West Ham United head to Leicester City seeking to end 2016 as they began it – with a Premier League victory.
The Hammers have yet to win at King Power Stadium in the top flight, with their only previous success at the Foxes’ new home coming in the Championship in April 2012.
Nearly five years on and Leicester are the current champions of England, but are struggling mightily to retain their crown, while West Ham are seeking to rectify things after a disappointing opening three months of the campaign.
Formations, tactics and many other variables will decide this New Year’s Eve fixture, but these three key individual battles will surely play a big part too.
Having been restored to his preferred midfield role for the Boxing Day win at Swansea City, Cheikhou Kouyate looks set to remain in the engine room at King Power Stadium.
There, the Senegal star will come up against England international Danny Drinkwater, who is tipped for a recall after missing Leicester City’s 2-0 Boxing Day defeat by Everton.
While they are different types of central midfielders, the battle between Drinkwater and Kouyate will be a key one.
The Foxes man is always involved in the game, making a staggering 66.3 passes/game on average – sixth-highest in the Premier League. He has also picked up a lot of the defensive work which was done last season by the now-departed N’Golo Kante, making 3.8 tackles/game – third-best in the Premier League behind Everton’s Idrissa Gueye and Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, and 0.7 more than Chelsea’s Kante.
Kouyate is more enigmatic, but his contribution is no less important. Having played at centre-half in half of his 16 Premier League appearances, it is no surprise that the No8’s defensive numbers are higher than Drinkwater’s, but his pass-completion percentage is an eye-catching 7.2% higher than his Leicester counterpart.
Two of the Premier League’s most-coveted wingers will go head-to-head at King Power Stadium on New Year’s Eve.
Set for a recall after being rested on Boxing Day, Riyad Mahrez was a key figure in Leicester’s Premier League title win, scoring 17 goals and assisting eleven more with his elusive dribbling and magical left foot.
This season, Mahrez has saved his best performances for the UEFA Champions League, where he has four goals in five games, but the Algerian remains a threat whenever he is on the pitch, and is more heavily involved in the game than many widemen.
The same can be said of Antonio, who has been West Ham’s standout performer so far this season. A powerful, pacey player, the Hammers’ leading goalscorer is a completely different type of player to Mahrez.
Should he play wide on the right of an attacking midfield three, Antonio will seek to push the ball beyond his man and streak past him into space, while he is a constant threat to win aerial battles at the far post, having scored six of his eight Premier League goals with his head.
They may not be in direct opposition on New Year’s Eve, but the performances of Andy Carroll and Islam Slimani will be vital to their respective team’s chances of success.
Carroll has shown some of his best form since returning from injury in December, scoring twice in four Premier League appearances and leading the line with his customary power and work-rate.
The No9 is also an invaluable member of the defence at set plays, winning an impressive 64 aerial battles in just six appearances – his 10.7 aerials won/game is the best in the top flight.
Slimani is not much smaller than Carroll, but the Algerian does not use his body to anywhere near the same effect as the West Ham man, winning just 2.7 aerials/game. That said, three of his four Premier League goals this season have been headers.
The Leicester forward is more of a link-up man than a target man, coming deep to receive passes with his back to goal before bringing his attacking colleagues into the game.