Our reporters back both Manchester sides to maintain their 100 per cent records, while Swansea will have to wait another week to score their first Premier League goalOnly Chelsea recorded a victory in this week's European and League Cup fixtures, but that will all change again this weekend when the Premier League returns.
The fixture calender (with some help from Uefa and TV conglomerates) sees another blockbuster Sunday of football, with Tottenham locking horns with Liverpool before Chelsea travel north to face the free-flowing champions, with Wayne Rooney in arguably the form of his life for Manchester United.
With all 20 sides involved this weekend, here’s how our guys see the weekend’s action unfolding...
ROB STEWART says...
If he is going to keep his job, Steve Kean will have to be the type who thrives in the face of adversity because with 1,000 Rovers fans planning a pre-match protest outside Ewood Park, the stakes could not be higher.
The Rovers manager is clearly a man under intense pressure and if his side crumble against an Arsenal side who look far from convincing it is difficult to see the Scot failing to win the so-called Premier League sack race.
The former Fulham coach has not won over Rovers supporters since taking the helm following the sacking of Sam Allardyce last season and, as he searches for his first win of the campaign, disenchantment has been deepening.
Arsenal should be there for the taking because Arsene Wenger’s side still don’t look up to much compared to last season, even with their new recruits, and traditionally struggle when they travel to Lancashire.
The Gunners struggled to beat Swansea last weekend and their midweek exertions in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund should give Rovers a boost.
A stalemate is likely but if Mikel Arteta prospers for Arsenal and the hosts do lose in a hostile environment then Rovers’ Indian owners, Venky’s, could call time on Kean and give Mark Hughes the chance to resurrect his career.
LIAM TWOMEY says...
Aston Villa embarked upon the new season with many fans still angry about the decision to replace Gerard Houllier with former Birmingham City boss Alex McLeish, as well as the loss of key duo Ashley Young and Stewart Downing.
Newcastle, meanwhile, provoked the ire of their own supporters in the summer with the sales of club captain Kevin Nolan and full-back Jose Enrique, not to mention the failure to reinvest the £35 million received for Andy Carroll last January.
But rather than be consumed by pre-season predictions of doom and gloom, both sides have instead been inspired to prove the doubters wrong, going unbeaten in their first four league matches.
Both teams have founded their good early season form on a mean defence, so goals are unlikely to flow freely. Villa should come out on top, but only just.
SAM BISBY says...
Bolton will be looking for their first points on the board since their season opener, having lost every game since their 4-0 victory over QPR.
A valiant effort against Manchester City and a performance of stark contrast against Manchester United, with a less than impressive visit to Liverpool in between, has left them needing results and Owen Coyle’s side need to get their act together and overcome Norwich City to get their campaign back on track.
Paul Lambert meanwhile will have been pleased with what he’s seen from his team’s return to the Premier League, even if they are yet to record their first win of the season, and will be hoping to take all of the spoils in Saturday’s game, which should make it a close battle at the Reebok.
JONATHAN BIRCHALL says...
With Mikel Arteta and Charles N’Zogbia having moved on in the summer, there’s an argument to be made that both Everton and Wigan have lost their respective star players during the transfer window.
However, the beginning of the campaign has seen two youngsters, in Ross Barkley and Victor Moses, offer indications that their departures won’t have too detrimental an effect on the two clubs.
Having seen Barkley deliver a sparkling performance in Everton’s pre-season friendly with Villarreal, I’m looking forward to seeing if the 17-year-old, described by some as a potential world-beater, step up to the plate in the Premier League.
Great things were also expected of Moses following his move to the Latics from Crystal Palace in January 2010 and now, aged 20, the forward looks ready to finally fulfil his indubitable potential.
A blistering performance from either starlet could not only secure the three points, but also light up Goodison Park.
CHRIS TEALE says...
Having not scored a goal in the Premier League yet this season, Swansea find themselves in 19th place, just one point above bottom club Blackburn.
The Swans have played some attractive football and have been praised in many quarters for their style of play, but their lack of finishing has seen them punished numerous times, and lone striker and record signing Danny Graham is struggling to shoulder the goalscoring responsibility alone.
In contrast, West Brom have impressed so far this season as they look to establish themselves firmly in the Premier League, and in Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie they have one of the most exciting strike partnerships in the top flight.
Despite any potential defensive frailties with the suspension of Gabriel Tamas, the Baggies should still have too much for the Swans, and a continued lack of attacking support for Graham will see them struggle.
