Written by Akshay Kulkarni (@ImpatientPedant). This article first appeared in Nerve Magazine issue no. 3, and has been modified.
As AFC Bournemouth go into a gruelling set of four fixtures over the next two weeks in the holiday period, Cherries fans will hope their team is no worse for wear come the New Year.
As every other top division in Europe enjoys a well-deserved break, the richest league in the world will serve up televised action almost every day.
Though fans love the non-stop action, Premier League managers and players haven’t been too warm about the idea. The idea of a winter break has often been floated to preserve the players’ health and wellbeing, including by Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe.
Despite this, the Premier League Christmas fixtures will roll on like the juggernaut they are.
This year, Cherries will be playing four Premier League matches in two weeks. The time between their first kick-off, on the 22nd of December, and their last one, on the 2nd of January, is a mere 268 hours.
Bournemouth fans looking to travel away for these fixtures face long journeys. Hardy Cherries will have to travel 372 miles up and down the country to watch their boys, including a huge 250 mile journey to Manchester.
The depth of the Bournemouth team is surely to be tested over this period. Eddie Howe already has a mounting injury list, which does not bode well for a team which started the season so strongly.
Lewis Cook’s tragic anterior cruciate ligament injury rules out the England U21 captain for the rest of the season, a player who is integral to Bournemouth’s style of play. Adam Smith, too, has been sidelined since November.
The latest to join the injury list is Simon Francis, which means Bournemouth’s defence is looking more and more bare.
Given the Cherries face two top-six sides in the next two weeks, and have only won one match in the last seven, there is a feeling of unease around the Vitality. It is vital now that Bournemouth recapture their early season form, and rally towards a strong start to the New Year.
AFC BOURNEMOUTH VS BRIGHTON – 22nd DECEMBER – VITALITY STADIUM
This will be the first encounter between the two South Coast sides this season. Last season, Bournemouth got their first win of the campaign in this fixture, which kickstarted a campaign in which they eventually finished 12th.
Now Brighton sit in a comfortable 13th place, with Bournemouth two spots above them in 11th. Given the Cherries started December in 8th, it shows how Bournemouth’s recent loss of form has impacted their league standing.
The last time the Cherries lost to the Seagulls was 10 years ago, when both sides were in League One.
Bournemouth will consider this fixture one of the most winnable in its Christmas schedule, given that it is sandwiched between fixtures against sides in the top six.
A win against Brighton this season would provide the kickstart a rapidly flagging Bournemouth season needs, just like last season.
PREDICTION: 2-1 Bournemouth
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR VS AFC BOURNEMOUTH – 26th DECEMBER – WEMBLEY
Both Tottenham and Bournemouth have enjoyed their best ever starts to life in the Premier League. Spurs, however, have been more consistent and their latest results, against sides like Barcelona and Arsenal, show that they will be tough competition for the Cherries.
A ragged Cherries defence will have a lot on their hands dealing with Spurs’ free-flowing attackers.
Bournemouth never won against Spurs in the Premier League. They were beaten 1-0 at Wembley last season and were thrashed 4-1 at home.
Spurs’s squad, which has been affected by injuries this season, may be thin going into this Boxing Day fixture, just like Bournemouth’s. And Eddie Howe will look to capitalise, though it may be difficult against a side as good as Spurs. The Cherries have not even managed a point against sides in the top six so far.
Thus, an away trip to Wembley on Boxing Day may not be the ideal gift for Cherries supporters.
PREDICTION: 3-1 Tottenham
MANCHESTER UNITED VS AFC BOURNEMOUTH – 30th DECEMBER – OLD TRAFFORD
A huge match in many ways for both sides, as Bournemouth end their year with an away trip to Manchester.
United will go into this one with an air of the unknown. It will be caretaker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s third match in charge for the Red Devils after the acrimonious departure of Jose Mourinho.
This may be the match where the Cherries break their duck and get points off a top six side. The Red Devils have thus far looked clueless in the league, and one of Bournemouth’s most famous wins was at Old Trafford in 2015. The arrival of Solskjaer changes things however.
Eddie Howe’s men were left empty-handed the last time they played United at Old Trafford, going down 2-0. They also have lost at the Vitality Stadium this season, despite a great effort in the first half.
Nonetheless, Howe’s men could get something against United, whose leaky defence plays straight into the hands of Bournemouth’s vibrant attack.
AFC BOURNEMOUTH VS WATFORD – 2nd JANUARY – VITALITY STADIUM
Both teams are only one point off each other at the time of writing, with Javi Gracia working well with a young Watford team much like Eddie Howe is with Bournemouth.
The last fixture between the two sides was a comprehensive defeat for Watford at home, 4-0, but the Hornets did win the corresponding fixture at the Vitality last season.
That win for the Cherries fired them up to fifth at the time, but it seems the context of this fixture will be slightly different.
Bournemouth will be grateful for a side outside the big six to end off their holiday schedule. Watford, however, will have faced a similar schedule. They play Chelsea the same day Bournemouth play Tottenham. Thus, it promises to be an exciting match and both teams will be going for it.
Bournemouth should win if they play to their strengths, and will hope to kick off the New Year with a home victory.
PREDICTION: 1-0 Bournemouth