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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 August, 2010, 12:00am

English Premier League title rivals Chelsea and Manchester United, having taken advantage of easy opening matches against promoted sides, will have to show something more this weekend when they travel to grounds that hold unhappy recent memories for them.

Chelsea go to Wigan, where they lost 3-1 last September in one of the more inexplicable results of a season that ultimately yielded the Double for Carlo Ancelotti's team.

United, meanwhile, are at Fulham, who won both home games against the Reds during Roy Hodgson's two full seasons at Craven Cottage.

Ancelotti was still learning the ropes in the Premier League when Wigan gave him a rude shock early last season, as they did later when Arsenal and Liverpool visited the JJB Stadium. Those results made Wigan one of the more unpredictable Premier League sides, liable to blow hot against the elite sides and cold against teams from a lower level.

Judging by their opening 4-0 home defeat by relegation favourites Blackpool, Wigan still have the capacity to go cold, which bodes ill for them because the likelihood is that last season's outstanding results against top teams will not be reproduced. A more accurate gauge of how Wigan stand against Chelsea is the 8-0 thrashing they received at Stamford Bridge in May, part of an alarming string of heavy defeats under Roberto Martinez.

Chelsea's defeat at Wigan was clearly a blip because, despite a midwinter run of away draws that at one point threatened to derail their title challenge, they did not lose on the road last season against any other team outside the top eight.

What Chelsea have to show tonight is that the draw tendency is well and truly behind them, as was suggested late last season by a finishing run of four wins in their last six away. One area where Chelsea went backwards slightly under Ancelotti last season was that they were a less bankable win proposition against bottom-half opponents, winning seven out of 10. The previous season, they had been a perfect 10 and the season before that they won nine and drew one of the 10.

When Chelsea did win away last season - 10 times in all - they did so with panache, scoring at least two goals each time and winning by at least a two-goal margin on seven occasions. Only once, however, did they beat a bottom-six team by a wide margin (5-0 at Portsmouth) and that must temper confidence in backing them in markets laden with expectations that they will score a hatful.

United will be relieved Hodgson has left Craven Cottage, but there are two good reasons for believing Fulham will pose problems again tomorrow. The main one is that Fulham have consistently proved capable of getting good home results, under a variety of managers, with eight wins against the big four in the past five seasons. And Mark Hughes, their new manager, knows what it takes to stop United on the road, having lost only one of his four home games against them during his reign at Blackburn Rovers. A draw is feasible and Fulham on the handicap is a decent bet.

The next four in the title betting after Chelsea and United all had to be content with draws on the opening weekend, mainly because they played each other. That is the case again for Manchester City and Liverpool, who meet at Eastlands on Monday night, but certainly Arsenal will expect to get on the winning trail at home to Blackpool.

Tottenham, too, could get off the mark at Stoke, where on form they have a decent chance at the odds. Every team expects a tough battle at the Britannia Stadium, but it is notable that Stoke became less effective at home to the top teams last season, which suggests their game plan had been rumbled.

Having won four and lost four of their 10 home games against top-half teams in their first season in the Premier League, Stoke won only one out of 10 last season and lost five.

One of the defeats was 2-1 against Tottenham, whose big improvement last season was on the road, where they won six and lost just three out of 12 against teams outside the top eight.

Arsenal, along with Chelsea, were one of only two teams with a perfect 10 at home to bottom-half teams last season and that suggests they should dispose easily of Blackpool. The Gunners look a good bet for a wide-margin win on the handicap.

Last season's encounters between Manchester City and Liverpool both ended all-square and that could be the outcome again on Monday, with Roy Hodgson likely to instil his defensive methods at his new club.

City are another team for whom victory would show they are making progress, as they have not beaten Liverpool home or away in the past five seasons.

Shortlist: Everton, Tottenham, Ipswich, Nottingham Forest, Marseille, Rennes, Auxerre, Lille

Top five bets

1 Tottenham away win

Only their looming Champions League decider tempers confidence

2 Ipswich away win

Continuing the play-off form they have shown for many months

3 Marseille home win

Champions look overpriced despite poor opening of title defence

4 Rennes home win

Have started well and home form is likely to be strong again

5 Lille away win

Draw specialists so far but this is a much easier task

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