Frank Lampard promised he would be back at Chelsea as a supporter after his tenure as interim manager ends on Sunday.

His side host Newcastle looking to give Lampard the first home win of his second spell in charge, and help the club’s record goalscorer sign off on a relative high after losing eight of his 10 games.

The former midfielder, who won three Premier League titles and the Champions League during his 13 years as a player in west London, did not return to Stamford Bridge after he was sacked as manager in January 2021 until April of this year to witness the team’s goalless draw against Liverpool.

That came two days after ex-boss Graham Potter was sacked 31 games into a five-year contract, and within days Lampard had been installed as temporary boss while the club searched for a permanent successor.

The 44-year-old insisted that it was only circumstances that had kept him away – the period coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic and his 12 months spent managing Everton – and that his visit for the Liverpool game, which he watched from the box of co-owner Todd Boehly, had been planned for weeks.

It was later reported that Lampard had been touted as a possible interim candidate by club officials several weeks earlier when Potter was seriously on the ropes after a run of poor results.

The game against Newcastle will round off a campaign that cannot come soon enough for fans after enduring comfortably the team’s worst season in 30 years.

Nevertheless, Lampard was hopeful of giving them something positive to take into the summer as he prepared to make his third exit from the club.

“I don’t want this to sound corny but I don’t feel like it is a goodbye,” said Lampard.

“I appreciate it, it will be end of season and end of my time back but normally when you leave a club you don’t have a hurrah as a manager. You are in one day out the next and that’s fine.

“This is the corny part, I will never feel like I am saying goodbye to the fans. My career as a player and as a coach first time around and this period and it is there.

“I live close enough to the stadium and I will be back at Chelsea many times and when you take on a managerial career it doesn’t mean you will be at a club you had 13 years at as a player forever.

“I’m quite calm about it and not too nostalgic about it but certainly do appreciate the fans’ support on Sunday. More than anything I would love to give them a performance to take away for the summer and feel a bit more positive about for sure.”

Lampard could again turn to Chelsea’s young prospects against Newcastle with a number of first-team players unavailable.

Reece James, N’Golo Kante and Benoit Badiashile have all played their final game of the campaign while Lampard was doubtful whether Mason Mount will be fit to make what could be a farewell appearance at Stamford Bridge.

Raheem Sterling is also a doubt after injuring a hamstring in the defeat to Manchester City.

The loss of James has been a particular blow for Lampard during his brief stay, with the England defender having been the standout performer this season as the team has struggled.

He was ruled out of the rest of the campaign after injuring a thigh in the Champions League home defeat to Real Madrid.

“(Reece) came out (to train on Wednesday) and went back in but because he had a little bit of an awareness but we hope the scan will show there is no real damage,” said Lampard. “It was just a little reminder that it is a bit too early to be out.”

Ruben Selles hopes relegated Southampton can go out on a high when they bid farewell to the Premier League against Liverpool on Sunday.

A wretched campaign full of poor decisions meant Saints knew their 11-year stay in the Premier League was over with two games to spare.

Southampton are on a winless 12-match run and have lost their last five on the bounce, with Swansea boss Russell Martin lined up as manager as they prepare for life in the Championship.

Selles hopes his last match in charge ends with a positive result on Sunday, which could also see homegrown skipper James Ward-Prowse make an emotional farewell.

“I think you need to choose in which mode you are every day,” Selles said of the atmosphere at St Mary’s on Sunday. “I think the fans need to do the same.

“I know, I understand the disappointment of the season but, as you say, it can be the sun shining and then a big opponent, last game in St Mary’s in the Premier League this year.

“We will not have for at least one more year and I think it’s a good opportunity to go on a journey together and try to make a good football match.

“I thank our fans for being supportive in one of the hardest seasons that they had in the last 12 years.

“Hopefully we can have a good environment on Sunday and then we can make something together.”

Perhaps boosting Saints’ chance of a shock is the fact Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool know they cannot reach the Champions League and will finish fifth after Manchester United beat Chelsea on Thursday.

“It’s always a tricky question because I know Jurgen (Klopp) said that he will make some changes in the line-up probably,” he said.

“It’s a situation with less pressure than if they were playing from the Champions League, of course.

“But sometimes less pressure means more freedom and sometimes more freedom (helps), and they can go in both directions, so it’s just a different game.”

The match could see academy products Theo Walcott and Mohamed Elyounoussi play their last games for Saints given their contracts expire in the summer.

