Coming off the kind of victory that preserves title runs, Manchester City look to continue their stalking of Liverpool at Dean Court on Saturday when they face a Bournemouth side again coming off a chastening loss to a Big Six opponent.
The Cityzens (22-2-4) remained one point behind the Reds in their pursuit for a second consecutive Premier League title after posting a 1-0 victory over West Ham United on Wednesday. Sergio Aguero’s penalty on 59 minutes separated the sides, but any scoreline that provided City three points was going to be welcomed after being pushed to the brink in their Carabao Cup win over Chelsea that went to penalties after 120 scoreless minutes.
“We created a lot of chances in the first five minutes. Of course, we didn’t score enough goals for the way we played but the way we defend the second balls was incredible,” a very pleased Pep Guardiola told the team’s official website. “We conceded just one shot on target. After 120 minutes on Sunday, we made an incredible performance.”
City played with essentially their second-string back four compared to their opening-day lineup as the team sheet read Oleksander Zinchenko, Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi, and Danilo in contrast to Benjamin Mendy, Aymeric Laporte, John Stones, and Kyle Walker. Laporte is expected to be sidelined until the end of the month due to a hamstring injury, but it is possible both Stones and Mendy will feature in this contest.
Mendy, the first-choice left back, has not played since November due to a knee injury, but was on the bench Wednesday after practicing with the first team in the run-up to the West Ham United contest. Stones has missed the last two matches with a groin injury, and Ilkay Gundogan will again be at the heart of the midfield as Fernandinho is expected to be sidelined until at least after the international break with a lower-body injury.
Despite the injuries in the back, Guardiola is more concerned about rotating his attacking players without injured centre-forward Gabriel Jesus, noting “we cannot live with just Sergio – in the last 15 minutes he was exhausted.”
The expected rotation would be for Sterling to replace Sane and Bernardo Silva to take Riyad Mahrez’s spots in this match flanking Aguero. Jesus has missed the last three matches due to a hamstring but was included on Brasil’s roster for the upcoming international break, which means he could possibly be included in the 18-man roster for this contest.
Bournemouth (10-4-14) continue to drift aimlessly in mid-table, entering this match 12th in the table on 34 points but also only two points out of ninth. The Cherries fell to 1-0-9 against Big Six sides after taking a 5-1 hiding from Arsenal at the Emirates on Wednesday, once more exposing the ceiling of a side who try to play attacking, flowing football.
Lys Mousset gave the Cherries a sliver a hope when he pulled one back on the half-hour to make it 2-1, but Bournemouth conceded just after the restart and never recovered en route to their ninth consecutive road defeat in league play. It also extended a staggering run of poor results against the Premier League powers in which they have shipped 30 of their 53 goals in those nine defeats around a 4-0 hammering of Chelsea on Jan. 29.
“We have to be better at delivering what we’re trying to do. We started poorly and you can’t start games in that manner against anyone,” manager Eddie Howe told Bournemouth’s official website. “The ownership is fully on us, the style of play is not the issue it’s a combination of different things.
“At half-time we were well in the game, created a few chances despite not playing well, so to concede at the beginning of the second-half was hugely disappointing – it made the second-half difficult after that point.”
Playing without injured top striker Callum Wilson and playmaker David Brooks also has made things difficult for Howe and the Cherries, who have taken just one point from their last four matches since that rout of Chelsea. Brooks was an unused sub in the loss to Arsenal and could be closer to returning than Wilson, who has a team-leading 11 goals in all competitions.
Bournemouth did give City all they could handle in the first 45 minutes of the reverse fixture at the Etihad, with Wilson scoring just before halftime to forge a 1-1 tie. The Cityzens, though, showed their champions’ mettle in a dominating 15-minute spell coming out of the interval, taking the lead through Sterling on 57 minutes and getting a late third from Gundogan to seal the victory.
That made it seven wins on the trot for City over Bournemouth in top-flight matches, outscoring the Cherries 24-3 in those triumphs. Howe’s team suffered a heartbreaking loss in last term’s fixture at Dean Court as Sterling scored in the 97th minute of a crackling affair.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Bournemouth 0, Manchester City 2.