Chelsea v AFC Bournemouth: Hazard eyes top four as returning stars boost champions
Eden Hazard is refusing to give up hope of a top-four finish ahead of Chelsea’s Premier League clash with AFC Bournemouth on Saturday.
The champions have gone some way to putting their dismal early-season form behind them, with two wins, one draw and three clean sheets in their last three games in all competitions.
Jose Mourinho is also poised to welcome back a handful of first-team stars, most notably goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who is on track to return to the first team following knee surgery and could be involved when Eddie Howe’s men visit Stamford Bridge.
With captain John Terry – one victory away from becoming the fourth player to reach 300 Premier League wins – having shaken off an ankle problem, Ramires and Radamel Falcao expected to return from muscular complaints and striker Loic Remy available again after missing last week’s 0-0 draw with Tottenham, Hazard is confident Chelsea can kick on during the hectic match schedule in December.
“We try to take game after game and win game after game,” he said. “We won against Norwich, we drew [against Tottenham] and we play a good game at home next week which we have to win.
“We want to finish in the top four and we know it’s difficult but we will try. We will continue to work hard and continue to take pleasure from our game.”
Bournemouth travel to London having not won a Premier League game since September, but Howe’s side will have been boosted by their dramatic 3-3 draw with Everton last week, when Junior Stanislas capped a remarkable late comeback to secure a point with a late header.
The south-coast club have struggled to cope with a string of injury problems but Stanislas hopes they will head to Stamford Bridge with confidence following that game with Roberto Martinez’s side.
“We are going to be buzzing for the next game now, although our heads never really dropped anyway because the last two or three games we played really well,” he said.
“It’s been hard with injuries, but with injuries come opportunities. We scored three goals against a really good team so we go into the next game full of confidence so hopefully we can get something.”
Bournemouth have something of a goalkeeper crisis ahead of the game, with Artur Boruc and Adam Federici having both visited a specialist to examine respective knee and ankle problems.
Ryan Allsop would start against Chelsea if neither were available, while 18-year-old Jordan Holmes has been recalled from a loan deal at Weymouth as extra cover.
Harry Arter (hamstring) is a doubt, along with Lee Tomlin (groin) and Marc Pugh (calf). Tommy Elphick (ankle), Christian Atsu (shin), Tyrone Mings, Max Gradel and Callum Wilson (all knee) remain sidelined.
Key Opta Stats:
– Chelsea have won their last three competitive meetings with AFC Bournemouth without conceding a goal.
– The Cherries have won on four of their last five league trips to London (L1).
– Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 43 home league games against newly-promoted teams (W37 D6), last losing to top-flight new-boys in April 2001 (0-1 v Charlton).
– Eden Hazard is one goal away from hitting 50 for Chelsea in all competitions, but he is without a goal in his last 24 games for the Blues (in all comps).
– The Cherries have shipped a total of 18 goals away from home in the top-flight this season, a joint-league-high figure (along with Newcastle United and Sunderland).
– Since the start of 2014-15, only Cesc Fabregas (20) has provided more assists in the top-four tiers of English football than Matt Ritchie (19).