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Jan 2, 2016 at 12.45pm UK at London Stadium


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Preview: West Ham United vs. Liverpool

Sports Mole looks ahead to the first Premier League game of 2016 as West Ham United host Liverpool at Upton Park.

The first Premier League match of 2016 will take place at Upton Park on Saturday as West Ham United host Liverpool.

Only one place and one point separates the two sides in the table at the end of 2015, and victory for either would take them up to fifth place for a few hours at least.

West Ham

Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Norwich City at the Boleyn Ground on September 26, 2015© Getty Images

West Ham will no doubt reflect on 2015 as a mixed year. After a storming start to the 2014-15 campaign, the Hammers won just three of the 19 remaining games that season following the turn of the year.

The year ahead promises to be a momentous one, however, with the club leaving the Boleyn Ground - its home for 112 years - in order to relocate to the Olympic Stadium.

Matters on the field look promising too. West Ham may be one place and three points worse off than on New Year's Day under Sam Allardyce, but a win would temporarily close the gap on the top four to just three points.

Wins have not been particularly easy for West Ham to come by recently, however. A 2-1 triumph over Southampton in their final match of 2015 was their first victory since October - a winless spell of eight games that saw them score only four goals.

They are, however, now unbeaten in six games having ended a run of five straight draws with the victory over the Saints, and with two of the bottom five to come in their next couple of games, they will be confident of extending that run even further if they can get past Liverpool.

The belief should be high following their 3-0 triumph at Anfield earlier in the season, and while it was their away form that was making all of the headlines during that spell, they are now unbeaten in seven in front of their own fans, dating back to August.

They have not gone eight home Premier League games without defeat since the 2001-02 season, although they do still boast a better away record than they do at home this season, picking up 16 points on their travels compared to 13 at Upton Park.

Recent form: DDDDDW


Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool looka on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on December 13, 2015 in Liverpool, England.© Getty Images

Having been one of the final two Premier League competitors of 2015, Liverpool also have the honour of opening up the New Year with Saturday's early kickoff.

It was a tumultuous 2015 for Liverpool too as Brendan Rodgers's reign came to an end, while Jurgen Klopp has so far struggled for consistency since his arrival.

Such is the unpredictable nature of this season, though, that there were renewed whispers of a possible title challenge after Liverpool made it back-to-back wins with a 1-0 triumph over Sunderland on Wednesday night.

While many were expecting three points from the Reds in that game, is was the nature of their previous victory that forced people to once again sit up and take notice as Klopp's side stopped Leicester City in their tracks, becoming the first team to prevent them from scoring and only the second team to beat them this season.

Whether they can maintain that form into 2016 remains to be seen, but it may take some rotation from Klopp. TV coverage, in addition to the club's continued participation in the League Cup, means they face four games in the space of just 10 days, all of which are away from home.

It is fair to say that their away form has been rather mixed under Klopp so far. Comprehensive victories over Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton hinted at things going in the right direction, but back-to-back defeats against Newcastle United and Watford - both without scoring - stopped their momentum in its tracks.

They got back to winning ways on the road against the Black Cats last time out, though, and having got trips to Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Man City out of the way in the first half of the season, it could well be their remaining away games that provide the main thrust behind any top-four challenge.

Victory on Saturday would take Liverpool to within two points of those Champions League places ahead of a crucial double-header against Arsenal and Manchester United in their next two league games.

Recent form: WLDLWW
Recent form (all competitions): LDDLWW

Team News

Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool celebrates as he scores their first goal during the Capital One Cup quarter final match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on December 2, 2015 in Southampton, England.© Getty Images

Liverpool fans may be wary of another false dawn, but Daniel Sturridge could well return from his latest injury setback in time to make the trip to London.

His inclusion may call into question Christian Benteke's place in the team, despite the Belgian having scored the winning goals in each of Liverpool's last two games.

Benteke's compatriot Divock Origi will not be available due to a hamstring strain, while Martin Skrtel (hamstring), James Milner (calf), Joe Gomez and Danny Ings (both ACL) are also sidelined.

Academy products Jordan Rossiter and Jon Flanagan are nearing returns but won't be fit in time for Saturday, while Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen are doubts due to injury and illness respectively.

West Ham could also be boosted by the returns of a number of key players, with Dimitri Payet, Enner Valencia, Victor Moses, Nikica Jelavic, Aaron Cresswell and Winston Reid all in contention to start having overcome recent injuries.

Diafra Sakho remains the only player definitely sidelined, while Slaven Bilic must also decide whether to reward Andy Carroll for his winning goal against Southampton with a start on what would be his 150th Premier League appearance - 44 of which came for Liverpool.

West Ham possible starting lineup:
Adrian; Jenkinson, Tomkins, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Song, Kouyate, Antonio, Payet, Lanzini; Carroll

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno; Can, Lucas; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino; Benteke

Head To Head

As mentioned earlier, West Ham ran out comfortable winners in the reverse meeting at Anfield in August, winning at the ground for the first time in 52 years to condemn Liverpool to their first defeat of the season in a match that saw both teams end with 10 men.

Indeed, they have now won two of the last three times these sides have faced off, which is as many victories over the Reds as they managed in the previous 22 meetings.

Liverpool last won at the Boleyn Ground in April 2014, when two Steven Gerrard penalties handed them a 2-1 victory, with the corresponding fixture last term ending in a 3-1 triumph for the Hammers.

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We say: West Ham 1-1 Liverpool

This really is a game that could go any way, with West Ham hard to beat at home and Liverpool unpredictable on their travels. The Hammers will hope to have Payet in particular back available, which could swing things in their favour, but with Liverpool coming into the new year off back-to-back victories, we feel that they will still have enough to get something out of the game.

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Dimitri Payet celebrates scoring his second for West Ham against Newcastle on September 14, 2015
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CManchester CityMan City38296399267393
4Tottenham HotspurSpurs382251169402971
6Manchester UnitedMan Utd381610125757058
7West Ham UnitedWest Ham38168146051956
8Leicester CityLeicester381410146259352
9Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton381215114244-251
10Wolverhampton WanderersWolves38156173843-551
11Newcastle UnitedNewcastle381310154462-1849
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14Aston Villa38136195254-245
17Leeds UnitedLeeds38911184279-3738
RNorwich CityNorwich3857262384-6122

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