Wayne Rooney is set to hand Manchester United a massive boost by declaring himself fit to take part in this weekend’s dramatic finale to an exhilarating Premier League title battle.
Rooney has been sidelined since suffering a recurrence of a hip injury in last month’s defeat at Chelsea and there had been fears he would miss both the final day of the domestic campaign and the Champions League final against the Londoners in Moscow on May 21.
But the forward has reportedly been flying around in training this week, bolstering morale in a United squad that is also expecting to welcome centreback Nemanja Vidic back to the fold.
For the first time in 40 years, the top two sides in England’s top flight go into the final day of the season on the same total of points.
But United’s huge goal difference advantage over Chelsea means Rooney and co. will be crowned champions provided they overcome a Wigan side with only pride left to play for after securing their own Premiership status.
After displaying remarkable tenacity in clinging on to United in the last two months, Chelsea’s hopes of a third title in four seasons hinge on them beating Bolton at home while hoping that Wigan put up a bit more resistance than West Ham, who surrendered meekly at Old Trafford last weekend.
Steve Bruce’s side are unbeaten in their last five matches and have conceded only once in their last seven home games. “We have seven clean sheets in our last 11 league games and we’re looking for one more,” vowed Austrian defender Paul Scharner.
United however have won all five of the league meetings between the two clubs since Wigan arrived in the top flight and England midfielder Owen Hargreaves is confident there will be no shock stumble at the last hurdle.
“We’ve worked so hard all season,” Hargreaves said. “We’ll go out on the pitch on Sunday and give everything we have for 90 minutes.
“At the start of the season if somebody had offered us one game, just 90 minutes, to win the league, we would have jumped at that. We’re in a good position.
“As long as we’re controlling our destiny I don’t think we need worry too much. We are full of confidence.”
Chelsea leftback Ashley Cole has warned his team-mates they must not become discarded by events at the JJB Stadium.
“It would be a killer if we drop points and they only drew, it would hurt us more,” Cole said. “Anything can happen in football. Wigan got a draw at our place but first we have to win our game because it won’t be worth anything if we don’t.
“Bolton will be coming to us wanting to win the game even though they’re safe. I know some of their players and they will definitely want to get a result against us.”
With Arsenal and Liverpool already assured of third and fourth places in the table, Everton need a point at home to Newcastle to secure fifth spot and direct entry to next season’s UEFA Cup.
A defeat would give Aston Villa the opportunity to snatch that prize provided Martin O’Neill’s side beat West Ham at Upton Park.
At the bottom, two teams from the trio of Fulham, Reading and Birmingham will join Derby in the Championship next season.
After back-to-back wins, Fulham are the best-placed to survive but have arguably the toughest last-day fixture, away to FA Cup finalists Portsmouth.
In contrast, Birmingham, who are at home to Blackburn, and Reading, who visit Derby, will both believe they can pull off wins that might just be enough to ensure they can do it all again next season.
Sunday’s Fixtures (1400 GMT kick-offs)
Birmingham v Blackburn, Chelsea v Bolton, Derby v Reading, Everton v Newcastle, Middlesbrough v Manchester City, Portsmouth v Fulham, Sunderland v Arsenal, Tottenham v Liverpool, West Ham v Aston Villa, Wigan v Manchester Utd
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