Liverpool and West Ham United will kick off the Premier League action for 2016 when the Reds travel to Upton Park for a lunchtime game in which fifth place is up for grabs.
Twenty-fifteen was a year of change for the Reds. Iconic captain Steven Gerrard left and title-flirting manager Brendan Rodgers was sacked and replaced by Jurgen Klopp.
Klopp’s honeymoon period witnessed spectacular away victories at Chelsea and Manchester City before a lean patch left them out of the top four by the close of the year.
But they are back to winning ways now. Wednesday’s 1-0 success over Sunderland was Liverpool’s second straight win by that scoreline and their fifth of the season.
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The Reds have actually had more 1-0 wins than any other side in the division. Not exactly ‘heavy-metal football’, but they are finding a way to win while some of their rivals stutter.
Victory at the Boleyn Ground would lift the Merseysiders, at least temporarily, up to fifth in the table and within two points of the Champions League qualifying spots.
But they will likely have to do without Jordan Henderson, who was substituted after an hour of the Stadium of Light triumph due to concerns over his heel injury, according to Sky Sports.
Livepool’s captain had only recently returned from three months on the sidelines because of a foot problem, and is not likely to be risked until he has been more closely assessed.
Klopp also confirmed, as Sky Sports reports, that fellow midfielders James Milner and Joe Allen are major doubts with injury and illness respectively, and Divock Origi is also out.
The Liverpool Echo claims that Daniel Sturridge is back in contention after his latest layoff, but the form of Christian Benteke, who has two goals in two games, will keep him on the bench.
West Ham could have their own star player back after eight long weeks. Dimitri Payet, who contributed five goals and four assists in a blistering start to the season, could feature according to BBC Sport.
BBC Sport adds that Winston Reid and Victor Moses may also be available as Slaven Bilic’s injury crisis improves, but striker Diafra Sakho is not in line to return until early February.
A late winner from former Reds striker Andy Carroll against Southampton on Monday ended West Ham’s run of five successive draws and kept them in touch with the European places.
Fifth place is also the prize on offer for the Hammers if they beat Liverpool. One team is likely to claim that prize, because there hasn’t been a draw in the last 10 instalments of this fixture.
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