Express & Star

Aston Villa v Bournemouth preview: Villa all too aware of threat struggling Cherries pose

Bournemouth might have run Arsenal close and beaten Liverpool in their last two matches but if there is one team who already knew not to under-estimate them, it is surely Villa.


The then newly-promoted Cherries were their hosts for a 2-0 opening day defeat which now almost feels as though it took place in a different season altogether.

Steven Gerrard’s team had gone to the south coast as big favourites and the setback was one from which the head coach never fully recovered before he was sacked in mid-October.

“A lot of people would have looked at the fixture list when it came out and thought: ‘OK, Bournemouth, promoted, first game’,” midfielder Jacob Ramsey now reflects. “But sometimes they are the toughest games, when a club has just come up from the Championship. The fans are going to be bang on it and the players something to prove.”

The determination of the home side was undoubtedly a factor, yet a Villa team selection which omitted Douglas Luiz, Ollie Watkins and – most controversially at the time – Tyrone Mings, was probably a bigger one.

All three players have gone on to be among Villa’s best performers this term and mainstays of the starting XI under Gerrard’s successor, Unai Emery. Luiz and Mings have both signed contract extensions, while tying down Watkins will be a focus of the summer.

When Emery arrived, the fear was tomorrow’s return fixture would be a relegation six-pointer. Villa’s transformation from strugglers to at worst a solid mid-table unit under the Spaniard has been so unfussy, it perhaps hasn’t received enough praise.

The question is whether they can push higher than their current 11th position over the final 12 matches and in that regard this feels a key game, more so after midweek wins for Brentford and Brighton extended the gap to seventh place to seven points.

Closing the deficit over a run-in which sees Villa face eight of the current top-10 will be difficult enough without having to start from even further back.

“Every team in this league is tough,” said Ramsey. “Liverpool thrashed Man United and then went at lost at Bournemouth. It just shows how hard this league is.

“We didn’t have a great start at Bournemouth on the first day of the season and they could do the double over us. But we’re at home, in front of our own fans, so it’s up to us.”

Emery’s biggest selection headaches are again in midfield and attack with Boubacar Kamara again likely to be absent with an ankle injury, while Leander Dendoncker has missed the last two matches after injuring his hand.

Leon Bailey’s form means the forward’s place is under increasing pressure but Emery’s options in attack are limited should John McGinn again be required to deputise in central midfield, with Philippe Coutinho (hamstring) still out and Jhon Duran and Bertrand Traore still getting up to speed with the Premier League.