By JAMES CLARK
Sunday, July 06, 2008
3 Questions Ahead of The Premier League 2008-09 Season, Vol. 3
By JAMES CLARK
An occasional Pardew's Guardian feature leading up to the August kickoff:
1) Is George McCartney's position as West Ham's left back secure? The Northern Irishman (pictured above, top) has been an ever-present name in the starting 11 over the last couple of seasons, and deservedly so. But there always seems to be talk of replacing him with the likes of Reading's Nicky Shorey, etc. When Alan Pardew bought McCartney from Sunderland and he settled into the lineup, it looked like we had the left-back slot sorted for seasons to come as McCartney continued to prove his worth after the club made the jump into the Premiership. But Alan Curbishley doesn't seem so sold on Mac. When he's been injured, Curbs moved Lucas Neill from right back to left back, put Jonathan Spector over on the right and had options such as Anton Ferdinand, James Tomkins and Danny Gabbidon and James Collins (when the latter two are fit) for central defense. At his best, McCartney is a boon to the offensive attack down the left flank. For Hammers supporters, this situation bears watching.
2) Will Steven Gerrard drive Liverpool into title contention this time around? Liverpool's midfield dynamo "Stevie G" (pictured above, middle) has been a driving force in the Champions League for the Reds the past few seasons, but when it comes to domestic form the lad often seems to go missing. In fact, his early-season disappearing acts have been a big reason why Rafa Benitez's men have been out of the title picture by mid-October the last few years. Gerrard famously did a U-turn a few years back when he was on the cusp of joining Chelsea, and his decision seemed to pay off when the Reds pulled that rabbit out of the hat v. AC Milan in Istanbul in the Champions League final. But, that result aside (well, there was his one-man demolition of West Ham in the FA Cup final, as well!) there hasn't been much to cheer about on Merseyside when it comes to closing the gap on Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. And the thing of it is, Gerrard isn't getting any younger.
3) Has anyone come as quite as full circle in recent seasons as Hull's Nicky Barmby? The former Liverpool, Everton, Leeds and Tottenham midfielder (pictured above, bottom) landed softly with his hometown club Hull City when they were firmly ensconced as a Championship side. In fact, until their promotion this spring Kingston-upon-Hull was the largest English city never to have hosted top-flight football. The fact that Barmby and fellow long-in-the-tooth player Dean Windass lifted the Tigers to the Prem via the Playoff final is one of the more remarkable storylines the English game has seen in a while. If you think back to Kevin Keegan's England lineup during Euro 2000, Barmby's name was one of the first on the team sheet. For him to be getting another crack at the big time 8 years later is truly something else.