Fergie's biggest task, Lamps' new role & Arsenal's glass defence

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ESPN's man with the mic Jon Champion looks ahead to the weekend's Premier League action. Watch ESPN’s live and exclusive coverage of Stoke City versus Manchester United live from 4:45pm on Saturday

Last weekend’s summit meeting between Manchester United and Chelsea reiterated what most mutual observers were thinking in early weeks of the season: Manchester United’s real rivals are going to be Manchester City, and not Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool or Tottenham.

Chelsea played as well as we’ve seen them so far this season, but even though Manchester United, particularly after half time, appeared to ease into third gear, they were still defeated. That perhaps reiterates the early season impression that Manchester United are very much the team to beat in the Premier League.

Had United been really pressed, if Torres had stuck one of those chances away, then suddenly they would’ve had to kick on again. I think they were holding something back.

The question is, when will Manchester United slip up? I would put an argument forward that Saturday evening’s trip to Stoke City is their most difficult game of the season so far.

Even though the Potters were heavily beaten at Sunderland last weekend, we can dismiss that as an aberration. They certainly looked a touch travel-weary, though Tony Pulis has been very keen not to use the fact they had the to make the long trip back from Kiev just days beforehand as an excuse for a pretty limp and lifeless performance.

Stoke don’t usually produce back to back Premier League displays like that, and the Potters gave Manchester United a good game last year, eventually losing 2-1 thanks to a pair of goals from Javier Hernandez. The Mexican scored that wonderfully dexterous header at the Britannia, which announced the arrival of a special talent to the Premier League stage.

United’s last Premier League away day took them to Bolton, a match which presented Sir Alex Ferguson with a dilemma over which goalkeeper to select, with the suggestion in the media being he was unsure of how David De Gea would cope in the face of Bolton’s physical approach.

Yet the Spaniard played that day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the newspaper speculation was what cemented in Alex Ferguson’s mind that he is going to play the youngster; nothing would irk the manager more than having his selection policy dictated to him by the press.

This time, with the papers not making as big a commotion, it wouldn’t surprise me too much if, without any fuss, he sticks Anders Lindegaard in for this on the basis that De Gea still looks a bit fragile, which is the last thing you can afford to be against Stoke.

Stoke have every chance of matching their league performance of last season, but the biggest problem could be the fact they are currently fighting on four fronts.  For all the strengthening that Stoke have done, they don’t have a particularly large squad of players you could realistically throw into the big games.

They’re probably still choosing from 18 or 19, but you have to put 18 names on the team sheet for a Premier League game. Something has got to give at some stage.

For that reason I temper my expectations for them this season, but I would be very disappointed if they’re not in the top half of the Premier League table. A very good season for them would be top eight.

Manchester City’s home tie with Everton looks a fascinating one, not least as Everton were the last team to beat City, and indeed did the double over them last season. There is an extra determination when Everton face City thanks to that bitter dispute over the transfer of Joleon Lescott. Even over two years on, the way in which Manchester City manoeuvered that summer stings Everton.

David Moyes is not a man to forget easily, and I think he may still use that as motivation when the sides meet, and it would surprise me if they don’t cause Manchester City a fair number of problems again this time around.

After a sluggish start, the Toffees appear to be finding their feet, while City may have the tiniest seed of doubt in the back of their minds after dropping points at Fulham last time out.

So there are a couple of reasons for City to be weary for once, this weekend. I don’t think this will be quite as routine a home win as some observers will suggest.

You wouldn’t have said it a few years ago, but Arsenal’s match with Bolton Wanderers currently looks like a meeting of two fragile teams.

Arsenal can’t wait for the last of the autumn international breaks to pass; off the back of that, Thomas Vermaelen and possibly Jack Wilshere should return to the fold, and Arsene Wenger may well have something approaching a full squad to choose from for the first time this season.

In the meantime they face a Bolton side buoyed by a midweek League Cup win at Aston Villa. Many people dismiss the Carling Cup as an irrelevance for the top Premier League sides, but I think for Bolton it should provide a bit of a boost after a few weeks of frustration in the league.

Not only that, but they also welcomed back Stuart Holden, arguably their best player, after six months on the sidelines. So Bolton go to the Emirates Stadium in pretty good shape. They have a track record of troubling Arsenal in the past and I can see them doing so again.

