Liverpool travel to the Boleyn Ground for the final time on Saturday afternoon as they take on West Ham in the first fixture of 2016.
Liverpool look to begin the new year as positively as they finished 2015, with a win that would be a third in a row for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Slaven Bilic’s West Ham stand in the way of a perfect start to 2016 for the Reds, who face a tough fixture on Saturday in their third of six matches in 19 days, and the first of eight games in a hectic month for Klopp and his squad.
A tough set of fixtures looms for Liverpool as they look to close the gap in the race for fourth place, and a victory on the final visit to the Boleyn Ground would be the perfect start to a potential season shaping period.
With West Ham leaving one of English football’s historic grounds for the Olympic Stadium next season, Saturday will be the final meeting at the Hammers’ long-standing home.
Liverpool have won 24 of their 63 visits to date, and will look to add to their recent positive record in east London, where the Reds have claimed four victories in the last six clashes.
The Reds have lost two of the last three games against the Hammers though, the latest seeing West Ham record their first Anfield success for 52 years with a 3-0 win in August.
Manuel Lanzini slotted home after three minutes before Mark Noble doubled the first half lead, punishing Dejan Lovren’s dreadful error, slotting into the Kop net from the edge of the box.
Philippe Coutinho’s red card early in the second period ended all hopes of a Liverpool comeback, before Diafra Sakho’s last minute finish completed the rout and a miserable afternoon.
Meetings in London have seen very little middle ground over recent years with only one draw in the last 11 games, and Klopp’s side must ensure they’re on the winning side if the streak continues.
Bilic and his squad have enjoyed a good season so far, accumulating 29 points from their first half of the season, a point less than Liverpool.
The Hammers ended an eight game winless run – including six draws – last time out with an impressive 2-1 comeback victory over Southampton and come into the clash full of confidence.
Alongside registering wins over the Reds, Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City already this season, they have also proven a tough side to beat, recording the most draws in the league and three clean sheets in their last five games.
Klopp’s men come into the fixture in more positive form having ended a four game winless run with consecutive successes over Christmas.
Back-to-back clean sheets and maximum points will have boosted confidence throughout the Liverpool team, who look to move within two points of fourth place.
West Ham: W-L-D-L-D-D-D-D-D-W
Klopp’s side are an even bet for a third successive victory in E13, with a draw available at 5/2 and a West Ham victory priced at 3/1.
The West Ham boss has gone without some key men in recent weeks, but has been handed a number of injury boosts ahead of the game.
Diafra Sakho is ruled out, but play-maker Dimitri Payet is set for a comeback after returning to training this week, while left-back Aaron Cresswell and striker Nikica Jelavic are also in contention for involvement after injury lay-offs.
While former Liverpool loanee Victor Moses and defender Winston Reid are also closing in on returns, Saturday’s meeting could come too early for either to feature.
Fellow ex-Red Andy Carroll is pushing for a start after coming on to net the winner against Southampton last time out, and he could be restored to the XI along with Lanzini, who also made a positive impact after his introduction.
Bilic could name the same XI that oversaw the second half turnaround against the Saints.
What the Managers say
Ahead of his first and last visit to the Boleyn Stadium, Klopp said:
“I’m not sure I should say much on West Ham. I was not available in the summer.
“I’m not perfectly prepared on West Ham. The big thing in our game is to protect our offensive actions.
“It’s very important we don’t wait for the perfect game, but we work for the perfect game.”
Bilic said prior to the Reds’ visit:
“Liverpool have won the last couple of games with some good results. We are expecting a tough game, Klopp has a team full of energy.
“Liverpool are contenders to win the league, like the other teams above them. If they have a good run, of course they can win it.”
Liverpool’s first game of the new year will be shown live on BT Sport One in the UK, and can be found on SuperSport, beIN Sports, NBCSN and Fox Sports around the globe.
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