Bournemouth cannot be confident of avoiding defeat against a Manchester City side with the most in form striker in the Premier League up front when the two sides meet at the Vitality Stadium.
Eddie Howe’s men are on a wretched run of losing games and conceding goals. Their defence has been breached no fewer than 34 times in just 13 games, letting in three in nine of those and six against Everton last weekend. The hallmark of the Cherries under Howe has been their ability to control games, but that is where they have been lacking most this season.
Howe will be concerned looking at the fixture list, and their opponents are probably the last side they want to face right now. Pep Guardiola’s men have not been shy in front of goal all season, netting 49 times, but their new gem of a striker, 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, who has scored three in just two starts, is keeping Sergio Aguero out of the team.
As is so common when teams are struggling in defence, Bournemouth have been losing out in midfield too often lately. Their central options, notably Jack Wilshere and Dan Gosling, are built to keep possession and have struggled on the back foot. The main emphasis Guardiola puts on his side tactically is high pressure. Most people think he wants his team to keep the ball, which is true, but that can only happen if both the midfield and the full backs hunt the ball high up the pitch.
Bournemouth will find it tough to break out of their own half and must start fast to counter City’s press. Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Yaya Toure will not allow a moment’s peace, and their movement will create space around the Bournemouth box. The Cherries just aren’t set up to deal with this.
The obvious way to attack City will be to go direct, which goes against Howe and Bournemouth’s core principles. But without the injured Callum Wilson, they will lack the pace to get in behind City’s central defenders. Going long to Benik Afobe will be a quick way of hitting the gaps left by the visitors when they push forward, and he will have to hold the ball up, but the effectiveness of this hinges on whether Junior Stanislas and Joshua King can support him.
If they can, Bournemouth will have chances. Manchester City have conceded 29 goals, the most of the current top four teams and they have struggled against intensity before this season, notably against Everton and Leicester City. Wilshere, Gosling and Harry Arter will have to play the ball forward at all times, but Bournemouth’s leaky defence will cost them.