The first Premier League action of 2016 is a meeting between two sides locked together on 29 points at the halfway stage, with West Ham United aiming to leapfrog a Liverpool side which is going for a third straight win.
For the home side, all the signs at half-time in their last outing against Southampton were that their lengthy wait for a victory would continue, as they had been a distant second best and looked unlikely to make much headway due to the absence of several key players. But they were just the one goal behind, and in what turned out to be very much a game of two halves the Hammers managed to produce a rousing fightback full of energy and spirit.
As he was against Chelsea back in October, Andy Carroll was the man who sealed the three points and he will not need much help in getting fired up for this one as he faces the club that signed him for £35m and then decided he was surplus to requirements less than two years later. His aerial strength will certainly give Liverpool plenty to think about, as will the pace and direct running of Michail Antonio, who is just starting to find his feet in the top-flight.
Victory away to Sunderland on Wednesday means that Liverpool lie above their opponents by virtue of their superior goal difference. For the second match in succession Christian Benteke scored the only goal, proving his worth to the side despite their failure to find a way to get the very best out of him since his summer arrival, and as he leads the line again here he will be hoping for better quality service to come his way from the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana.
For the Reds were far from convincing again at the Stadium of Light. Such was the nature of their error-strewn performance, manager Jurgen Klopp found himself turning away in frustration on numerous occasions as he watched from the sidelines, and against better quality opposition they will not get away with it. With the transfer window now open the German may take the opportunity to strengthen, but he will at least be pleased by successive clean sheets.
Dimitri Payet is available for West Ham a month ahead of schedule following an ankle injury, but Aaron Cresswell faces a fitness test while Victor Moses, Nikica Jelavic and Winston Reid are all definitely out.
Liverpool are still unable to call upon James Milner and Divock Origi, but have Daniel Sturridge back after his latest injury absence.
Last Meeting: Two early goals gave West Ham the perfect start on their way to a fully deserved 3-1 victory over a laboured Liverpool in September 2014. Winston Reid turned the ball in from close range and Diafra Sakho lifted the ball over Simon Mignolet to give the hosts breathing space after just seven minutes. And although Raheem Sterling blasted in powerfully from the edge of the box, Morgan Amalfitano sealed it late on.
Played for both – Stewart Downing: Signed for some £20m, Downing was an established Premier League player when he joined Liverpool in the summer of 2011 and although he helped them win the League Cup in his first season, he was an overall disappointment, scoring three goals in 65 league games. He then spent two seasons at West Ham, scoring seven times in 69 outings.
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