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English Premiership

United banking on Wigan

LONDON, May 7- Manchester United's hopes of a record 19th English title lie in the hands of an injury-depleted Wigan squad that has nothing left to play for and has avoided defeat away from home just twice this year.That will be how the gloomier sort of United fan views the prospect of Roberto Martinez’s side denying Chelsea, who have lost only twice at Stamford Bridge all season, the home victory they require to reclaim the Premier League trophy for the first time since 2006.

Red Devils of a more optimistic disposition will recall that Martinez has already masterminded a win over Chelsea this season while counting on an outbreak of last-minute jitters to frustrate Carlo Ancelotti’s men in their quest to ensure a silver-tinted finale to the Italian’s first season in English football.

Given the wealth of experience in a Chelsea squad that has won all six of their matches against United, Arsenal and Liverpool, that does not look like a likely scenario.

Since losing to Tottenham last month, Chelsea have knocked seven past Stoke and won at Liverpool, hardly the form of a team teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

"If at the beginning of the season someone had said we were going to play the last game at home and a win would win the league, I think everybody would have signed for it," acknowledged Petr Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper. "So we know what we have to do."

To take advantage of a Chelsea slip, the champions must beat Stoke at Old Trafford – in itself no straightforward task – and it has been apparent all week that United’s players are resigned to missing out on what would have been an unprecedented fourth consecutive title.

"It is very strange," recognised Edwin van der Sar. "In the last three years we have been in command. Now we have to wait.

"It is going to be difficult. We have lost a lot of games this year but we are still in there at the end. Hopefully Wigan will have a go for it on Sunday and we will hear some positive news."

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Club captain Gary Neville admitted that United have only themselves to blame for the position they find themselves in after a season in which five defeats before Christmas underlined the impact of the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.

"When you leave it in the hands of others you have to take the punishment for it," Neville said. "We hope that something happens on Sunday and we live in hope. But we will be kicking ourselves on Sunday if it doesn’t go our way. The mistakes we have made have been unusual. Hopefully we don’t live to regret it."

Wigan will be without Chris Kirkland, Titus Bramble and Marcelo Moreno through injury while Charles N’Zogbia is rated only a 50-50 shot to start at Stamford Bridge.

But Martinez is confident that his side, who have won plaudits for their thoughtful, passing style under the Spaniard, can derail Chelsea’s celebrations.

"We have got nothing to lose, but I can guarantee you that there is a belief in the squad that on the day we can compete with anyone, and that is the approach we are going to have," said Martinez. "We are going to go to Stamford Bridge to try to win the game."

Outside of the destination of the trophy, the only other unresolved issue is whether Arsenal can hold on to third place, which carries the significant prize of direct entry to the Champions League group stages.

Tottenham could overtake the Gunners if they beat Burnley and their north London rivals lose at home to Fulham.

For Peter Crouch, the Tottenham striker whose winner against Manchester City in midweek guaranteed a top four finish for Spurs, that would be "the icing on the cake" but the odds must be on Arsenal getting the point they need against a Fulham side that will be preoccupied by Wednesday’s Europa League final date with Atletico Madrid.

Ireland winger Damien Duff and top scorer Bobby Zamora will both miss the trip to the Emirates as they battle to be fit for the European final.

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Sunday (all 1500 GMT kick-offs)

Arsenal v Fulham, Aston Villa v Blackburn, Bolton v Birmingham, Burnley v Tottenham, Chelsea v Wigan, Everton v Portsmouth, Hull v Liverpool, Manchester United v Stoke, West Ham v Manchester City, Wolves v Sunderland

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