IAN MURPHY says...
He may be wearing hoops instead of black-and-white strips, but the Wolves faithful will not forget Joey Barton.
Mick McCarthy's men appeared to target the controversial midfielder when his former side Newcastle visited Molineux last season – a game that finished with no fewer than 12 yellow cards being brandished, seven of them to Wolves players.
Karl Henry has built up a fierce reputation around these parts, and his bone-crunching battle with Neil Warnock's newly named captain in the centre of the park could prove crucial to deciding which way the game goes.
Although both sides have quality in their ranks, with the lively Matt Jarvis expected to return for Wolves and the talented Adel Taarabt at the heart of QPR's forward play, it may be wise to expect more bookings than goals in a game where both sides will fancy their chances of picking up all three points.
ANDREW KENNEDY says...
Sunday's clash has been earmarked as a telling fixture for both side's prospects this season, with Tottenham's success at keeping the core of their squad intact throughout the transfer window arguably just as crucial as the heavy investment seen at Anfield.
Harry Redknapp's decision to rest the majority of his first team for Thursday's Europa League tie will ensure his side aren't at risk of burnout, whilst defeat for Liverpool may see Kenny Dalglish's refereeing excuses begin to wear thin.
With both teams boasting a multitude of attacking options, expect there to be goals at White Hart Lane. Liverpool's summer signings have settled in relatively quickly on Merseyside, with Jordan Henderson gradually finding his feet and Stewart Downing joining Luis Suarez as part of a fluid forward threat.
Yet if Emmanuel Adebayor can exploit the ageing Jamie Carragher, who once again appears to be on the fringe of demise, the home side can emerge victorious.
| Manchester City
JOE DOYLE says...
The title challengers should have more than enough squad depth to cope with playing Champions League football every week, but it'll be interesting to see if the draw with Napoli has taken the wind out of their sails.
Personally, I'm hoping to see David Silva at Craven Cottage, and you can guarantee that the visitors will be dangerous whoever plays in attack. It will be also fascinating to see whether Roberto Mancini reinstates Kolo Toure to the starting line-up after was left on the bench following his return from a drugs ban.
Martin Jol faces a tough choice in whether to play new signing Bryan Ruiz from the start, but he could be a wildcard from the bench.
Unfortunately for the home team, I really can't see beyond an away win after last week's performance against Blackburn, where they seemed to come unstuck near the opponent's penalty area.
SIMON SINCLAIR says...
Steve Bruce is under extreme pressure as his Sunderland side are yet to win a game this season.
He will now have do this without record signing Asamoah Gyan, who has left the Stadium of Light to go on loan to United Arab Emirates side Al-Ain.
Bruce will now have to rely on Nicklas Bendtner, Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won to fire his team up the table and away from the drop zone.
It’ll be interesting to see how long the crowd will support the Black Cats, especially if they fall behind early as they have been known to turn on the team in the past.
Stoke will be on a high and are in great form after beating Liverpool last week but could be drained after their exploits in Ukraine, so Tony Pulis could ring the changes, which could benefit the home side.
Sunderland struggled with the Potters' physical play at the Britannia Stadium last season but remain unbeaten against them in the Premier League at the Stadium of Light, so I’m backing them to continue this record.
| Manchester United
GREG STOBART says...
I was at Old Trafford when Javier Hernandez scored after 36 seconds in the corresponding fixture last season – and it was possibly the loudest noise I've ever heard in a football stadium.
The Mexican's partnership with Wayne Rooney was too much for Chelsea to handle last term and it will be interesting to see how Andre Villas-Boas sets up the Blues in his first game against Manchester United.
The Portuguese manager's instinct is to attack the opposition but United are in rampant form at the moment and Chelsea will surely look to play on the counter. I think John Obi Mikel – or whoever plays in the midfield holding role – will be vital to the outcome of the match and will be tasked with keeping Rooney quiet.
The Londoners have been written off by many this season and this is a chance for them to show us their title credentials.
But I don't think they will be able to take it. Teams are arriving at Old Trafford at the moment beaten psychologically before they've kicked a ball and United are just too fluid in attack. The hosts' team will more or less pick itself and with Rooney entering the game on the back of two hat-tricks in successive games, they will be too strong.
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A good weekend for Jonathan Birchall, Rob Stewart and Wayne Veysey, with all three predicting the exact scoreline from their matches, while Greg Stobart correctly backed Manchester United to win again.