Having ended the calendar year on a high note with back-to-back victories, Liverpool open the year of 2016 with a trip to West Ham. The Hammers have managed to end the streak of five consecutive draws in the Premier League with a win against Southampton and will be keen on recording a positive result in the first Premier League match in 2016.
Slaven Bilic’s side have been one of the positive surprises this season in the Premier League. The Hammers have gained themselves the reputation this term, as they have been successful against the big teams, having won against Arsenal in the season’s opener and going on to defeat Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea. Last couple of weeks have seen a drop in form which could be attributed to the absence of their key player Dimitri Poyet, who has been tipped to make an early return to action, a month ahead of schedule. West Ham’s star signing from Marseille was not expected to be back until February after injuring his ankle against Everton at the start of November, but the medical department have apparently been working miracles to help Bilic’s key player get fit and ready for a comeback. The Irons will be buoyed by the return of their star performer, but also with their first win in last six matches in the Premier League. Ever since their 4-1 loss to Tottenham late in November, West Ham have went on to record five straight draws and their come-from-behind triumph over the Saints will be a huge morale boost. Southampton took a lead through an own goal from Jenkinson, but Antonio and Andy Carroll made sure that Bilic’s team claim three points which saw them climb up to the eighth place in the standings.
Payet’s return will be a huge boost ahead of the Liverpool game, but Slaven Bilic will still be without Winston Reid and Victor Mozes, who are also pushing for an early comeback. West Ham duo has been out with hamstring injuries, but are well ahead of schedule in their recovery.
Diafra Sakho remains the only other major player out and he is not expected to be fit until the middle of February. James Collins, Aaron Cresswell, Enner Valencia and Nikica Jelavic remain doubtful.
Christain Benteke’s back-to-back match winners against Leicester City on Boxing Day and versus Sunderland in the final Premier League match in 2015 took his tally to seven goals and were enough of a reason for Jurgen Klopp’s side to feel the festive spirit. The German tactician will have been disappointed with his team’s poor performances though, as the Reds struggled to make an impression on their new manager in recent weeks. Intercepted play, mistimed and misplaced passes were followed by a series of glorious opportunities misses, most of all from Christian Benteke and Jurgen Klopp will have plenty of work to do at the beginning of 2016 in order to impose his free-flowing philosophy. He will have to be quick as Liverpool are travelling to Boleyn Ground to face West Ham who will be a stern test to their most recent string which saw them climb up to the seventh place in the standings with 30 points to the name. The Reds are now level with Manchester United and within five points of the Champions League football.
Jordan Henderson and Divock Origi have picked up knocks, but should be fit to feature against West Ham. However, Jurgen Klopp still faces a lot of selection worries as Martin Skrtel, Joe Gomez, Danny Ings, Jon Flannagan, James Milner all complete the long injury list.
Daniel Sturridge is deemed fit and should be back in contention following a hamstring injury he picked early in December. Nathaniel Clyne is no longer a booking away from suspension due to all booking points deleted midway through the season.
Key Factors to Consider
- There have been under 2.5 goals in five of West Ham’s last 6 Premier League games
- The Hammers recorded their first win in two months against Southampton
- Liverpool have won five of their last 8 games on the road
- Simon Mignolet kept 16 clean sheets this term, more than any other EPL keeper
- The Reds have scored only 4 goals in last 6 games
In addition to home ground advantage, West Ham will be motivated by the return of their key player and will pose a big threat to Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp is yet to embed his unique style and philosophy and the reds have been producing some pretty erratic displays over the last couple of weeks. Goals will be the best option for the opening fixture of 2016.
Verdict: Under 2.5 goals
Best Odds: 8/11