Premier League. Howe braced for Bournemouth battle ahead of Boscombe return

10 Feb 23

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe admitted the squad have been "preparing for the game as normal" ahead of making a first return to his former club since 2020 on Saturday evening (kick-off 5.30pm GMT).

The Magpies make the long trip to the Vitality Stadium aiming to extend their unbeaten Premier League streak to 17 matches ahead of facing Gary O'Neil's Cherries, who currently sit in the relegation zone and are winless in all competitions since November.

After spending over a decade at Bournemouth during two separate managerial stints, guiding the club from the depths of League Two to the English top-flight, Howe remains heavily focussed on continuing the Magpies' positive run ahead of what will be an emotional return to the South coast for the 45-year-old.

Here are some of the main talking points from Friday's pre-match media briefing at the Magpies' Benton training base:

On Christian Atsu as the former United winger, who worked under Howe whilst on loan at Bournemouth, remains missing following the devastating earthquakes which struck southern Turkey earlier this week:

"It's hugely worrying. I really enjoyed working with Christian. A great lad, player and our thoughts are with him and his family. We hope for some good news but we've been really concerned for him and his welfare this week.

"It's been difficult because there's been conflicting stories about his whereabouts so it's been very tough. I can't imagine how his family are feeling but, from the bottom of our hearts, we wish him well and hope there is a positive ending."

On the availability of Alexander Isak, who scored in the reverse fixture against the Cherries in September, after the Swedish forward sat out last weekend's draw against West Ham due to a head injury:

"He will be (in the squad). He's fully recovered. Initially, he got the ball on the head and he didn't feel too bad but we had to follow protocols. He's been good this week.

"Matt Targett will be out still. He's close to training. He's worked hard on his rehabilitation with the physios and he's getting close to returning to the group. Javier Manquillo is getting close and Bruno (Guimarães), we're missing (through suspension)."

On returning to Bournemouth for the first time since his managerial departure in the summer of 2020 following an eight-year spell with the club, winning the 2014/15 Championship title:

"We've been preparing for the game as normal. The emotional side is difficult to predict how I'll feel walking out to a stadium that I know so well and so many people that I know so well.

"I know what from the other side, preparing a game as Bournemouth manager, it's a special place to play football when it's rocking and we need to be ready for that kind of atmosphere.

"They've signed some very good players and invested in the transfer market so I think this a different Bournemouth team to the one we've seen in previous weeks. They're very athletic, with a lot of pace all through the team. This is a different game and we need to be ready for what's ahead."

On preparations for the upcoming Premier League fixture after reaching the Carabao Cup final last week, ending the Magpies' 24-year wait for a domestic cup final appearance, before claiming a 1-1 draw against West Ham United:

"I think it was an emotional week. We were really disappointed not to win against West Ham so there was that feeling that we needed to do better in certain aspects of our play.

"We tried to refine that and put that right on the training pitch this week and find the missing ingredient to our game to try and kick us into winning games again. That's what we've tried to do this week and we know it's going to be a tough game this weekend."

On Anthony Gordon, who targets a full Newcastle United debut after appearing as a substitute against West Ham, and facing selection dilemmas:

"It was a really positive debut from him last week. The first impression that you give the home supporters is such an important moment. His first touch was a brilliant one and, from then, he was into the game and away so I was really pleased with that.

"He's taken that confidence into training this week. He's keen and I did some one-to-one work with him on Monday and he then trained with the group for the rest of the week. He's shown some really good signs and his overall performance levels have been very good.

"I have choices and that's a brilliant thing for a manager to have. I never look at that negatively although, sometimes, the decisions can be tough because you're choosing two players in one position but that's the difficult side of management.

"I'd much rather have that problem because the squad needs to be big and strong enough for a long campaign."

On Allan Saint-Maximin, who gained his first Premier League start since August against the Hammers last week and recorded three assists in Newcastle's last trip to the Vitality Stadium in July 2020, with Howe managing the opposing side that evening:

"I think Maxi is someone who performs better with a consistent run of games but I would say that would be the case for all players. He has a window and an opportunity to impress.

"There were some aspects of his game which were in a really good place last week. Most importantly, he tried to give his all for the team. I don't think there was any lack of effort from him.

"I thought West Ham managed him well in the game and teams will always look at him as  a big threat and produce their game plans on keeping him quiet but it's up to us and him to try and find a solution to those game plans."

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