By JAMES CLARK
Saturday, July 05, 2008
3 Questions Ahead of The Premier League 2008-09 Season, Vol. 2
By JAMES CLARK
An occasional Pardew's Guardian feature leading up to the August kickoff ...
1) Will Craig Bellamy be on the pitch enough to form a dream strike partnership with Dean Ashton for West Ham? When he's on his game, "Bellers" (pictured above, top) provides the perfect complement of speed to the power and skill of Ashton, and both of them are among the best finishers in the Premiership. If the Hammers are to make a real run at Europe, this has to be the first-choice forward line. Bobby Zamora and Carlton Cole are fine players, but they won't get you much above mid-table. And unless those rumors of Luca Toni or Eidur Gudjohnssen have merit, Bellamy as our No. 10 and Ashton playing the role of a traditional No. 9 is about as good as it will get in East London. Bellamy doesn't have the best track record when it comes to injuries and off-the-field incidents, so keep your fingers crossed.
2) Is West Bromwich Albion this season's version of Sunderland? Baggies manager Tony Mowbray (pictured above, middle) has that look about him. As in, the "we've got nothing to fear from this division" snarl that Roy Keane perfected as the Black Cats won on opening day last year and never looked in real danger of going back down to the Championship. West Brom led the second flight in goalscoring last term, and they have been enough of a yo-yo club over the past decade to know that the only way you stay in the Prem is by sticking the ball in the back of the net -- especially at the "business end" of the season. Fulham got hot at the right time in the spring when it came to scoring, and if West Brom are within striking distance at a similar point in 2009 don't bet against them.
3) Is Sunderland this season's version of Reading? Once a new table takes shape, what you did last season counts for nil. And as well as Sunderland played in their first season back up in the top fight, one has to wonder if the same type of "Second-Season Syndrome" that bit Reading in the behind last year (and nearly claimed West Ham's Premiership status in 2006-07) beckons for the Black Cats. The season-ending injury suffered by striker Kenwyne Jones (pictured above, bottom) while playing for Trinidad & Tobago v. England in a friendly this summer could well be a hammer blow for Keane's men. Consolidation has to be Keano's and chairman Niall Quinn's main goal, despite the fans' hope for an outside run at Europe.