European champions Chelsea kicked off their Premier League campaign with a routine 3-0 win over London rivals Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Three days after winning the UEFA Super Cup on penalties against Villarreal, adding to May's Champions League triumph, the Blues dominated against Palace from start to finish.

Christian Pulisic was brought into the side as one of five changes from that midweek cup win and scored before half-time to add to Marcos Alonso's 27th-minute opener.

Palace's first game under Patrick Vieira went from bad to worse as Trevoh Chalobah marked his league debut for Chelsea with a superb goal, giving the returning home fans plenty of reason to celebrate.

Goalscorers Alonso and Pulisic combined early on as the latter glanced a header on target for Vicente Guaita to keep out.

Mason Mount tested Guaita from a free-kick, but the Palace shot-stopper could not get anywhere near Alonso's attempt, the wing-back curling the ball over the wall and into the net from 25 yards.

That was Chelsea's 50th direct free-kick goal in the Premier League – only Manchester United (64) have more – and they deservedly doubled their lead in the 40th minute.

Guaita spilled Mount's low cross from the right and Pulisic took full advantage by firing home the loose ball from close range.

Chelsea did not take their foot off the gas and had a third goal before the hour mark thanks to academy graduate Chalobah's long-ranger that went in off the left-hand post.

The hosts continued to threaten without finding a way through, but Tuchel would have been equally pleased with a first clean sheet in five league games stretching back into last season.

 

What does it mean? Chelsea off to strong start

This Premier League campaign may be the most competitive yet in terms of the title race, with Chelsea very much among the favourites following the return of Romelu Lukaku for a club-record fee.

While the prolific striker did not feature in this opening game, the hosts still looked impressive pretty much from the first whistle against a Palace side very much under construction.

Chelsea have now won eight league games in a row against Palace and, while tougher tests lie in wait, this was a very promising start for Tuchel's men.

Pulisic punishes Palace

United States international Pulisic, who perhaps still has a point to prove in what is his third campaign at Chelsea, simply loves playing against Palace.

He has now scored five goals in five Premier League games against the Eagles, accounting for 36 per cent of his 14 goals in the competition.

Werner to make way?

Lukaku will likely be ready to start Chelsea's next match and Tuchel has a big decision to make in terms of his attacking line-up.

Werner provides qualities that go beyond scoring goals, but he was on the periphery here as he registered just one shot and managed only 28 touches of the ball – the fewest of any outfield Chelsea starter – despite playing 90 minutes.

What's next?

Chelsea face rivals Arsenal on their return to Premier League action in eight days' time, while Palace host newly promoted Brentford next Saturday.

Thomas Tuchel believes Romelu Lukaku is a "perfect" fit at Chelsea but is surprised his signing has prompted talk of the European champions being title favourites.

Only champions Manchester City (48) collected more Premier League points than Chelsea (38) following Tuchel's appointment last season, while the Blues beat Pep Guardiola's men in the Champions League final.

They have since added Lukaku, too, encouraging optimism Tuchel's side could lead the way this year.

But the coach was eager to point out Chelsea only finished fourth last term, slipping below Liverpool as they lost two of their final three games – more than in their prior 16 league games under Tuchel.

Therefore, Tuchel suggests Chelsea have ground to make up, explaining ahead of Saturday's game against Crystal Palace: "It surprises me.

"Everybody saw we came fourth. When you come fourth, you are not favourite the next season.

"We have gaps to close. We let Liverpool pass us, we have gaps to close to Manchester City. I don't see why they should be any worse than last season."

Indeed, the Blues boss does not believe Lukaku's club-record signing from Inter puts them under any more pressure than their rivals, who have also splashed out.

"Man City is doing the same, improving, so are Man United," Tuchel said. "I don't see us as the only ones trying to close the gap by bringing in players. This will not be enough.

"Bringing quality, a mentality and personality, is always welcome. I don't feel that it increases the pressure on me. It makes life more exciting as a coach."