Che Adams, Mohammed Salisu, Armel Bella-Kotchap and Juan Larios are out through injury, while ineffective January signing Paul Onuachu is a doubt with a back problem.

But there could be some positives to hold onto, with teenagers Kamari Doyle and Dom Ballard pushing for game time after making their league debuts last weekend.

Talented full-back Tino Livramento could also get some time off the bench after ending his 392-day injury lay-off when coming on for 20 minutes at Brighton.

“Tino will not play from the start due to his time restriction,” Selles said.

“He can play at least the same amount of minutes as he did against Brighton.”

Eddie Howe has vowed to adopt a siege mentality once again as Newcastle prepare for a first Champions League campaign in 20 years.

The Magpies have dragged themselves from the thick of a Premier League relegation fight when the club’s new owners took control in October 2021 to Europe’s top table in the space of a remarkable 19 months.

They have done so with the help of a £250million-plus investment, provided in large part by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which holds an 80 per cent stake, and the source of that wealth has prompted concerted criticism, with human rights campaign group Amnesty International in particular voicing concerns over “sportswashing”.

That focus is only likely to increase as they strengthen further before taking to the European stage, but head coach Howe has insisted his mission will not be derailed as a result.

He said: “We’ve been used to that from day one, to be honest. There’s been that feeling that popularity-wise, I don’t think we’re high up on people’s lists for various reasons.

“You accept that, I’ve got no issue with that and almost we’ve tried to use that for our benefit and for our gain, really.

“I’ve said we’re not here to be popular, we don’t care, really, about outside opinion. We very much care about inside opinion, we care about what the people of Newcastle think of us and what our supporters think.

“We’ve tried to act in the right way and make them proud, that’s been our biggest focus.”

Newcastle will bring down the curtain on a season which has delivered far more than they might have expected back in August at Chelsea on Sunday, where they will face a club which has spent around £600million since Todd Boehly completed his takeover last summer, but will end the campaign in the bottom half of the table.

That tends to suggest that money alone is not the key to success, and the way Howe has blended his new arrivals with the players he inherited and has since improved markedly has been equally, if not more important.

Asked if he regretted the focus on finance, the 45-year-old said: “I don’t really take it personally as in my achievement because it’s not really my achievement, it’s the achievement of the players who have committed to this season and what they’ve given. That would hurt me for them.

“I think the players deserve huge credit individually for some of the seasons that they’ve delivered and collectively for what they’ve done.

“I’ve said many times sitting here, it’s not about money. Money has played a part, it’s been a contributing factor, of course it has.

“But we’ve seen teams up and down the Premier League spend similar amounts of money and not have the success and not be as consistent as we have.”

Sam Allardyce said Leeds chairman Andrea Radrizzani was “hugely frustrated and disappointed” as the club stand on the brink of relegation.

The Premier League concludes on Sunday and Leeds must beat Tottenham at Elland Road while hoping relegation rivals Everton and Leicester both drop points in their final games.

Majority shareholder Radrizzani boldly declared last summer that another relegation battle was “impossible” after Leeds had survived on the final day with victory at Brentford.

But the odds of pulling off another great escape are even bigger this time round and Allardyce said: “He’s hugely frustrated and disappointed.

“He didn’t expect at the start of the season that the club would be in this position.

“He didn’t expect he would have to employ three managers to get out of this position. He’s hugely frustrated.

“The only way you sort that out is at the end of the season, have a look at the whole structure of the football club, and do whatever needs to be done.

“But in the meantime the only focus is one big game, one massive game for the players and for us all in controlling the destiny of Leeds, only by winning and hoping that other people lose.

“It’s not what we wanted, but it’s the position we’re in.”

Radrizzani is reported to be part of a consortium poised to complete a takeover of Italian club Sampdoria, in partnership with Paris St Germain owners Qatari Sports Investments.

The Italian, who turned to Allardyce with four games left in a last-ditch bid to retain Leeds’ top-flight status, is expected to expedite the sale of his remaining shares to 49ers Enterprises.

The financial arm of NFL franchise the San Francisco 49ers increased its stake in the club to 44 per cent at the end of 2021 and has an option to own 100 per cent by January next year.

Allardyce has taken one point from his three games in charge since becoming Leeds’ third manager of the season.

Marcelo Bielsa’s successor Jesse Marsch was sacked in February and his replacement Javi Gracia lasted 11 league games before he too was dismissed.

Allardyce, open to talks about staying in the role whatever Sunday’s outcome, said: “We’ll try and take advantage of the fact we’ve still got a small window of opportunity open.

