CHERRIES’ Premier League season kicks off this afternoon, sure to bring with it an emotional rollercoaster across the next 10 months.
West Ham United are the visitors to Vitality Stadium on the opening day, with plenty of intrigue surrounding Cherries as the Andoni Iraola era properly gets underway.
Fans have been trying to guess how Cherries will line up under the Basque boss, the former Athletic Club defender’s attacking outlook on football shaping his teams.
This week’s prediction is based on the injury news provided by Iraola in his press conference yesterday morning, as well as what we have seen in pre-season.
- Cherries left sweating on player availability ahead of season opener with West Ham
- Iraola: new signing Scott probably out for ‘couple of months’
We know for certain that new signing Alex Scott will miss out, potentially for two months, whilst vice-captain Adam Smith is also sidelined.
Marcus Tavernier and Ryan Fredericks are long-term absentees, whilst Lloyd Kelly is closest to a return.
Antoine Semenyo is a possibility to feature in some capacity, although it seems precaution will be taken with his return.
Iraola hinted that the final training session before West Ham would lead to final decisions over a few players, although he did not name anyone specifically.
Dominic Solanke and Ryan Christie were not risked for the final pre-season game against FC Lorient, meaning it is likely that they require late fitness checks.
Iraola has shared that new signing Andrei Radu is in contention for the starting spot in between the sticks, but it seems likely at this stage that Neto will remain as Cherries’ number one, at least to start the campaign.
Whilst Iraola’s captain is yet to be confirmed, the Brazilian wore the armband when he played in pre-season and was a big part of Cherries’ survival last term.
With only one training session under his belt, there perhaps is apprehension over chucking Aarons straight into the fray.
The 23-year-old did not feature in any of Norwich’s pre-season fixtures after making it clear he was hoping to leave this summer, raising questions marks over his fitness levels.
However, needs must at the moment when it comes to right-back with Fredericks and Smith out.
Aarons was given freedom to get forward under Daniel Farke at Norwich City, so it seems he will be a natural fit for Iraola’s attack-minded football.
Other options at right-back provide different things – Jaidon Anthony would bringing further attacking impetus, whilst Chris Mepham would be a more conservative full-back.
Marcos Senesi is another that seems to fit Iraola’s tactics like a glove.
A confident ball playing defender that is strong in the tackle, Senesi is almost certain to start this season when fit.
He will likely be the left-footed partner to Illia Zabarnyi, who has now had six months to settle since arriving in January.
The Ukrainian international has looked assertive and assured throughout pre-season, and is hopefully now ready to prove himself with a run in the team after an injury-hit start to life in Dorset.
Milos Kerkez has already made the left-back spot his own in pre-season, and there is no reason to suspect his absence against West Ham.
Self-described as ‘crazy’, Cherries fans have already warmed to his attitude and approach to the game – full-on.
The arrival of Scott unfortunately does not help Cherries’ midfield predicament in the short term.
They remain on the hunt for another body in the middle of park, but in the meantime Lewis Cook looks set to start as the more defensive minded central midfielder.
Philip, Christie, and Joe Rothwell have all partnered Cook in pre-season, but each of the trio have had issues with injury in recent weeks.
Rothwell is nearing the end of his recovery from injury, whilst Philip’s minor knock that kept him out of the Atalanta friendly had cleared up by the Lorient game.
Christie is a doubt for West Ham, but his willingness to chase and harass anything that moves on a football pitch makes him well suited to Iraola’s new look.
Philip has also been deployed higher up the pitch, behind the striker, but that is one area where Cherries are certainly not lacking.
Assuming the Dane is the fittest of the three, it seems he will partner Cook.
Cherries cannot move for wingers at the moment – even with star man Marcus Tavernier sidelined.
Anthony has played frequently this summer, but he might be drafted into the right-back spot.
From what we have seen, Iraola uses wingers on each flank interchangeably, with Justin Kluivert, Ouattara, and Anthony all featuring on either side throughout pre-season.
Based on the fact they featured heavily in friendlies, we are plumping for Anthony and Kluivert to start on the flanks.
As mentioned above, Philip has played as the number 10 this summer, but he might be required elsewhere.
Hamed Traore has largely featured off the bench this summer, whilst David Brooks has also moonlighted behind Dominic Solanke.
Brooks has spoken heavily about how he is desperate to start the first game of the season, and has shown glimpses in pre-season that he is closing in on a return to form following his recovery from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
We are guessing he will start against the Hammers.
Whilst we are omitting Christie, assuming a cautious approach to start the season, it seems unlikely that Solanke will not lead the line unless he has a serious issue.
Last season the striker often did not train due to niggles, Gary O’Neil saving his star striker for the weekends.
It makes sense that after being rested last weekend, that the one-time England international is capable of starting up top.
That is our predicted XI for the first game of the new season – but who do you think will start, and more importantly, who do you think should start against West Ham?