One of the disappointing features from the opening weeks of the season has been the willingness of certain parties to jump aboard the "Lampard is in decline" bandwagon.

Yes, maybe the legs aren't quite what they were two or three years ago. Maybe the days of him scoring 20-plus goals a season are gone. But I think he is a good enough player to fill a role that Chelsea seem to be struggling to find someone for, which is the defensive midfielder in their 4-3-3 formation.

I think Jon Obi-Mikel has filled that more or less since the departure of Claude Makelele but has been a pale shadow of Makelele, in terms of the way he plays that role. I don’t see anyone else on the books, other that possibly young Josh McEachran, that can play the defensive midfield role to Andre Villas-Boas’ satisfaction.

But Lampard could do it because he reads the game so well. He doesn’t need to be quite as mobile or have that box-to-box energy to play defensive midfield, so I just wonder whether that might be the answer to extend Lampard’s Chelsea career by a couple of seasons.

In terms of the game this weekend against Swansea, I struggle to see anything other than a home win – although the visitors have cause to be a bit more optimistic about life in the Premier League after their 3-0 dismissal of West Brom last week.

Wolves will be hoping for a better weekend after setbacks in their last two home matches, and Mick McCarthy’s side travel to Liverpool this time round.

Questions are still being asked of the Liverpool defence after they shipped four at Tottenham. I don’t know if the two dismissals had much effect on the result; given the way Spurs set off and Liverpool didn’t in the first half, the Reds were always going to get thumped.

Wolves have got enough about them to go to Anfield and cause some problems – as they did last Christmas when their 1-0 win helped hasten the end of Roy Hodgson's employment. The question is, are they strong enough defensively to cope with Luis Suarez? It wouldn’t surprise me if it ends as a draw.

While Liverpool and Wolves will be looking to get things back on track, for Newcastle it’s a case of wanting to stop the season now. They’ve had a far better start than anyone could have possibly imagined, they look a solid unit, though there are still question marks over where the goals are going to come from.

Leon Best is a good understudy to a Premier League striker, but you’d have to question whether he could contribute enough goals over the course of the season.

Newcastle won't lose too many games at home, but may draw a few more than they would like due to that lack of goals. Blackburn, for all the joy of their win over Arsenal last week, are still going to have more downs than ups over the season and as such Newcastle will have to start as favourites for this match.

The poor starts to the season by West Bromwich Albion and Fulham poor starts to the season have come as quite a surprise. Last weekend Fulham fought back for a good point against Manchester City, which they can use as a launching pad to their season, while West Brom will hope their poor performance at Swansea was a one-off. The pair meet at the Hawthorns on Saturday and I’d fancy the home advantage could be a telling factor.

Wigan Athletic’s season took a significant blow when Hugo Rodallega picked up an injury at Everton last week. They will always struggle to score goals, and they'd usually expect him to contribute between 10 and 15.

Saturday’s opponents Tottenham, meanwhile, appeared to have no difficulty finding the net in an irresistible display against Liverpool. Spurs have taken a while to find their stride, but they looked a top-four side in that demolition, and I expect them to do so again at the DW Stadium.

Another side who are improving are Queens Park Rangers, who have come on leaps and bounds since Neil Warnock began to assimilate his acquisitions into the side.

Saturday’s opponents Aston Villa will be pretty downcast having lost at home to Bolton with, if not a full strength side, then a strong side. You’d have to say Aston Villa have got a battle on to come away from Loftus Road with anything.

Monday evening’s match sees Steve Bruce take his Sunderland side, who finally have a win to their credit, back to face one of the teams he represented with some distinction as a player, Norwich City.

Nicklas Bendtner was a big plus for Sunderland last week. He looked the part, forced the own goal from Jonathan Woodgate and he led the line with a degree of aggression and conviction, which Sunderland had been lacking in the early weeks of the season while Asamoah Gyan was imitating a Premier League footballer.

Now that he’s gone I think Sunderland can kick on. I would expect them to do so at Norwich, despite the Canaries recording their first win of the season against Bolton. I think we’re going to see better things from Sunderland from here on in.

Jon Champion is a football commentator on ESPN, broadcaster of Barclays Premier League, FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Premier League, UEFA Europa League and more.