“On the balance of where we are, there are two completely different avenues where the club goes down.

“You can pencil things in, but the only way you can put it in ink is whether you’re in the Premier League or you’re not.”

Allardyce invited in Leeds great Eddie Gray, plus former captains Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister for inspirational talks with his players this week.

The former England boss added: “They had very successful times here and I think on the mentality side it’s about improving our mentality to deliver.

“So somebody speaking a different voice about football, about what they did at this club, how much they love this club, I think is really important.”

Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper is at a loss as to how Roy Hodgson has been able to navigate a near 50-year career in management.

Cooper comes up against the former England manager on Sunday as Forest close their Premier League season with a trip to Crystal Palace.

The pair were colleagues together at the Football Association as Cooper was in charge of the England Under-16s and 17s while Hodgson was the senior team boss.

And Cooper is full of admiration for his 75-year-old counterpart.

He said: “We have got to play Crystal Palace. We really want to end well. It’s not under the scrutiny of last week, (but) we should want to win every game that we play and Palace are going really well.

“What a job Roy Hodgson has done, an incredible man and an incredible career. Having done management for a couple of years to think of the longevity he has had is just something I have got so much admiration for.

“I don’t know how he has done it. I have got a huge amount of respect for him.”

Forest travel to Selhurst Park knowing their top-flight status is secure following last weekend’s win over Arsenal.

The City Ground club prepared for this season in haphazard fashion with a flurry of signings and Cooper says Forest need a “productive” off-season.

“What we do know now from this season is what it takes to compete at this level. We’ve got to maximise the opportunity we’ve given ourselves by staying in the league to improve,” Cooper said.

“June is a really important month for that.

“For me, as the days have gone by, it’s turned into motivation about how we have to improve. After Sunday, we need to have a really productive off-season.

“The players will rest and a lot of the staff around the players will rest, and rightly so, they need to do that. But we need to be busy in the off-season in really trying to continue to improve the club to what we want it to be, and that’s being able to really operate at a high standard in the Premier League.”

Jamaica’s young Reggae Girlz chances of securing an historic FIFA Women’s Under-20 World Cup berth were dented by a 4-0 defeat to Canada in their opening Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championships Group A fixture at the Felix Sanchez Stadium in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on Friday.

A brace from Anabelle Chukwu (39th and 45th) and one each from leading scorer Olivia Smith (56th) and substitute Renee Watson (90+4), made the points safe for the Canadians, who take an early lead in the group.

Reigning seven-time champions United States were leading Panama 3-0 at half-time in the second group contest at the same venue.

Canada could have won by a wider margin, had it not been for some excellent glove work by captain Liya Brooks in goal, as the Young Reggae Girlz, who were expected to use their pace and athleticism to good effect, offered very little resistance, both in defence and even more so on the attacking front.

This as the North Americans comfortably dominated possession, as they showed quality both on and off the ball and were fluent in their transitions from defence to attack.

Besides a couple of early warning shots, the young Reggae Girlz never really bothered Canada’s Faith Fenwick, who had a fairly relaxed day between the sticks.

After the Jamaicans were forced to pull Tiny Seaton, who came out worse in a head collision with teammate Njeri Lewis in the 36th minute, Canada capitalized on the weakened defensive line and broke the deadlock when Chukwu muscled her way into the 18-yard box to easily fire past Brooks.

The powerfully built Chukwu later grabbed a second when she dispossessed Destiny Powell and made no mistakes in a one-on-one situation with Brooks, to put Canada 2-0 up at the break.

Canada maintained their momentum on the resumption and should have extended the lead four minutes in when Amanda Allen found Chukwu deep inside the six-yard box. But the striker, sporting the number nine jersey, steered her left-footer wide from point blank range.

However, they made amends in the 56th through a nicely worked team build-up which ended with Captain Florianne Jourde laying off a pass for Smith, who drove a right-footed effort to Brooks’ weaker left side.

With space opened up for Canada’s attackers to do as they please, Jourde tried her range in the 62nd minute with a stinging left-footer from about 20 yards out, but the effort was equally well-saved by Brooks diving full-stretch to her right.

Another shot from a distance followed soon after, this time from the left foot with that effort having Brooks beaten but came back off the crossbar.

Brooks, who has been the understudy of senior Reggae Girlz counterparts Rebecca Spencer and Sydney Schneider in recent times, again came up big to deny Kayla Briggs’ 73rd-minute shot from close range.

