The Story So Far
Bournemouth's season has been one of inconsistencies. They've earned superb wins against the likes of Liverpool and Everton along with pulverising Hull, but have also lost to Boro and Burnley and famously threw away a three goal lead against Arsenal.
A run of eight games without a win to kick off 2017 saw The Cherries looking over their shoulder at the relegation zone, but their recent form (W3, D2, L3), coupled with the tightness in mid-table (four points separate 16th and 9th) have provided Eddie Howe's men with an opportunity to finish in the top 10 should results go their way.
Saturday's game looks a perfect match-up for Howe's side as they look to continue to go from strength to strength, although they are without a win in their last seven away games.
Bournemouth are likely to line up in a simple 4-4-1-1, with Josh King playing off Benik Afobe and two lines of four behind them.
Defensively, Howe looks for his side to keep things tight without the ball. They cover the spaces between the lines and look to cut off potential passing lanes, rather than actively pressing the ball, preferring to hit on the counter after forcing the opposition into making a mistake. The fact that Bournemouth make just 16 tackles and 12 interceptions (the league's 3rd lowest totals) seems to provide evidence of that. However, with 63 goals conceded (only 'bettered' by Hull and Swansea), it's hard to say that it's really working.
In attack, The Cherries like to get the ball wide and exploit the pace of the likes of Marc Pugh and Ryan Fraser. Just 26% of their attacks begin in the central section of the pitch. Charlie Daniels and Adam Smith are always willing to provide an overlap, but these are mostly used to allow the wingers to drive inside and link with King and Afobe, as opposed to hitting the byline: they attempt just 17 crosses per game on average - only Sunderland attempt less.
While counter attacking plays a large role in their defensive game, Bournemouth are more than comfortable in possession of the ball. They rank in the top 10 for average possession (50.9%), pass success (81.2%) and short passes per game (387), so Sunderland can expect to do a lot of chasing on Saturday.
Up front, King and Afobe have scored 15 of Bournemouth’s last 19 goals and have developed a strong understanding. King's blistering pace and Afobe's strength have allowed for simple but effective passing combinations and they are likely to be a real handful for the Sunderland defence.
Bournemouth are statistically one of the Premier League's best teams when it comes to converting chances. Transfermarkt.co.uk suggests that The Cherries possess a conversion rate of 17.8%, the 5th best in the league. They shoot with 48% accuracy and score a goal every three shots on target on average. They're also highly capable when it comes to creating chances. 294 in total, or an average of 8.6 per game, sees them rank in the league's top 10.
No team is fouled more than Bournemouth, and while their 11.4 dribbles per game does not provide a direct correlation (i.e. not every foul came from as a result of a dribble attempt), it seems fairly obvious that their ability and willingness to run at defenders leads to fouls. This partly explains why they've won 10 penalties in the Premier League, scoring seven of them.
While their defensive record is extremely poor, as explained below, Bournemouth have made the 7th most defensive actions, averaging 46 per game. It's not exactly helping considering that they've conceded the 3rd most goals, but it would be even worse were they not making these.
Bournemouth's defensive record should be of great concern to Howe. They've allowed 63 goals, with only Swansea and Hull faring worse. Allowing 14.3 shots on their goal per game has hardly helped matters. 11 of those 63 goals have come from set pieces, while they've made seven defensive errors that have led to goals.
They're also weak aerially. 14.1 aerials won per game is the league's worst record, and this has translated to poor numbers at both ends of the pitch.
In defence, Bournemouth have conceded 13 goals from headers. That's the second worst record in the league. They've also scored just five goals from headers at the other end of the pitch. However, Sunderland have conceded the most goals from headers and have scored the least goals from headers (a grand total of zero), so Eddie Howe's side can at least find some comfort in the fact that there's a team worse than them. They're unlikely to have a better opportunity to improve their numbers than on Saturday.
Key Player - Josh King
The Norwegian forward is in the form of his life having scored 11 goals in 2017. Only Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane have scored more in this period. King, signed from Blackburn in the summer of 2015, has 14 Premier League goals in total from just 27 shots on target.
Blessed with lightning pace, King will look to stretch the Sunderland defence and link with Benik Afobe. He's not shy when it comes to attacking defenders, leading Bournemouth with 2.1 dribbles per game. But he can sometimes be erratic too, making an average of three unsuccessful touches and being dispossessed 2.3 times per game.
Nonetheless, he represents the biggest threat to the Sunderland goal on Saturday.
- Josh King and Benik Afobe have scored 15 of Bournemouth's last 19 goals;
- Bournemouth have failed to win any of their last seven away games;
- Bournemouth have won just two away games in the last 12 months;
- Sunderland have failed to win any of their last nine games, failing to score in eight of them;
- Sunderland have had a player sent off in two of their last three games against Bournemouth (Younes Kaboul and Steven Pienaar)