Chelsea will be without Hakim Ziyech – although his shoulder injury will not require surgery – and also have an "issue" with N'Golo Kante to deal with against Palace, where they will aim to avoid becoming the first Champions League winners to lose their first league game of the following campaign since Bayern Munich in 2001-02.

Despite talking down Chelsea's chances, Tuchel hopes they will set the tone for a title tilt on the opening day.

"I hope we play with this mentality – we want to hunt them down and not from January on but from Saturday on," he said.

"This is the mentality with which we approach this season. We see ourselves as hunters and challengers to the three teams who were in front of us."

Returning star Lukaku will certainly help in that regard, having led Inter to the Serie A title last season with 24 goals.

"We're very happy to have Romelu back in the club," Tuchel said. "In terms of personality, speed, character, he will be an excellent addition for us.

"He has the power, the physique, the personality to help us and have a huge impact. At the same time, he is a humble guy, a team player who cares about Chelsea. We all have the feeling that he's worth it.

"It was very important to us that it was his desire to rejoin Chelsea and finish his story at Chelsea the way he wanted to.

"We have a strong group, defined with a strong bond and with a certain attitude to help each other out. We think that Romelu, coming through here and having always Chelsea in his heart, is the perfect addition to our group."

Chelsea, who also have Tammy Abraham available despite links to Roma, have won their past seven league meetings with Palace.

Where will Lionel Messi land?

Barcelona's shock announcement of his departure set rumours flying.

Will it be Paris, Manchester or somewhere else?

 

TOP STORY - MESSI ON THE MARKET

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are rumoured to be the top suitors for Lionel Messi.

The French giants have already made contact with Messi's representatives, according to Fabrizio Romano, and are seen in many quarters as the favourites to land the Argentine forward.

It remains to be seen wherher PSG can take on Messi after making several major moves during the transfer window, while City may be in a similarly difficult situation after finalising their £100million deal for Jack Grealish on Thursday.

A reunion with Pep Guardiola may still be a possibility, though, especially if Tottenham refuse to engage in talks around a Harry Kane deal.

Major League Soccer could also be a possibility, though Messi is expected to remain in Europe for at least a few more years.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United have not given up on a move for Kieran Trippier, though they have not come close to Atletico Madrid's £34million demands for the England international, The Sun says.

- West Ham are in talks with Fiorentina for centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, Fabrizio Romano reports, with the Serie A side eyeing Matija Nastasic of Schalke as a replacement.

- Arsenal have bid £17m for Lazio striker Joaquin Correa, claims Corriere dello Sport.

- Juventus are interested in bringing back Barcelona's Miralem Pjanic on either a loan or a permanent deal, says Calciomercato.

- Roma are lining up a £21m bid for Fulham midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, says Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Crystal Palace are among multiple clubs hoping to lure Adam Armstrong from Blackburn, with the Daily Mail saying they are favoured ahead of Norwich City and Southampton.

Celtic have announced the double signing of Joe Hart and James McCarthy.

Former Manchester City goalkeeper Hart, twice a Premier League champion in 12 years at the Etihad Stadium, joins after spending last season with Tottenham.

The 34-year-old, who has 75 England caps, was limited to 10 appearances in 2020-21, eight of which came in the Europa League.

Hart has signed a three-year contract, while McCarthy, who left Crystal Palace at the end of the season, has agreed a four-year deal.

"This is a great moment for me in my career and I am absolutely delighted to be joining a club of Celtic's stature," Hart said via Celtic's website.

"I know just how big this club is and of the incredible support that it enjoys, and I can't wait to play in front of the fans at Celtic Park."

Manager Ange Postecoglou said: "I'm delighted that we have signed two top-class players in Joe and James. Both of them have a wealth of experience at both club and international level, and that is something which can only benefit the squad, and I'm looking forward to working with both of them.

"I know our supporters will be well aware of both players, and I'm sure they'll welcome them to the club and look forward to seeing both of them play for Celtic in the seasons ahead."

Celtic began their Scottish Premiership season with a 2-1 loss to Hearts last week.

They suffered a Champions League qualifying exit to Midtjylland three days earlier.