However, a lapse in concentration by the defence opened the door for Canada to add another when Nyah Rose laid off a pass for the arriving Watson to finish with aplomb in time added.

With only two teams to progress from the group, the young Reggae Girlz task will be even more difficult as their next assignment will be the United States on Sunday. They will then close against Panama on May 30.

Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and host nation Dominican Republic will decide Group B.

The two finalists and third-place team will represent the confederation at next year’s Under-20 World Cup.

Valencia have had their partial stadium closure reduced to three matches and their fine cut to 27,000 euros following the racist abuse of Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior by fans.

The Spanish Football Federation appeals committee said that it had decided to “partially uphold” Valencia’s appeal.

It means the partial closure of the Mestalla Stadium has come down from five matches, with an initial 45,000 euros (£39,000) punishment reduced by 18,000 euros.

Vinicius threatened to leave the pitch in the second half of Real Madrid’s LaLiga match against Valencia on Sunday after being subjected to alleged monkey chants from the crowd and Madrid, who said the abuse constituted a “hate crime”, filed a complaint with the Spanish State Attorney General’s Office.

Valencia had 10 working days to file an appeal to the appeals committee.

LaLiga players and officials called for racism to be tackled in Spain in the wake of Sunday’s match.

Before Tuesday night’s games between Real Valladolid and Barcelona, and Celta Vigo and Girona, players from both sides, as well as the match officials, stood behind banners which read “Racism, out of football”.

Vinicius was set to serve a two or three-match ban after being sent off at Valencia, but Spain’s competition committee – a body formed by one member from LaLiga, one from the Spanish Sports Council (CSD) and one from RFEF (Spanish FA) – has rescinded that red card.

LaLiga, meanwhile, said it would request greater jurisdiction to punish clubs whose fans were guilty of racist abuse after feeling “powerless” at the lack of current sanctions in the wake of the latest Vinicius incident.

According to the country’s law, LaLiga can currently only identify and report incidents, and punishment is rarely handed out.

Four people were arrested in Spain on Tuesday under suspicion of hanging an effigy of Vinicius off a bridge in January.

An inflatable doll dressed in a Vinicius shirt was hung from the railings with a banner that read ‘Madrid hates Real Madrid’ ahead of Real’s Copa del Rey game with city rivals Atletico at the start of the year.

And Spanish police confirmed on Tuesday that four suspects had been apprehended.

Partick Thistle manager Kris Doolan declared they would attack the cinch Premiership play-off final with the same mentality that has seen them score 16 goals in four games.

The Jags set up a two-legged final against Kilmarnock or Ross County with a 5-0 semi-final second-leg victory over 10-man Ayr at Somerset Park.

Looking ahead to next Thursday’s first leg, Doolan said: “They are Premiership sides for a reason but we have a one-track mentality, we want to go up.

“We haven’t limped into the play-offs, we have not sat back and absorbed pressure, we have been the team in the ascendancy. That won’t change in the final.”

A double from Scott Tiffoney and goals from Jack McMillan, Steven Lawless and Kevin Holt completed an 8-0 aggregate victory.

Doolan said: “It’s a statement of what we’re capable of. To score five goals in a play-off game under the pressure that comes was brilliant to watch.

“We’ve got stronger as these games have gone on and we spoke about that.

“I’ve been on the other side of it as a Premiership side when you’re used to losing games and you come up against a Championship side who are used to winning. We’ve built a winning environment here.

“We will rest up and be ready for the next challenge ahead and come into it confident.”

Ayr’s top goalscorer Dipo Akinyemi was sent off in the 25th minute after lashing out at Aaron Muirhead and appearing to catch the defender’s chin with his forearm.

“I’ve not seen it so I am being careful not to comment on it but I felt there was a foul on him prior to that and he has reacted,” said Ayr manager Lee Bullen, who bemoaned defensive errors over the two legs.

“But you can’t react and you can’t lift your hands. By the letter of the law he probably does go but if he gets the foul in the first place he maybe doesn’t raise his hands.”

Meanwhile, Bullen was in the dark over rumours that Dundee had approached Ayr for permission to speak to him over their vacant managerial position.

“I have not heard a dickie bird,” he said.

“Nothing at all, absolutely nothing at all. I have got a job to do at Ayr, we are still in the early parts of that, building a story at Ayr United and I have genuinely not heard a thing from Dundee at all.”

Ryan Mason insists Tottenham are still a “big club” and an attractive proposition for managers despite the ongoing search for a new head coach.

