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Premier League set for frantic finale
Published : 13 May 2012 03:16:53
Manchester City will be bidding to be crowned champions of England for the first time in 44 years when they face relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers at Eastlands on Sunday.
But with second-placed champions Manchester United behind on goal difference alone, Roberto Mancini's expensively-assembled City side will be aware any slip-ups could see Sir Alex Ferguson's men, away to Sunderland, pip them at the post.
Meanwhile, places in the lucrative Champions League remain up for grabs, even if the Manchester duo have already snaffled the top two Premier League spots.
Arsenal will guarantee themselves automatic qualification for the group phase if they win at West Brom, while Newcastle, away to Everton, will hope Tottenham stumble at home to Fulham as they seek to leapfrog Harry Redknapp's side into fourth place.
But fourth spot, while usually securing a place in the preliminary round, won't be good enough for Champions League football next term if Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in this season's final.
At the bottom, Wolves and Blackburn may have already been relegated but the identity of the third team joining them in the second-tier Championship has still to be revealed.
Bolton Wanderers will start Sunday in the drop zone. They must win at Stoke City and hope QPR are beaten by City if they are to avoid demotion.
Should City beat QPR then, barring a stunning scoreline for United at Sunderland, that should see them to a first English title since 1968.
Although none of Mancini's men, nor indeed the Italian himself, have been associated with the club's long history of self-inflicted wounds, the City manager understands why fans remain nervous.
Nevertheless he was confident his team would not lose their nerve against a QPR side that have won away from home just three times this season.
"I trust them 100 percent," said Mancini. "They know they have everything in their hands.
"They work hard, they fight every game for one year and in this championship that is very hard. Now they have a big chance.
"We want to win for our supporters. They haven't won the title for nearly 50 years and live in a city where our 'cousins' win every year.
"I think that is really difficult for our supporters but now maybe people can be happy after Sunday."
Only a few weeks ago United were eight points in front and seemingly all but assured of keeping the trophy at Old Trafford.
They have though relinquished their grip in startling fashion and veteran United manager Ferguson, asked about the prospect of losing the title, admitted: "It would be our own fault. But we will analyse things when it is all over."
Meanwhile Ferguson could not resist one last attempt to destabilise City.
"On the face of it you expect City to win and so do I. But City have got to win. It's an enormous challenge for them because the disappointment of losing that game would be unbelievable."
Were City to take the title they would become only the fifth club to win the Premier League since its inception in 1992 following Manchester United, Blackburn, Arsenal and Chelsea.
"I think sometimes if there are other teams, not the usual teams - Manchester United, Chelsea - not like in the last few years, it is good for the championship," said Mancini.
Sunday's match has been given added spice by the fact QPR manager Mark Hughes was sacked by City in December 2009, paving the way for Mancini's appointment.
Hughes also made his name in English football as a striker at United.
But Hughes was adamant his main focus was in keeping west London side QPR, owned by Malaysian businessman and Formula One team boss Tony Fernandes, in the Premier League.
"People keep throwing that word (revenge) up but it's not in my mind at all," said Hughes.
Sunday's fixtures (1400GMT):
Chelsea v Blackburn Rovers, Everton v Newcastle United, Manchester City v QPR, Norwich City v Aston Villa, Stoke City v Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland v Manchester United, Swansea City v Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham, West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal, Wigan Athletic v Wolverhampton Wanderers.