Bournemouth-Manchester City Preview
Manchester City are coming off a five-goal home thumping of a floundering Premier League mainstay, and more could be on the way against one of the top-flight newcomers.
Bournemouth head to the Etihad Stadium Saturday with the burden of overcoming a 25-match winless streak for newly promoted clubs on the Citizens' home pitch, though the Premier League leaders return from the international break with serious injury concerns.
After consecutive losses grounded a City side that began the season about as perfectly as possible with five straight clean sheets, they recovered in fine fashion with a 6-1 home win over dismal Newcastle United on Oct. 3 heading into the break.
Even so, City (6-0-2), atop the division with 18 points, have allowed seven goals in their last three matches after outscoring opponents 11-0 over their season-opening streak. That doesn't much matter when Sergio Aguero is on, but that won't be the case this weekend.
The Argentine striker did his best Lewandowski with five goals against Newcastle after scoring once through seven matches, but he sustained a hamstring strain while playing a World Cup qualifier on Oct. 8 against Ecuador. He could miss two months, which puts Wilfried Bony in line for serious minutes at least into November.
City will also be without David Silva (ankle) and possibly Aleksandar Kolarov (hamstring), though they figure to welcome back Vincent Kompany, who played 58 minutes Tuesday in Belgium's win over Israel.
Bony, who is without a goal in two starts and four substitute appearances, has missed plenty of time due to injury since his arrival from Swansea City last winter and hopes to put that all behind him.
"It's been the worst spell of my career without question," Bony told the club's official website. "... I've had nothing but bad luck in the past year, but hopefully, that's the end of it now. It's not been the best time for me in that respect and has been very frustrating, but hopefully the City fans will now see the new Bony. All I need is the first goal to come and hopefully many others will follow."
Regardless of personnel, City have won 10 of 11 at the Etihad dating to Feb. 21 with a 35-5 aggregate, the only blemish being a 2-1 loss to West Ham United on Sept. 19.
It gets worse for the likes of the Cherries.
Since a 2-0 loss to Reading on Feb. 2, 2007, City have dropped four points from their last 25 home matches against teams that spent the previous campaign in the Championship. Their 2-0 win over Watford on Aug. 29 was their 23rd win in that span, with the last three coming by a 10-0 total.
The matchup with Bournemouth (2-2-4) is the first between the clubs since a 0-0 third-tier final back in February 1999. It's City's last before an important week with Wednesday's Champions League visit from Sevilla followed by next weekend's visit to Old Trafford, and they figure to be without Silva for each.
Bournemouth entered the break with a 1-1 home draw with Watford, and they'll have to show better if they're to get much out of their next four matches. The Cherries follow the visit to the Etihad with a home match against Tottenham Hotspur, a trip to Liverpool and a visit from Southampton.
While City could get a key defender back, the Cherries have learned captain and defender Tommy Elphick will miss an estimated 10 weeks after undergoing ankle surgery.
They could have Harry Arter back after the midfielder missed the start of the season with a groin injury. He made 43 starts in the Championship last season and is targeting City for a return, though manager Eddie Howe is being more cautious about including him in the starting 11.
Howe's more concerned with heading to the home of a top-four Premier League club for the first time since the promotion, something that's putting the club's rapid climb into context. The season after City won the 2011-12 Premier League title, Howe took over for a Bournemouth side wallowing in the third division.
Two promotions in three years later, here they are walking into their most daunting match since reaching the top.
"As you move higher and get more successful, the challenges become harder and the margins to improve the team get smaller," he told the club's official website. "We are now probably within our toughest challenge."