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Can Bournemouth avoid relegation this season?

AFC Bournemouth will start their life in the Premier League with a home clash against Aston Villa after the fixtures for the 2015-16 season were released on Wednesday. Eddie Howe’s side, who secured automatic promotion to England’s top flight after winning the Championship last season, will be looking to get off to a good start and pick up a few victories in what is a favourable opening schedule for the Cherries. In fact, the newly promoted outfit don’t play against any of the Premier League’s top five clubs (based on last season’s standings) until the ninth game of the season when they face last term’s runners-up, Manchester City. If the Cherries continue to play exciting, attacking football then they will certainly give themselves a chance and cause problems for opposing teams, especially at Dean Court.

Although the majority of Bournemouth’s squad lack sufficient Premier League experience, the Cherries have already moved to sign a few seasoned veterans. They have already signed two proven goalkeepers in Adam Federici and Artur Boruc – with both shot-stoppers bringing invaluable insight and experience to the side. If nothing else, these two players will help to guide Bournemouth’s younger players throughout the season, both on and off the field. Furthermore, they have signed former Manchester United youth striker Josh King from Blackburn Rovers. The forward is quick and is more than capable of making an impact this season, even though it is likely he will be limited to cameo roles from the bench.

The Cherries will be keen to sign a few more players prior to the opening weekend of the season and have been linked with a summer move for free agent Dimitar Berbatov. Although the Bulgarian international, who was released by AS Monaco in May, may be looking for a move to an established Premier League side, he may be tempted by a move to Dean Court as he would be guaranteed a role as their main striker. The 34-year-old is getting on, but he still has plenty to give and would be an excellent acquisition as Bournemouth look to guarantee their top-flight status. In addition, Howe’s side are reportedly interested in signing both Dwight Gayle and Tom Huddlestone from Crystal Palace and Hull City respectively. The Palace striker, who starred in their 3-3 draw that ultimately cost Liverpool the title two seasons ago, has fallen out of favour under manager Alan Pardew, while Huddlestone is rumoured to be looking for a Premier League team after the Tigers were relegated in May.

Bournemouth’s early season schedule is favourable and Howe would certainly have been happy to see the Cherries avoid tough early fixtures. In fact, they only face one of the Premier League’s top six teams from last season in their opening eight matches of the campaign. After their maiden encounter with Tim Sherwood’s Villa, they face back-to-back away fixtures at Liverpool and West Ham United. A home clash with last season’s escape artists Leicester City comes next before their first clash against a fellow newly promoted side, in this instance Norwich City, on September 12th. Following these fixtures, they travel to Mark Hughes’ Stoke City either side of home clashes with Sunderland and Watford. Overall, this schedule isn’t too troubling and could allow Bournemouth to seize the initiative and pick up some early victories to build some momentum.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, their final seven matches of the campaign are horrendous and the Cherries will face a real test to pick points up if they are in a relegation battle. They host Manchester City on April 2nd before travelling to Villa Park the following weekend. After this, Howe’s side are set to welcome Liverpool and Chelsea to Dean Court for back-to-back home fixtures before closing out the month with a trip to Roberto Martinez’s Everton. A crucial encounter against West Bromwich Albion awaits before they finish off the season at Old Trafford on May 15th. Although these matches are tough, and Bournemouth certainly won’t expect to win many games in this run, they are at home for four of the seven fixtures. If the Cherries are to stay up this season, it is imperative that they are difficult to beat at Dean Court and pick up as many points as possible in their home games.

At the end of the day, Bournemouth will head into the season full of confidence and their number one aim must be to secure their top-flight status for the following campaign. Howe’s side have a unique, attacking brand of football that is sure to cause countless problems for opposing defences this season and they could pick up a few early victories – especially at Dean Court. Although their home form will be key to their survival, they must not roll over on the road and should try to use their pace on the counter attack to their advantage. After all, Queens Park Rangers performed fairly well in their home matches but were still relegated last season after a dismal set of away results. If Howe can convince a few seasoned professionals to join the club, the Cherries will certainly benefit and could well go on to finish outside the relegation spots this campaign. However, they must invest wisely or they will struggle to compete against the Premier League’s major outfits – especially in their difficult period at the end of their maiden campaign after lifting the Championship trophy last season.

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