UEFA Champions League

Crystal Palace-Bournemouth Preview

Bournemouth faces what can be labeled at least a must not-lose contest at Dean Court on Saturday when the relegation-threatened Cherries host Crystal Palace ahead of a murderous run of fixtures.

The match is expected to be played without fans as a closed-stadium policy is expected to be enacted, with media reports stating this will be the case throughout all rungs of English football as part of a government response to combat the coronavirus. It is also believed ticket-holders will be allowed to stream coverage of matches at their house and that no pubs will broadcast games to help avoid congregations of people.

The lack of supporters, though, is secondary to the current plight of the Cherries (7-6-16), who are at the top of the drop on 27 points and trailing both West Ham United and Watford by slim margins of goal difference. Bournemouth are winless in their last four matches (0-1-3) but did show some fight in a 2-1 loss at champions-elect Liverpool last Saturday, grabbing an early lead through Callum Wilson only to be pegged back and passed back before intermission.

"I think we could've gone 2-0 up maybe in the first half, but mistakes killed us and not being clinical enough," fullback Adam Smith told the Bournemouth Echo. "We have to stop the silly mistakes. It's all good playing well, but you need to be more clinical in both boxes."

After this contest, the schedule turns borderline diabolical for Eddie Howe's charges as five of their next six matches come against clubs currently eighth and higher in the table. The lone reprieve in terms of quality has a different sort of pressure - a six-point belter against a Newcastle United side looking to get to the magical 40-point mark that almost guarantees safety.

Howe is also sweating on the fitness of two key players as centre back Steve Cook is trying to recover from a hamstring injury that forced him off on 19 minutes at Liverpool, and striker Joshua King is also dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him from playing at Anfield.

Palace (10-9-10) are again in the purgatory of mid-table life, all but assured of safety but also needing a marked improvement in play to make a potential late push for European play. Roy Hodgson's side took a huge step forward to safety last weekend, defeating Watford 1-0 last Saturday.

Jordan Ayew's team-leading eighth goal on 28 minutes separated the sides as the Eagles recorded their third win on the trot - all by a 1-0 scoreline. But the win was particularly gratifying for Wilfried Zaha, who set up Ayew's goal and spent the match the target of Watford's affections as he suffered three fouls and was repeatedly baited into elevating skirmishes.

"A couple of their boys tried to wind up Wilf and obviously Wilf does his thing and goes past a couple of them," James McCarthy told the team's official website. "A couple of other times they've tried to get him sent off with wee niggly things, trying to nudge into him. But that's part and parcel of football and I thought Wilf was brilliant today.

"That's the type of game I like. To be honest, each and every one of us in that dressing room, we fight for each other. You can see the togetherness on the pitch and off the pitch. We're a good group and now we've got a decent points tally and we want to keep on top of it and make sure we finish the season strongly."

Palace's shortcomings on offence have been masked at the moment by Vicente Guaita's stellar play between the sticks, and the Spaniard carries a 272-minute shutout streak into this contest. Crystal Palace's 26 goals are better than only last-place Norwich City (25).

One of Palace's five 1-0 victories in league play came at the expense of Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on Dec. 3 as Jeffrey Schlupp's goal in the 76th minute lifted the 10-man Eagles. Palace played the final 71 minutes short-handed after Mamadou Sakho was given a straight red card for a high challenge on Smith.

Palace have never done the double over Bournemouth in the top flight.

Updated March 12, 2020

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