Spurs saw another contender to permanently replace Antonio Conte exit the running this week after Feyenoord boss Arne Slot committed his long-term future to the Eredivisie club before he signed a new deal on Friday.

Tottenham held an interest in Slot but the PA news agency understands no direct discussions with the 44-year-old took place.

Mason is under no illusions the top job at Spurs remains desirable.

“It is Tottenham Hotspur, it is a big club. Not just for managers or coaches, but for staff members, for players,” Spurs’ acting head coach said before Sunday’s trip to Leeds.

“Anyone here should feel the privilege and honour to represent the badge. If they don’t, then they shouldn’t be here. It is as simple as that.

“Maybe these people (like Slot) you might be mentioning, I don’t know who because I’ve not been looking at the press, but if their name is out there, they are not exactly moving themselves away from it. They know it is a big club.

“They know if Tottenham and their name is being linked, it is a massive positive for them.

“It is a big club, we know it is. Every manager and every coach knows it is a big club, players do, fans do.

“You can really feel it when you are here, when you are in our stadium. This will stay a big club and will be attractive for whoever is in charge next season.

“I am sure players as well will want to come here.

When Conte left his position on March 26 Tottenham were firmly in the race for Champions League qualification, but they travel to relegation-threatened Leeds on Sunday with only a faint chance of securing a place in the Europa Conference League.

Mason insisted that, while European football for next season is crucial, the most important task for the club is to put a plan in place.

“Obviously it has its implications and it’s not where the football club wants to be. We definitely want to be competing in Europe,” the 31-year-old stated.

“Any European competition is important for a club this size but at the same time the most important thing, regardless of whether we’re in or out of Europe, is that there is a plan and there is commitment from everyone to that going forward.”

During the last few weeks, Mason has repeatedly referenced the need for commitment at the club without going into specifics.

Even before Conte departed two months ago, the future of the Italian was uncertain with his deal set to expire this summer anyway.

Mason again refused to be drawn on whether any coaches, players or members of staff had lacked commitment this season, but admitted the squad had been affected by the turmoil off the pitch.

He added: “The results before he (Conte) left weren’t amazing. I don’t think results have dipped a huge amount.

“Obviously we were in a different position but I think you could feel it, you could feel it the weeks leading up to it there was uncertainty and it’s never great to have that uncertainty.

“We’ve probably been in that situation for the last eight weeks where there’s been a lot of uncertainty.

“That is why one of my main things when me and my team of people came in, I wanted to create a togetherness and make us feel part of something towards the end of the season.”

Julen Lopetegui admits the uncertainly surrounding his future cannot be allowed to drag on.

The former Real Madrid manager’s long-term future at Molineux has been in the spotlight.

Financial fair play regulations will impact the club’s spending power this summer and Lopetegui has previously said he only discovered the constraints last week.

He has been calling for investment since securing Premier League safety and the manager will continue to speak to chairman Jeff Shi about what backing he will receive – but knows there needs to be a quick resolution.

He said: “I hope – we will see.

“I want to solve the problems. Maybe me or the club aren’t able to solve them 100 per cent, but I think we have to try, for our fans, for our club, for our history and for our future.

“If we want to be demanding in the future we have to demand now with ourselves and with this summer.

“I have a contract and I’ve been here for six months. I’m very happy here and I hope I can continue being happy here.

“But we have a problem and we must be honest and look each other in the eyes to try to solve the problems.

“Maybe not 100 per cent, but maybe 80 per cent, who knows?

“This is all. About my future, I have a contract and we will see what is going to happen, This is football, we don’t know.

“We have to talk, it’s not about one or two days. We have to talk about the solution and the future to be able to have a squad ready to compete again.

“This year has been a wake-up call. We have to learn why it has happened and to overcome and make our homework this summer. It’s not about one or two days. We need a clear picture.

“It’s important to have the squad ready. Maybe not 100 per cent of players but maybe 90 per cent. For me it’s very important, to have the squad ready to start working with us on July 1.”

Wolves to go Arsenal for Sunday’s Premier League finale and Joao Moutinho will not feature and is likely to have played his last game for the club as he is out of contract in the summer.

Sasa Kalajdzic (knee) is out while Lopetegui himself is banned from the touchline for collecting four yellow cards.

He added: “On Sunday we have an important match because it’s the last of the season. They have been very close to winning the Premier League and will want to make a good match in front of their fans. We have to be ready to compete with them.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp does not believe Mohamed Salah will be looking for an escape route in search of Champions League football.

