As the Community Shield approaches this weekend to officially kick off another ten months of Premier League football, here are a few non big four yet solid and exciting players to watch this season. For those more interested in big four teams, watch this space for more preview posts to come before the opening weekend.
Thomas Hitzlsperger – West Ham United: No stranger to the Premier League, the German international acquired from Lazio on a free, Thomas ‘the hammer’ Hitzlesperger returns to England with his famously powerful left footed shot for Hammers supporters to admire. The midfielder who’s most comfortable shooting from outside the box left Aston Villa in 2005 as a fan favorite and will likely gain the same admiration from the Upton Park faithful early on in the season if he can find his goal scoring form in East London.
As West Ham narrowly avoided relegation last season, Hitzlsperger’s experience in the center of the pitch and goal scoring abilities will be greatly valued by West Ham fans. Owner’s Gold & Sullivan made a great move for the club by picking up ‘the Hammer’ on a free and also by appointing experienced Premier League manager Avram Grant to the helm. With new addition Grant, West Ham supporters will want to put the results of last season’s campaign to rest as soon as possible. In Hitzlsperger, West Ham fans can expect a player with the ability to score crackers from midfield and with players such as Scott Parker, Carlton Cole and Frédéric Piquionne to compliment Grant’s leadership, West Ham look to be on the right path.
Jermaine Beckford – Everton: After the ‘will he, or won’t he’ saga finally ended in the favor of ‘he did’, the former Leeds United striker now has his shot in the Premier League with Everton as the recently promoted Championship side Leeds United ended up with naught for Beckford as Everton secured his services on a free transfer. Most Premier League fans will remember Beckford for his famous goal v Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup last season, and while his qualities were on display last winter in that match, it shouldn’t be over looked that he’s a complete striker who possesses a good first touch, classy footwork and strong finishing abilities.
Beckford scored goals for fun in League One, but Premier League defenders aren’t League One defenders, so Beckford will have to prove he can create space and score goals v the best in a new and challenging league. Everton are a good side that will look to avoid the slow start they experienced last campaign when the squad was riddled with injury. The Toffees have options up front such as Louis Saha and Yakubu, but Beckford will get his chance to shine. Will he grasp it?
Ben Foster – Birmingham City: Having left Manchester United with his tail between his legs, Foster now has his chance to be the #1 for City, an ambitious goal while at United, but an unlikely occurrence for the former England keeper who fell out of favor with Sir Alex Ferguson. Riddled with injury after his brilliant on loan spell at Watford, Foster languished mostly on the bench over the course of the last few years at Old Trafford behind Edwin van der Sar and Tomasz Kuszczak.
As Birmingham City ready for the upcoming season, they’re still coming down from cloud nine and their best finish in the league, a hard fought ninth, since 1951. Once touted as the next England #1, Foster has slipped miles behind the man he’ll be replacing at St. Mary’s and the now realistic choice as England’s best keeper, Joe Hart. Now though is Foster’s time to shine and to get his club career back on track. The international accolades will follow, if he’s worthy.
Jerome Boateng, Manchester City: Although they want a top four finish at Eastlands so bad they can taste it, the Mancunians will have to settle for Europa League football this season having come oh so close last term in finishing fifth. No strangers to picking up world class talent whenever they can, I believe it will be the quiet roll players for City that will make or break their next attempt at qualifying for the Champions League. Boateng is just that role player.
The German left back who can play any position at the back will be a vital addition to a City defense who were good without being great last season. As Manchester City look to be once again loaded in attack, Boateng can provide assistance on the wing to support attacks while holding his own as a defender. Manchester City will need solid performances from players just like Boateng to make that crunching tackle or deflection so the David Silva’s of the world can do what they do best. At 21, Boateng was one of the best young players at this summer’s World Cup for a great German side. Manchester City like Germany will hope they can get the best out of the talented defender.