15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 19th August; Vitality Stadium (Bournemouth, England)
Bournemouth are the archetypical slow-starters to a season having now lost on each of their three opening fixtures since they gained promotion from the Championship in 2015. While Eddie Howe has slowly built up his team’s quality and simultaneously their fans expectation levels, many neutrals still view the Cherries as a team who have overachieved ensuring they keep their underdog status for yet another year.
Bournemouth will need to shake off the early season rust if they’re to continue their overall development and prove their doubters wrong again though, beginning with a home match against a side that narrowly avoided relegation and who are now coached by a manager who suffered relegation in May.
Marco Silva almost worked a miracle at Hull City last season and the source of their resurgence was their home form. Their away form was the polar opposite though, and some of this must be down to the way in which Silva was setting up his side. A deserved and battling draw against Liverpool gave the Hornets a point which was largely unexpected in the opening weekend, however, they will now find themselves back on the road and facing a team who are expected to do well after last season’s 9th place finish.
LAST TIME OUT
West Brom 1 – 0 BOURNEMOUTH (Premiership)
A flat and predominantly insipid performance from Bournemouth saw them unable to convert a majority of possession into anything purposeful as they fell to defeat. Despite registering 9 shots, Nathan Aké had the Cherries only shot on target and that was a weak header from a corner in the closing stages of the game.
Whilst there was a clear lack of penetration for the Cherries, they also appeared to struggle with the physicality of the West Brom side. This was especially evident during set-pieces in which West Brom’s players were able to take advantage on several occasions only for Asmir Begovic to thwart the Baggies efforts.
With Josh King and Benik Afobe, Bournemouth have players who possess both pace and a natural ability to finish. Jermain Defoe has also been added to the squad to provide an extra dimension of clinical finishing when required, so Bournemouth do have options in attack. Their problem appears to be more in the creative midfield roles and with Junior Stanislas injured for the trip to the Hawthorns, Bournemouth looked short of alternatives.
WATFORD 3 – 3 Liverpool (Premiership)
Despite conceding three goals at home on the opening weekend of the season, there appears to be plenty of reasons for Watford fans to remain optimistic. The main difference in Marco Silva’s Watford to the team who finished 17th in last season’s table was the individual and collective work rate on show at Vicarage Road.
There was also a determination to fight on until the final whistle, an attribute which was rewarded with a 93rd minute equaliser and surely something which Silva will be reminding his players about during the coming weeks.
While Nathaniel Chalobah was the only one of six summer signings to make the starting eleven, both Andre Gray and Richarlison were introduced in the second half, the latter of which providing the assist for Miguel Britos’ last-gasp equaliser. Abdoulaye Doucouré proved to be the Hornets most influential player again following some promising performances at the end of last season.
Eddie Howe will again be without Junior Stanislas who is expected to remain out of action for another month with a knee injury. Simon Francis (hamstring) is also a doubt to start and could be replaced by Adam Smith at right-back. In midfield, Jordon Ibe and Lewis Cook could both be used to freshen up their attacking options from the defeat suffered in the opening fixture.
Craig Cathcart (knee) and Christian Kabasele (knock) are both unavailable while injuries to Roberto Pereyra (groin) Younes Kaboul (leg) and Daryl Janmaat (knock) could see some enforced changes to the team. Marco Silva will also have plenty of choices to make following some good performances against Liverpool and a raft of new players he’s trying to integrate into the club. Richarlison is likely to start the game while Andre Gray may have to wait for his first start at Watford following Stefano Okaka’s impressive game that was capped with a goal.
Key Battle: Josh King vs Miguel Britos
Whether Eddie Howe elects to start Jermain Defoe or Benik Afobe as the main striker against Watford, Josh King is a player who is certain to start the match in attack for the Cherries. His goal-scoring exploits in the second-half of last season undoubtedly lifted his team up the league and the Norwegian forward will again prove to be a valuable player for them this season, if Bournemouth can prevent any other clubs stealing his signature that is.
With the Cherries looking like a team who didn’t know how to score last during their trip to the Hawthorns, they will certainly be wanting to make amends of that this weekend in front of their own fans but Miguel Britos is a player who will hope he can continue their failings. While he scored the equalising goal against Liverpool, there is much he can still improve upon, especially the levels of concentration at the back for Watford which were lacking at the start of the second-half, allowing Liverpool an easy route back into the game.
The forgotten man
Nathan Aké’s £20m summer signing not only showed Bournemouth’s ambition and their confidence in the young defender, it also meant that Jordon Ibe is no longer the clubs most expensive player. Having signed from Liverpool for £15m, it’s been a quiet year for the winger who has rarely featured for the Cherries.
His half-time appearance against West Brom could prove to be an important 45 minutes in his fledgeling career though. After a string of good displays during pre-season, Ibe received much praise from Eddie Howe after the match and looks well-placed to get his first start of the season at home to Watford.
While he may have become a forgotten man to many, Howe has clearly kept him in mind and as a manager with a reputation for developing talent, Ibe may be due to start paying back the Cherries with the kind of football the fans were expecting from him this time last year.
A tale of two keepers
Having just signed a new two-year contract at the end of last month, Heurelho Gomes may be 36 years old, but he doesn’t appear to have any plans of hanging up his gloves just yet. Watford have been continually linked with signing a new keeper, Lovre Kalinic being one of the latest names mentioned, meaning the Hornets could be planning on making Gomes’ final two years a little more relaxed.
The Brazilian was again at fault for his side conceding last weekend and Silva seems eager to strengthen this area of his side for the coming season.
In contrast, Asmir Begović has just stepped back from the wilderness by swapping the Chelsea bench for the Bournemouth pitch. He had made a number of good saves during the game to keep his side in touch with West Brom and looked solid throughout with the exception of the unfortunate goal he conceded. The role of the goalkeeper has always been an undervalued position on the pitch by many, however, keepers literally have the power to change their team’s fortunes within their hands and both Gomes and Begović will be keen to impress this weekend for very different reasons.
Watford were a team in deep need of a change following last season’s poor showing and change is a Pozzo family speciality. With his arrival at Hull in January, Silva immediately set about bringing in a host of new faces to complement his inherited dressing room, an approach he appears to have readily embraced again at his new club.
With rumours abound that more are still to follow, Silva has already seen cash exchanged for five new faces, with another two players entering the doors at Vicarage Road on free transfers. Whether he intends to use all of these players regularly in the first team, improve the mood in the dressing room or to substantiate the ideas he projects onto the training ground and subsequently the pitch, Silva can’t be accused of standing still. While there’s a definite sense of change in the air, a change can be a double-edged sword as Watford fans will readily testify.
PREDICTION: Bournemouth 2 – 2 Watford
With Jordon Ibe, Lewis Cook and Max Gradel all playing well during the summer, it was a surprise to see none of this trio start the game at the Hawthorns. The subsequent defeat may encourage Howe to try something different this weekend, although, a re-energised display will be the least the fans will be expecting.
Watford are looking much improved from the team they were last season, although there is still plenty of room for further improvements to be made. A finely balanced game should be reflected in the resulting scoreline.
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