Writing on social media after Manchester United’s win over Chelsea on Thursday consigned Liverpool to the Europa League next season, the Egypt forward said he was “devastated” and there was “absolutely no excuse” for not finishing in the Premier League’s top four.

Last summer the 30-year-old signed a new contract, making him the highest-paid player in the club’s history, but even if next term goes to plan and they regain their place in the Champions League he will be close to entering the final 12 months of that deal.

Asked whether he was concerned about Salah’s immediate future after his rare public statement, Klopp said: “No worries, no. I only heard what he said but I couldn’t read anything that could lead in that direction.

“Obviously Mo loves being here and Mo was part of it. He said apologies for what ‘we’ did – not apologies for ‘what the other guys did, but I had to go with them’. It is all fine.

“If ever a player would come to me and said, ‘oh, we didn’t qualify for the Champions League, I have to leave’, I would drive him to the other club myself.

“I would take the key, (and say) ‘come in the car, where do you want to go, I drive you’.

“That would be something I never could understand. It is, I would say, ‘oh, we didn’t qualify for the Champions League, I need to work in the Champions League so I go’.”

Klopp said if that was a mentality he accepted he too would be looking to leave.

“I am responsible for this mess, or whatever, so you cannot go in these moments,” he added.

“It is not the case with Mo, not at all, and nobody else told me. They ask if they can have a longer holiday or whatever – but nobody asks me if after the holiday they have to come back.

“So that was not in our conversation.

“I saw him now in the canteen and he was smiling. I don’t know for which reason as I didn’t ask him, but he is not in a bad mood. That’s it.

“We didn’t point fingers at each other. That’s all good. If you don’t qualify for the Champions League, the best place you can possibly end up is fifth, so that’s what we did.

“If you’d have asked me 10 games ago if that was possible, I’d have said no. That the boys did that is really good but it’s not perfect.

“We didn’t end up fifth because of the last 10 games, we ended up there because of the lack of consistency before that.

“We didn’t deliver what everybody wanted or expected but we are still really united, that’s the good thing about it.”

Failure to qualify for the Champions League is set to cost Liverpool at least £50million next season but there may be implications in the shorter term as UEFA’s second-tier competition is likely to be less attractive to leading players.

The club have already pulled out of the running for primary target Jude Bellingham after the asking price for the Borussia Dortmund midfielder became prohibitive, and reports this week suggested Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount’s preferred destination is Manchester United.

Klopp is keen to get his business done early and is hopeful finishing fifth will not put a spanner in the works of their planning.

“I don’t think so but we will see. That is obviously possible, it’s always possible things don’t go as quick as you want. It’s not only possible, it is probably likely,” he added ahead of Sunday’s final match of the season at Southampton.

“The better the players you want the lesser is the desire of the other club to let him go and that’s exactly what we are prepared for.

“But it’s a long window and a long pre-season and a long break in-between so we have time. If we get in players tomorrow or in six or seven weeks it is not a game-changer for me to be honest.

“In an ideal world they all sign tomorrow and I can tell them when to be here and we can start giving them the plans for the summer break but that will not likely happen.”

Mikel Arteta praised the influence of Granit Xhaka in helping Arsenal carve out their surprise title challenge this season but would not be drawn on whether the midfielder will still be at the club next season.

Xhaka has been a key figure alongside Thomas Partey in Arteta’s midfield this campaign, becoming a respected leadership presence and redeeming himself in the eyes of supporters after a public spat in 2019 threatened his place in the squad.

Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen have been heavily linked with a move for the 30-year-old, whose contract is due to expire at the end of next season.

He spent four years in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach before Arsene Wenger brought him to Arsenal in 2016 for around £30million, but he endured a strained relationship with fans culminating in a confrontation as he was substituted during a game against Crystal Palace at the Emirates four years ago.

Then manager Unai Emery subsequently stripped him of the captaincy and his time at the club looked to be over.

But this season has seen a full rehabilitation for the Switzerland international as Arsenal ran Manchester City to the final weeks of the season for the title and returned to the Champions League after a six-year absence.

“For me (he’s been) crucial – really, really important at every level, and I think for the team and the club as well,” said Arteta, who said he would not comment on the futures of any of his side until after Sunday’s Premier League finale against Wolves.

“In the great moments like this season he has had, and in the difficult ones, because I think we have become a better club and better people and we have understood certain situations much better than just judging them.

