Who would have thought it? On November 18th 2017, AFC Bournemouth will play Huddersfield Town in the top-flight of English football.
For years we had looked on with envy as Bournemouth climbed back from the brink of going out of the Football League altogether to achieving the dream, Premier League football.
Many Town fans including myself looked at Bournemouth’s success and thought “if they can do it, why can’t we?”
One massive caveat to this is that Bournemouth were bankrolled to a slightly higher degree than us when we achieved promotion last year. Russian owner Maxim Denim has pumped millions and millions of pounds into the playing squad, wages and improvements to the ground to bring it up to Premier League standard when the capacity of it now is at best, a bottom-end Championship team.
However, this should not detract from their success and the remarkable journey that manager Eddie Howe has taken them on.
He was in charge when they survived relegation on the final day in League Two and has carried them up the leagues with a brief but unsuccessful excursion to manage Burnley in-between.
Many of the players who played for him in the Championship, League One and League Two are still there including Andrew Surman, Adam Smith, Charlie Daniels, Steve Cook and Marc Pugh and Harry Arter.
These players have been the heart and soul of this Bournemouth side and have ensured it has maintained the character and togetherness that got them to the Premier League in the first place.
They have also added to this core group of players with proven (if ridiculously expensive) quality in Jermain Defoe and have a returning Callum Wilson back to full fitness who is potentially one of the best strikers in the League if he can ever rediscover the form which made him such a deadly marksman in the Championship.
As for Town, we are still riding high after the valiant and heroic victory over West Brom with a Christopher Schindler-less team.
Many can say “it was just West Brom” but to play over 30 minutes of a half with ten men in the Premier League and hold out for a victory speaks volumes of this team.
Martin Crainie will be tasked with filling the huge boots of Chris Schindler but David Wagner has spoken on many occasions of the reliability of Crainie and the trust he has in him to come into the squad when called upon and step up to the standard that is required.
As a former captain, Crainie will also fill the leadership gap left by Schindler but it will be up to Zanka to marshal the defence and I assume Zanka will also take his vice-captain role as well in Schindler’s absence.
Wagner may revert to his tried and trusted full-backs of Chris Loewe and Tommy Smith on Saturday as we are away from home but may surprise us by sticking with one of the new boys in Scott Malone and Florent Hadergjonaj if he feels that we need a greater attacking threat down the flanks.
Steve Cook vs Laurent Depoitre
The Bournemouth hard-man is a highly under-rated centre half given the dearth of quality ones across the division. But he will have his hands full dealing with Laurent Depoitre on Saturday.
Fresh from his call-up to the Belgium national squad, Depoitre will be full of confidence knowing that his form has been rewarded.
Despite it not resulting in a starting berth for Belgium, he can take great heart from his inclusion and will hope to make an impact again on Saturday with his work-ethic, hold-up play and hopefully some decent service to score another goal.
Jermain Defoe vs Martin Crainie
Many eyebrows were raised when Bournemouth stumped up the eye-watering wages for a 35 year old Jermain Defoe.
However, his pedigree is proven in the Premier League. Despite Bournemouth’s struggles so far this season, Defoe is still their top-scorer with two goals and any decent chance he is given, he usually scores.
Given Callum Wilson has the greater pace; Martin Crainie will probably be tasked with marshalling Defoe, especially with fellow striker Josh King expected to miss out through injury.
It will not be a burst of pace or physical examination but he will have to jockey and give Defoe no greater room than a phone box to work with. Any space in the penalty area that he is given, he will punish us.
Callum Wilson vs Zanka
As mentioned above, Callum Wilson’s speed and physical presence will mean that Zanka will be given the task of marking him on Saturday.
Many Town fans, myself included are still scarred by that awful game way back when, when Callum Wilson single-handedly took us to the cleaners in a 4-0 home defeat and signalled the end of manager Mark Robins in a circus of an opening game weekend.
Since his debut season in the Premier League, he was demonstrating he is more than capable of excelling at this level and even threatening an England call-up.
However, he was struck down by horrendous knee injuries and it is only now that he has made a full recovery and beginning to demonstrate glimpses of the form he showed a couple of seasons ago.
Zanka will know he has been in a battle come 5pm. The question is, will he be victorious?
Andrew Surman vs Aaron Mooy
Aaron Mooy may well be rested by David Wagner on Saturday.
However, given our awful record of results following international breaks and the way we looked rudderless against Swansea without Mooy in the team, Wagner will have to think very carefully about managing his maestro Australian.
If Mooy does play, he will likely be coming up against Andrew Surman.
The former Wolves man has adapted to life well in the Premier League despite his critics claiming he would not be cut out for this division and is one of Eddie Howe’s trusted lieutenants.
Jordan Ibe vs Chris Loewe
Jordan Ibe is finally showing the promise that made Bournemouth shell out £13m to bring him to Dean Court.
After a ineffective first season of zero goals and zero assists, an improved attitude combined with some excellent man-management by Howe has started to bear fruition.
On Saturday, depending on Wagner’s game-plan, he will probably be coming up against Chris Loewe.
The full-back was left out by Wagner for the West Brom game and he will be hoping to maintain his improved form that he discovered prior to being dropped.
Ibe is blessed with no shortage of pace, so Loewe will have to stay focused, concentrated and avoid diving in with tackles he doesn’t need to make to ensure his flank is unexploited.
Stats to look out for
- Bournemouth against Huddersfield will become the 94th different fixture to have been contested in all four tiers of English league football.
- The Terriers have won just one of their last 10 meetings in all competitions with Bournemouth (D5, L4). Their sole victory was by 5-1 in the Championship in August 2013.
- Bournemouth haven’t lost a home league match against Huddersfield since August 2007, when the sides were in League One.
- Huddersfield could be the 40th different Premier League opponent Jermain Defoe has faced. He has scored against 36 different teams in the competition – only three players have scored against more (Frank Lampard, Andrew Cole and Alan Shearer with 39, 38 and 37 respectively).
- Tom Ince has attempted 27 Premier League shots without scoring this season, a joint-high with Southampton’s Nathan Redmond.
Although both teams currently struggle to score a hatful of goals, I still expect this to be a lively game given both teams’ strong identities, based around possession, movement and pressing. I expect a couple goals but like most Town games, I expect one goal to settle it. Hopefully it’s in Town’s favour.