find the back of the net, and his manager didn’t hold back in praising the impact he made.
“I was really pleased with his performance against Southampton, he brought energy quality and a very important goal. I love his characteristics and what he can bring to our side.
“Whenever you pick a player they have a chance to show you what they can do. Ryan has done himself no harm in that regard.”
It seems certain that the relegation battle is sure to be tight come the end of the season, and AFC Bournemouth will have to beat the sides around them to ensure a comfortable mid-table spot, including Crystal Palace.
Kick-off at Selhurst Park is 3:00pm.