“I think the club and a lot of people have done really good to dig in there to understand what happened emotionally and why those reactions were happening.

“Having the courage to say, ‘OK, turn around to the situation, face it’. There’s going to be a moment of doubt but if you believe in what you’re doing and you go face-to-face and you say what you feel, normally things work out pretty well.

“When you look how he behaved. We have some others who are absolutely a joy for those boys, the way they treat them. And he has an honest and unique willingness to help them. It’s not an act, it’s genuine.

“It makes the difference. We have four or five in that dressing room who have been critical for these players to grow, to have the right support, to inspire them and in the right moment to challenge them when it’s necessary to get them in the right direction when they are tempted to go somewhere else. You need that in that dressing room.”

Arteta said he would take the time to recharge himself after a draining campaign in which Arsenal led the table for 248 days before slipping away, a record for any side that has failed to win the title.

The team were eight points clear as recently as early April before a string of draws against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton weakened their advantage, allowing Manchester City to finally overtake them with a thumping 4-1 win at the Etihad.

The manager predicted the challenge will be even tougher if Arsenal aim to prevent City from winning a record fourth-straight crown, but planned to switch off from football for a period over the close season.

“I have the necessary energy to go into the last game and really feel again that connection, play well, win the game and finish the season in the right way,” he said.

“Then I have another kind of energy without that being so physical and so demanding and being there every single day but to have the time to think as well; to plan what we want to do, to try execute it, but to recharge my batteries as well next to my family, next to my friends, on a beautiful beach just not thinking about football.

“It’s very important (to be able to switch off). Me personally I have to get better at that but I think I have some good help around.”

Partick Thistle continued their goalscoring spree to reach the cinch Premiership play-off final with a 5-0 win over 10-man Ayr at Somerset Park.

Scott Tiffoney hit a double and Jack McMillan, Steven Lawless and Kevin Holt were on target as the Jags secured an 8-0 aggregate victory.

Championship runners-up Ayr had top goalscorer Dipo Akinyemi sent off to cap a miserable play-off experience for the striker and the club.

Thistle will take on either Kilmarnock or Ross County in the two-legged final with the Staggies needing to win at Rugby Park on Sunday to avoid a difficult obstacle to retaining their top-flight status.

The Jags have scored 16 goals in four play-off wins and have only lost once in 17 games since Kris Doolan took charge.

Although a fourth-placed team in the Championship has never won the play-offs, Thistle now have an extra two days’ rest then their opponents before the first leg next Thursday after having a full week between both games against Ayr.

Ayr midfielder Reece McAlear had an early strike saved but the sting was taken out of the game in the seventh minute when McMillan netted his third goal of the play-off campaign.

The right-back provided the impetus to the move with a run into the box and his cross eventually fell for Aidan Fitzpatrick, whose shot was stopped by Ayr goalkeeper Charlie Albinson. McMillan was perfectly placed to nod the rebound over the line.

There were chances at either end in the following moments but Thistle looked the more dangerous side and the home side’s slim hopes disappeared in the 25th minute when Akinyemi was sent off.

The striker, who missed the first leg through illness, reacted angrily to being held by Aaron Muirhead and tried to push the defender away.

The man whose 24 goals earned him the PFA Scotland Championship player of the year award caught the defender in the face with his arm and Muirhead went down and received treatment.

Referee Colin Steven took a long time to deliver his punishment but Akinyemi was already walking towards the tunnel before the red card was shown.

Ayr manager Lee Bullen did not appear to be in agreement and pointed his finger at someone on the pitch.

His mood worsened two minutes later when Thistle doubled their lead on the counter-attack.

Fitzpatrick broke down the left, took his time and picked out Tiffoney at the far post to knock home. The former Ayr loan player celebrated by putting his finger to his mouth in front of the home support.

Albinson saved one on one from Brian Graham before Tiffoney added another goal in the 54th minute. A wonderful first-time pass from Steven Lawless sent McMillan down the right and his low cross was turned home from six yards.

Lawless netted in the 63rd minute with a reverse finish after Albinson had palmed away Kevin Holt’s cross.

Substitutes Anton Dowds, twice, and Danny Mullen missed good chances for the visitors before Holt headed home Kyle Turner’s 88th-minute corner.

Barry Robson has demanded that his Aberdeen players do not even think about taking it easy at Celtic Park on Saturday even though they have achieved their objective.

