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Weekend Premier League predictions

Premier League
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 By Steve Menary

Bournemouth full of confidence ahead of trip to Newcastle

With home and away draws against league leaders Leicester and wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, Bournemouth have shown that they can compete with the strongest sides in the Premier League.

Now, Eddie Howe's team need to make sure they stifle any chances that the team's beneath them, such as Newcastle, close the gap.

Six-pointers are piling up at both ends of the league table and the next two games could well define the Cherries' season, starting with the trip to Tyneside on Saturday.

Steve McLaren's team need to win. Howe's side, in contrast, simply need to avoid losing. A point would certainly be welcome, but this season the Dorset side have set out to win as many games as possible and settling for a draw would be unlikely, if not unfeasible.

Even if Howe were minded to send his team out on Saturday looking for a draw, his players might struggle to fulfil that brief. Bournemouth attack from the back with full-backs Adam Smith and Charlie Daniels overlapping and centre-backs Simon Francis and Steve Cook pushing forward at every opportunity.

Smith and Daniels, in particular, are so attack-minded that the players in front of them often find themselves needing to track back if the opposition win the ball back.

On occasions, that can soften the impact of players like Matt Ritchie, but from the kickoff against Southampton the Scottish international was all over the visitors. As a result, Smith, who was playing behind Ritchie, was less influential going forward because both a right-back and a right midfielder cannot look to reach the bye-line at the same time.

After starting a couple of recent matches on the bench, Ritchie seems highly unlikely to return there on Saturday, or any other game this season after his performance against Southampton.

Benik Afobe's return to the scoresheet is a good omen for Bournemouth.
Benik Afobe's return to the scoresheet is a good omen for Bournemouth.

That 2-0 win was a timely fillip ahead of a long trip north and a chance for the South Coast side to avenge a desultory 1-0 home defeat to the Tynesiders on Nov. 7.

In that game, Bournemouth totally overwhelmed Newcastle with exciting football and were so dominant that after the final whistle that McLaren looked almost embarrassed to have won.

The goal by Ayoze Perez was the only serious attempt by the visitors and the result of a woeful gaffe by goalkeeper Artur Boruc. The result was one of those setbacks that made the watching home fans feel like the fates were against them. Subsequent results have showed that they are not.

After three successive defeats, Bournemouth have responded with two clean sheets and a return to scoring by Benik Afobe. Yes, the run of injuries continues with Junior Stanislas now out for around six weeks, but the former Burnley player's form had dipped anyway.

Such has been the impact of Max Gradel in his last two games that Stanislas would probably have made way for the Ivory Coast international anyway.

There were also indications at the end of the win over Saints that Lewis Grabban might be about to have a more meaningful impact than he has so far managed since returning from Norwich at the end of the transfer window for £7 million.

Grabban held the ball up well, ran at the Saints' defence and was constantly looking for openings. He is unlikely to unseat Afobe and dropping the other striker Josh King would be harsh, but Grabban could play a crucial role off the bench at St James Park.

Barring any last minute injuries, the Dorset side are likely to field the same starting XI that beat Southampton and ended a brief dip in both results and performance.

Bournemouth have been stronger away from Dean Court and another win and a step closer to Premier League survival are within their capabilities.

Steve Menary is a freelance journalist who covers football for the likes of the BBC and World Soccer.

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