Few will have put AFC Bournemouth and Chelsea next to each other in the table when they made their Premier League predictions, but victory for Eddie Howe’s men on Saturday would pull the sides level on points.
Bournemouth were among the pre-season favourites to be relegated straight back to the Championship, while Chelsea were fancied by many to defend their title.
However, both have upset the odds with their contrasting fortunes this term – a fact exemplified by Bournemouth’s 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in December.
Glenn Murray scored eight minutes from time to heap pressure on then-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who lasted just one more Premier League fixture before being sacked.
Chelsea’s form has recovered somewhat since Guus Hiddink replaced Mourinho until the end of the season, but a bottom-half finish – their first since 1995-96 – for last season’s champions remains a possibility following back-to-back defeats.
The Blues have conceded just three goals in eight away matches under the Dutchman, who suffered his first league loss since taking the reins when Chelsea travelled to Swansea City a fortnight ago.
Chelsea followed that up with a 3-0 home defeat to Manchester City, but visit a Bournemouth side beaten in their last two home league matches.
Hiddink will be conscious of the fact his team’s form has dipped since Antonio Conte was named as Mourinho’s permanent successor and will be keen to arrest the recent downturn.
He will have to do so without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was sent off in the defeat to City, with Asmir Begovic expected to start in his place.
Begovic has seen game time limited since the turn of the year, but failed to impress when given his chance in the defeat to Swansea.
Chelsea have had to cope with a lengthy injury list in recent weeks and could welcome back Eden Hazard following a hip injury, but John Terry (Achilles), Kurt Zouma (knee) and Loic Remy (groin) are all out.
Callum Wilson could make his first start since September having come off the bench in Bournemouth’s last two fixtures, with Benik Afobe (hamstring), Harry Arter (Achilles), Tyrone Mings (knee) and Adam Smith (hernia) all still sidelined.
Chelsea have not lost both home and away against a newly promoted side in a single season since 2000-01 against Charlton Athletic – they will be hoping to keep it that way at the Vitality Stadium this weekend.
Key Opta stats:
– Bournemouth have won just two of their previous six meetings with Chelsea in all competitions (L4).
– Bournemouth have lost their last two home league matches – they have not lost three in a row in league competition at home since March 2013.
– Joshua King has scored in four of his last six Premier League appearances for Bournemouth, after netting just two goals in his opening 21 PL apps of 2015-16.
– Wilson has scored five goals from just eight shots on target in the Premier League this season.
– Even if Chelsea win their remaining five games of the season, their maximum points tally will be 59. This will be the lowest by a reigning top-flight league champion since Leeds United in 1992-93 (51).
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