The Dons sealed third place in the cinch Premiership – and likely European group-stage football next term – by beating St Mirren 3-0 on Wednesday so they have little to play for other than personal pride when they visit the champions.

Robson is adamant there is no chance of him allowing his team to slip into holiday mode for their final match of the campaign.

“The players deserve a huge amount of credit for how they have performed but the message was made clear in training that the season isn’t over yet,” he said.

“We’ve got a huge game to come. The sign of a good team is being able to go right to the very end and we need to go to the very end because Celtic Park is one of the hardest places you’ll ever go to play football, especially against an Ange Postecoglou team who are relentless in the way they play.

“They have got a cup final to come afterwards so I’m sure all their players will be at it. They’ve been phenomenal this season but we need to go down there and be brave and be right at it. If we do that, we have a chance.”

Robson will be forced into two changes as on-loan Hoops defender Liam Scales is ineligible to face his parent club, while striker Bojan Miovski was carried off injured on Wednesday and will see a specialist on Monday.

Beyond that, Robson is of no mind to tinker with his team too much as he wants to ensure Aberdeen have a chance of finishing with a win.

“No,” he said when asked if he was planning to mix his team up. “We’re going down to the best team in the country.

“You can’t take that lightly because they’ve got some real top players. We need to go down there and put a performance on. We’re there to represent Aberdeen Football Club so we need to make sure we’re at it.

“I’ve been in this game far too long and you can’t take a game lightly. I’m not a big believer in playing friendlies either. Every game means something.”

Robson refused to be drawn on reports this week suggesting the Dons were close to agreeing a deal to sign on-loan Liverpool midfielder Leighton Clarkson on a permanent deal, insisting he would not comment on any transfer until it was officially confirmed.

Asked how much of a rebuild he anticipates this summer, Robson said: “We’re the same as anyone else.

“Every manager will be busy with players coming in and going out. It’s the same at every club but hopefully we can take some good players in that can help us.”

Jim Goodwin held “positive” talks with Dundee United chairman Mark Ogren but is waiting to see if he will be given an extended chance to lead the club’s attempts at revival.

Goodwin led United to three consecutive wins to get them out of the cinch Premiership danger zone after being appointed on an interim basis but a fourth loss on the bounce on Wednesday all but consigned them to automatic relegation.

A 3-0 home defeat by Kilmarnock means United need to win at Motherwell on Saturday and hope the Ayrshire side beat Ross County while achieving an eight-goal swing on the Staggies.

Goodwin has made it clear he would “love” to stay on as United boss beyond the end of the season but his future remains unclear.

The Irishman said: “I have just met the chairman for the first time face to face over the last couple of days. I spent hours with him just giving him my overview on what I have experienced during my time here.

“He has made a hell of an investment financially from his own personal wealth into the club.

“He is a man that in business is used to succeeding and he certainly didn’t come to Dundee United to be having this kind of experience.

“So whatever the outcome is on Sunday, he is fully behind supporting the club in trying to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again in the future.

“He is determined to put things right, from his own point of view but also for the supporters as well.

“We had good, positive talks but there has been nothing decided with regards to my long-term future.

“I have explained to him that I have loved my time at the club, I have met some great people here. There are some fantastic people behind the scenes doing some great things in a lot of the other departments.

“But unfortunately a club is always going to be recognised on what happens on the pitch and unfortunately as a team we haven’t been good enough and all the other good things have been brushed under the carpet.”

Goodwin wants his players to restore a modicum of pride at Fir Park.

“Although we are not mathematically down, we need a minor miracle to happen on Sunday to get that play-off place,” he said.

“We are not going to throw the towel in, of course, but I don’t want to sound silly and look silly by sitting here saying to you guys that we are going to achieve it.

“But we have to put a team on the park that is going to play with pride and try and finish the season on a positive note.

“It’s an eight-goal difference, we would need to score a hell of a lot of goals and hope Kilmarnock do similar to Ross County, but look, there is a one per cent chance possibly, but we know how difficult that task is going to be.

“We have to go and give a good account of ourselves as a group and not go down to Motherwell waving the white flag.

“There is personal pride at stake for the players, myself and the rest of the group. We owe it to ourselves first and foremost but more importantly we owe it to the supporters, because what has happened in the last four games has been unacceptable.”

United might have to aim for a glut of goals without their only experienced striker. Steven Fletcher played through a torn groin muscle during Wednesday’s defeat.

Goodwin said: “Steven is playing through the pain barrier for the club, whether he is going to be able to do the same on Sunday, we will wait and see.”

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