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Chelsea-Bournemouth Preview

The palace intrigue continues for Chelsea, but for the moment, so is the winning.

Maurizio Sarri's side look to make it three victories on the spin Wednesday, when Gonzalo Higuain is expected to make his Premier League debut at Dean Court versus Bournemouth.

Of the Big Six sides, only Chelsea (14-5-4) has made what could be called a top-drawer move in the January window thus far, finalising a deal to acquire centre-forward Gonzalo Higuain on loan from AC Milan through the end of the season with an £18 million option for 2019-20.

Higuain, who scored 36 goals in 35 league matches playing under Sarri at Napoli in 2015-16, made his Chelsea debut in Sunday's 3-0 FA Cup victory at home over Sheffield Wednesday. The Argentina international started between Eden Hazard and Willian in Sarri's usual 4-3-3 formation and raised some eyebrows when he declined Willian's offer to take the penalty the Brasilian converted to open the scoring.

But he was productive in 80 minutes before making way for Olivier Giroud as the Pensioners advanced to a fifth-round tie at Stamford Bridge opposite Manchester United in a rematch of last year's FA Cup final.

"Considering it was his first game, you will see more from him. A couple of times in the first half he made some great moves into space and he nearly got the right ball," assistant coach Gianfranco Zola told Chelsea's official website about Higuain. "I'm personally satisfied with him, but he's going to get better because he needs to build up an understanding with the others. Sometimes in the first half he was making movement, but we couldn't see his movement and it's something we need to improve."

The win capped a productive week of cup ties for Chelsea, who overturned a one-goal deficit in the second leg of their Carabao Cup semifinals versus London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and eliminated the Lilywhites via penalties to reach the final at Wembley next month against holders Manchester City.

As Chelsea welcomed Higuain into the fold, they said good-bye to fellow centre-forward Alvaro Morata, who signed a loan deal with Atletico Madrid after never finding a comfort zone in Sarri's system. Morata's departure leaves Higuain and Giroud as the only true central strikers on Chelsea's roster, and Sarri is expected to continue playing the more in-form of the pair like he did with Giroud and Morata.

But Morata's departure was overshadowed with Saturday's news that starlet Callum Hudson-Odoi submitted a formal transfer request to force a move to Bayern Munich - the German side has already made four bids to Chelsea for the 18-year-old, the most recent one worth £35 million.

Hudson-Odoi also scored in Sunday's victory, giving him two goals in 10 matches all competitions, but the allure of consistent playing time as well as furthering his development to stay on England's radar for international play has factored in his desire to force a move - something Chelsea do not want to acquiesce to.

"He's going nowhere - he's a special talent, a very good player and is staying with us," Willian insisted to Sky Sports. "Of course he is only 18 but he can improve a lot and in the future can become one of the best players in the world. It's difficult not to think about Bayern Munich because they are a great team as well but for me, his future is here.

"He has to stay because he knows the club, and I am sure he will play more."

Bournemouth (9-3-11) are seeking back-to-back league victories for the first time since beating Crystal Palace and Watford in October. The Cherries were idle over the weekend since they lost to Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup but looking to build on their 2-0 win over West Ham United on Jan. 19.

Eddie Howe's side are one of six sides separated by three points from seventh through 12th places as they enter this contest three back of Watford for seventh, which has the potential to carry a Europa League berth for 2019-20 depending on FA Cup results.

The Cherries also made a move to bolster depth to their back line in the down time, signing Chris Mepham from Brentford. Howe will likely take some time to incorporate the 21-year-old Wales international into the rotation since Mepham is just fully healthy again after missing some time with injuries.

"Chris is very comfortable on the ball, composed in possession, he makes a lot of good decisions, has good defensive instincts and a good mentality," Howe told afcbTV. "We're very excited about the opportunity to work with him. He's a fantastic age with a lot of potential to be an outstanding player for us.

"We're looking forward to developing and nurturing that potential, giving him the platform to progress his career here."

Like most of the non-Big Six sides, a failure to claim points against the perennials has hindered Bournemouth's climb in the table. The Cherries have lost all seven such contests this term, shipping 22 goals with only four in reply. In contrast, Bournemouth have a plus-9 goal difference against the other 13 teams while taking all 30 of their points from those 16 matches.

Chelsea are looking to complete the league double after winning the reverse fixture 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on goals by Pedro and Hazard in the final 18 minutes. The Blues also recorded a 1-0 home win in the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup last month when Hazard came off the bench and scored six minutes from time.

Bournemouth have lost all three of their Premier League home matches versus Chelsea since earning promotion in 2015. Their lone win at home against the Pensioners came in 1988 when the sides were in the Second Division.

Updated January 28, 2019

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