LONDON (Reuters) - Ever since “little” Bournemouth, with their stadium capacity of under 11,500, reached the top tier of English football for the first time two years ago, they have had to cope with the psychological challenge of facing the biggest clubs in the land.
In general they have coped well at their own homely stadium, beating Liverpool and champions Leicester City there this season and holding Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to draws.
Last season, Manchester United were beaten and there was even a memorable victory away to Chelsea.
Overcoming their Monday guests Manchester City, however, has so far proved a leap too far. City have never lost in nine meetings between the clubs, seven of which they have won.
Their three previous head-to-head results in the Premier League -- 5-1, 4-0 and 4-0 -- have suggested a gap in class that Bournemouth’s manager Eddie Howe must convince his players they can bridge this time.
“The times we’ve played City they’ve been excellent,” Howe said.
“We respect their players but we can’t be fearful. We’ve aspired to play at their level and the challenge is to match them.”
A stunning last-gasp victory over Liverpool by four goals to three in December was the sort of performance Howe’s team can draw inspiration from.
Even then, however, conceding three hinted at their weakness. Only Swansea City have let in more this season than Bournemouth, who average almost two goals against per game.
The recent run is even worse. Since beating Swansea on the last day of 2016, they have conceded 19 in six league and cup games, culminating in a 6-3 loss at Everton last weekend.
It was the second time during that run that they scored three goals and failed to win.
City, meanwhile, seem to have pulled out of a nosedive from third to fifth place, scoring nine times in three games as they added league wins over West Ham and Swansea to their FA Cup defeat of Crystal Palace.
Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus has had an outstanding introduction to England with three goals in two games and has even been keeping Aguero out of the side.
Sitting only a point behind Tottenham, who face a tricky game at Liverpool on Saturday, City could be in a position on Monday to reclaim second place before attention shifts to an FA Cup tie with Huddersfield Town and then the Champions League, in which they face AS Monaco on Feb. 21.
Reporting by Steve Tongue