Aston Villa’s season continues with a trip to the Vitality Stadium to face AFC Bournemouth on Sunday.
This is an important game at both ends of the Premier League, with Villa looking to consolidate their place amongst the league’s elite after booking their place in the Europa Conference League knockout stages on Thursday night. The hosts, meanwhile, are aiming to claim their third victory on the spin and pull further clear of the bottom three.
Unai Emery’s side made sure they will be playing knockout football in the Europa Conference League in 2024 with a 2-1 win over Legia Warsaw at Villa Park. A neat opener from Moussa Diaby and Alex Moreno’s first for the club on his return from a hamstring injury moved Villa three points clear of their visitors at the top of Group E and ensured that they only need a single point against Zrinjski Mostar to seal the top spot and move into the last-16 of the competition in March.
Last time out domestically, the Villans moved into the Premier League’s top four with a statement away triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, who had been one of the league’s form teams in the campaign’s early weeks. Villa managed to stay in the game in the first half despite several huge chances for the hosts, and a header from Pau Torres in first-half stoppage time was followed by a smartly-taken Ollie Watkins finish in the second half to cancel out Giovanni Lo Celso’s opener and move Emery’s side above their hosts and only two points shy of league leaders Arsenal.
The Birmingham side have won nine of their last 11 matches in all competitions but last Sunday’s success in North London was only their third away league win of the season. Back-to-back wins on the road could move them five points of fifth-placed Spurs and open up further daylight between themselves, Manchester United, and Newcastle United below them, with those two sides playing each other this weekend. To do that, Villa will need to win at the Vitality Stadium for the first time since the 2015-16 season, when Bournemouth were newly promoted and Tim Sherwood’s Villa went on to be relegated.
The visitors have lost on their last two visits to the South Coast including a 2-0 loss on the opening day of last season, as goals from Jefferson Lerma and Kieffer Moore sunk Steven Gerrard’s side.
Andoni Iraola’s current Cherries have won three of their last four league games after failing to win any of the first nine matches of the campaign. Home wins over Burnley and Newcastle moved the Cherries out of the bottom three before a 3-1 away triumph at struggling Sheffield United last weekend, coupled with Everton’s 10-point deduction, put the Dorset side seven points clear of the drop zone ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Villa.
Boubacar Kamara is suspended for the trip to the Vitality Stadium after receiving his fifth booking of the campaign against Tottenham. John McGinn may partner Douglas Luiz in Villa’s midfield, which could allow Jacob Ramsey to make his first start of the season after he returned to the side via substitute appearances in recent games following an ankle injury.
Leander Dendoncker and Youri Tielemans are also in contention to start next to Luiz, however, and they may represent a more natural replacement in the holding role than McGinn.
Watkins and Emi Martinez were both rested in midweek and will hopefully be restored to the starting XI here, although there is a question mark over Watkins’ fitness. Moreno is pushing for a start at left-back after impressing on his return from injury against Legia Warsaw but may well return to a substitute role.
Bournemouth are without summer signings Tyler Adams and Alex Scott as well as Max Aarons until the new year due to thigh and knee injuries, respectively. Ryan Fredericks, Emiliano Marcondes, and Darren Randolph are out due to calf and thigh injuries and illness.
Lloyd Kelly is a doubt with a thigh injury, so Milos Kerkez should keep his place at left-back.
AFC Bournemouth (4-2-3-1)
Neto; Kerkez, Senesi, Zabarnyi, Smith; Cook, Christie; Tavernier, Kluivert, Semenyo; Solanke
Aston Villa (4-2-2-2)
Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Pau, Moreno; Luiz, Tielemans; McGinn, Ramsey; Watkins, Diaby
Both of these teams have the momentum of recent good form behind them, but Villa will be confident of taking the points back to the West Midlands given the quality of their front four.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1 Aston Villa 2