It’s an all Premier League FA Cup clash at Dean Court on Saturday (5.15pm KO), as AFC Bournemouth take on Everton for a place in the last eight.
Bournemouth have performed above the expectations of many this season, although they are a well-funded club and in Eddie Howe have one of the brightest managerial prospects in English football. The Cherries have struggled for results at Dean Court though, winning just three of their 13 Premier League games on their home turf to date.
That doesn’t bode particularly well against an Everton team that has proven to be far more resolute on their travels than they have at Goodison Park, with the Toffees having lost just once away from home in a dozen Premier League matches this term. Everton’s biggest problem is their inconsistency, which is heavily linked to an often porous defence and an inability to make their dominance count when on top during games.
Howe made 10 changes to his starting line-up for the 4th round tie at Portsmouth and it was only the introduction of first-team regulars Matt Ritchie and Marc Pugh after the hour mark that turned things in their favour and helped them to a 2-1 win. That was not a one-off, as they also made 11 changes for the 2-1 victory at Birmingham City in the 3rd round (and rode their luck there too).
Following successive home defeats to Arsenal and Stoke City, Bournemouth are now just four-points above the relegation drop-zone. The FA Cup might be a nice distraction, but given the amount invested in the club, retaining their top-flight status is an absolute priority. Howe may well be reluctant to risk key players here as a consequence.
Everton have under-performed in the Premier League this season given the players at their disposal and the FA Cup now represents their only realistic hope of playing European football next season. Roberto Martinez certainly isn’t going to take the competition lightly and can be nigh on guaranteed to send out his strongest possible team.
Bournemouth’s showing at Fratton Park in the last round was an indication that they don’t possess great strength in depth. They just about got away with that against League Two opposition but if, as expected, they rest players again here, they could be made to pay this time if Everton are anywhere close to their best.