Everton-West Ham United Preview
By TOM BENNETT
STATS European Football Writer
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - The Premier League's Christmas calendar kicks off on Saturday, with West Ham United versus Everton at Upton Park amongst the first round of matches.
The English top-flight clubs squeeze in four sets of games over the festive period, testing the squad depth and concentration of even the elite teams. Everton have the comfort of back-to-back home games (against Wigan and Chelsea) coming up before the New Year, while injury-hit West Ham were given some mixed news when their Boxing Day clash with Arsenal was postponed due to a planned strike by London underground railway workers.
"I think you can look at it both ways; yes it gives us an extra couple of days to get players back, but it does mean we will have an even busier January," said West Ham assistant boss Neil McDonald. "We would probably have preferred to play the game and we are slightly disappointed that it has been called off, but we will be ready when the game comes in January.
"After the good performance against West Brom away, keeping a clean sheet, and giving Arsenal a really good game earlier in the season, we were looking forward to going to the Emirates."
Everton have lost just twice this season, and despite drawing nine of their 17 matches, remain just two points off the Champions League places.
Toffees midfielder Darron Gibson revealed that the squad are aiming to force their way into the top four.
"Could you imagine Real Madrid or Barcelona coming for a Champions League game? The atmosphere at Goodison would be frightening," said Gibson. "It's unbelievable for just a Premier League game so imagine what the atmosphere would be like if we made it into the Champions League.
"It would be massive for the club. We're genuinely just taking it on a game-by-game basis at the moment and not over thinking it. But if we keep playing well I think we'll be up there at the end of the season. If we could get that fourth place I'd savour it, we all would, but I don't think we're setting it in stone as a target. We just need to keep putting points on the board. Fingers crossed at the end of the season we can be in there."
West Ham have doubts over Yossi Benayoun (knee), but George McCartney (knee), Mohammed Diame (hamstring), Andy Carroll (knee), Ricardo Vaz Te (shoulder) and Jack Collison (knee) are out. Everton are without Phil Neville (knee), and have Kevin Mirallas and Tony Hibbert struggling with hamstring and calf injuries respectively.
West Ham drew home and away against Everton the last time they were in the Premier League (two seasons ago). The Hammers have drawn their last three games with Everton, but have failed to beat David Moyes' side in the last nine attempts - a run that stretches back to April 2007. The Toffees have won on four of their last five visits to Upton Park.
Updated December 20, 2012