AFC Bournemouth vs Watford preview: Crucial basement battle on south coast
Photo by Getty Images/Justin Setterfield

They don't come much bigger than this. On Sunday afternoon, in front of the television cameras and indeed their own supporters respectively, AFC Bournemouth and their visitors Watford — two of the bottom three in the Premier League currently — will be desperate for those precious three points.

Back in November, the hosts here had risen to seventh in the table. Flying high in their fifth consecutive top flight season, it appeared manager Eddie Howe was working his minnow magic once again. However, eight defeats out of ten games have now written a strikingly different narrative at the Vitality Stadium, and the situation is getting ever bleaker.

Bournemouth's previous assignment resulted in perhaps their lowest point in recent memory. A 4-0 thumping by West Ham United saw them slip to 18th in the table and into the cruel depths of the relegation zone. They will be intent on avoiding a similar outcome here in what is a clash just as crucial, arguably more so, than their trip to London last weekend.

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Despite sitting one place behind their opponents, the picture is much more positive at Watford. Although nine points from 17 games cast a gloomy sense of doom over Hertfordshire, it would appear the appointment of Nigel Pearson has provided the Hornets with a lifeline. They could climb out of the bottom three for the first time this campaign with victory over Bournemouth.

Their last league outing saw them amass their 10th point in as many days as, despite playing with ten men for the best part of 25 minutes after Christian Kabasele's sending off, Watford defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers by a scoreline of 2-1 at Vicarage Road — a third consecutive home win under Pearson.

Make no mistake about it, this is a fixture both sides need to win but, certainly, neither can afford to lose — an intriguing encounter is set to take place at the Vitality.

Previous meetings

The most recent clash came back in October, but it was not one to live long in the memory — horrible weather in Hertfordshire was made to look comparatively compelling following the goalless draw at Vicarage Road.

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It was the seventh out of nine top flight encounters between the two to finish level, and no other fixture which has been contested more than twice in the Premier League has a higher ratio of draws.

Interestingly, there has not been a home win in any of those nine meetings so far, and Watford's unbeaten run in their visits to Bournemouth is also their longest such streak on the road against any top flight opponent.

View from the dugout

Home manager Howe is keen for his side to rediscover what used to be a strong home record, and believes determination and the ability to intimidate opponents will go a long way towards doing so.

"Teams used to really fear coming here, a tight ground and a great atmosphere," he said. "We now need that feeling back, which only we can create as a team. We've had good battles with Watford and I imagine this game will be tight again. Our motivation levels have to be higher than theirs."

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Meanwhile, Pearson admitted pre-match that he is already experiencing something of an emotional attachment to his job at Watford, and is optimistic about his side's chances in the battle to beat the drop.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we were capable of getting out of the situation we are in, but I can't ask people to be committed if I'm not committed myself," said Pearson. "I think this club has got a really strong identity and there's a potential for us to rediscover what we are as a football club. I do feel attached to being a part of that and trying to rediscover that."

Team news

Howe has confirmed that David Brooks, Charlie Daniels, Josh King and Jack Stacey will all be unavailable for his side, but that a host of players will face last-minute decisions on their fitness.

By his account, that means any of Arnaut Danjuma, Nathan Aké, Lloyd Kelly, Adam Smith and Jordon Ibe could be in line for returns.

Meanwhile, Watford have been boosted by the rescinding of Roberto Pereyra's suspension, and key players Nathaniel Chalobah and Craig Cathcart have also been given the green light to feature despite sustaining knocks recently.

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However, Kabasele will serve the first of his own two-game suspension here, while Watford's list of more long-term absentees includes Will Hughes, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Kiko Femenía, Daryl Janmaat and Sebastian Prödl.

Predicted XIs

AFC Bournemouth — Ramsdale; Francis, S Cook, Simpson, Rico; L Cook, Lerma, Gosling; H Wilson, C Wilson, Fraser.

Watford — Foster; Mariappa, Dawson, Cathcart, Masina; Chalobah, Capoue; Sarr, Doucouré, Deulofeu; Deeney.

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