Tuesday, July 08, 2008

3 Questions Ahead of The Premier League 2008-09 Season, Vol. 4

An occasional Pardew's Guardian feature leading up to the August kickoff ...
1) Will Julien Faubert become the force he was originally predicted to be down the right flank for West Ham? The Hammers' capture of the fleet Frenchman (pictured above, top) made headlines last season, and sometimes for the wrong reasons. Namely, French National Team manager Raymond Domenech questioned why right-winger Faubert would leave Bordeaux of Ligue 1 for the East London side instead of Roma, Arsenal, et al. Hammers chairman (at the time!) Eggert Magnusson heralded the newly-signed Faubert as "one of the most sought-after players in Europe," and his pre-season performances seemed to justify such lofty praise. But, alas, the injury bug that seemed to bite every other player on Alan Curbishley's roster struck Faubert hard, and Hammers supporters were left to wonder if the ball skills and blazing speed he showed in glimpses could manifest itself over the hurly-burly of a physical English season. If he comes back with a vengeance, Faubert could be one of the league's surprise packages. And a skillful player setting the Boleyn alight is long overdue.
2) What can Everton do for an encore? Even more so than finishing fourth and earning a spot in Champions League qualifying a few seasons ago, what the team from the Blue half of Merseyside has accomplished the last two years is nothing short of extraordinary. Led by the fighting spirit of the unfairly-maligned Phil Neville (pictured above, middle), Everton has become one of the hardest teams to beat in the whole of the Premiership. Manager David Moyes has crafted a workaholic side in his own image, and think of these names in the starting 11: Tim Howard. Joleon Lescott. Yakubu. Any team (including those in the top 4) would accommodate players of that caliber. The best part about Everton's rise to prominence (again! They are a club steeped in history) is that has occurred after the sale of Wayne Rooney to the Mancs. It seems there is life post-Shrek after all!
3) Will Boro's Stewart Downing emerge as an league and international force in his own right? Much praise has been bandied about over the past few years regarding the pedigree of Downing (pictured above, bottom) and how he should carve a guaranteed place for himself in the Three Lions' starting 11. But that enthusiasm for his early England performances has to be tempered by the fact that his ex-club manager -- the umbrella-toting Steve McClaren -- never ventured beyond the orthodox when it came to handing out caps. Where were the Matty Etheringtons, the Steve Sidwells, the James Milners when the rosters were announced? All such players enjoyed their purple patches, but Downing (who's undoubtedly a talented winger) always got the benefit of the doubt. It has to be said that Boro under gaffer Gareth Southgate always look to be a preseason favorite to be relegated, yet they always manage to scrape the 42 or so points necessary to stay up. Downing will have a big say in whether they do so again.