Jack Grealish has been holidaying following Euro 2020, but it is now decision time on his club future.

Speculation has mounted over the past few days about a potential move to Manchester City.

City manager Pep Guardiola is a long-term admirer of Grealish, and a big-money bid has apparently been sanctioned by chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak.

TOP STORY - GREALISH SET FOR MONDAY TALKS WITH VILLA

Grealish has returned from his off-season holiday and will hold showdown talks with Aston Villa on Monday as a move to City looms, reports The Mirror.

Grealish has been linked with a £100million move to the English champions and is expected to inform Villa of his intention to leave.

Villa have reportedly offered Grealish a bumper new deal worth £200,000-a-week.

 

ROUND-UP

Tottenham have turned their attention to Wolves winger Adama Traore, according to the Daily Mail. Wolves reportedly want £45m for the Spain international, who would be re-acquainted with manager Nuno Espirito Santo. Goal claims Leeds United are also interested in Traore.

Atletico Madrid are preparing for Kieran Trippier to exit the club as links with Manchester United intensify, with the Spanish champions lining up a move for Roma's Alessandro Florenzi, claims AS.

Atletico are also pursuing Inter's Lautaro Martinez and have moved ahead of Arsenal in the race to sign the Argentina international, according to Tuttosport.

- Borussia Dortmund's Denmark international Thomas Delaney is being pursued SouthamptonNorwich City and Crystal Palace, reports Ruhr Nachrichten.

- ABC claims Real Madrid will offer forward Karim Benzema a new one-year contract extension.

Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher has joined London rivals Crystal Palace on a season-long loan deal.

Gallagher will spend a second season on loan in the Premier League, having made 32 appearances for West Brom last term.

The 21-year-old, who is yet to make a first-team appearance for the Blues, will link-up with former Chelsea team-mate Marc Guehi, who made a permanent move to Selhurst Park earlier in July, in a new era for the Eagles under Patrick Vieira.

Gallagher said: "I'm buzzing to be here. I can't wait to get started, I'm happy to get the deal over the line.

"I spoke to the manager, I liked what he said, I liked how he wants to play, how he wants me to play and how he wants the team to play. I feel like I can learn from him and the players around me."

Gallagher, an England Under-21 international, has also spent time on loan at Charlton Athletic and Swansea City and becomes Palace's fifth new signing.

Palace chairman Steve Parish, who has already brought in Guehi, Michael Olise, Remi Matthews and Joachim Andersen, expressed his excitement over Gallagher's arrival.

"I am delighted Conor has chosen to come to Crystal Palace on a season-long loan after some impressive performances in the Premier League last season," Parish said.

"We very much look forward to him joining the squad as we continue to build towards the new season."

Crystal Palace's managerial search is over after they confirmed Patrick Vieira as their new boss.

The Frenchman has signed a deal until 2024, the former Nice coach succeeding Roy Hodgson at Selhurst Park.

Former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo had seemed a likely candidate to come in, with Palace having at one point been confident of appointing the Portuguese, only for the move to break down.

Nuno has since joined Tottenham, while Palace were also close to handing the job to ex-Borussia Dortmund coach Lucien Favre, only for the Swiss to turn down the opportunity after talks had initially progressed well.

However, Palace have now made their choice, with Arsenal great Vieira penning a three-year contract.

"I am really excited to have this opportunity to return to the Premier League, and manage this great football club, as we begin a new chapter together," the 45-year-old told the club's official website.

"The club has fantastic foundations in place after many years in the Premier League, and I hope we can make further improvements and continue to drive the club forward."

Vieira, 45, began his coaching career with Manchester City, where he had seen out his playing days, and was appointed as head coach of sister club New York City FC in 2015.

After success in MLS, Vieira joined Nice in 2018, succeeding Favre, securing seventh and fifth-placed finishes respectively in his two seasons in charge.

He was sacked in December 2020, having won 35 of his 89 games in charge across all competitions, losing 32.

Vieira's Nice team were stronger at home, with 24 of his victories coming at the Allianz Riviera, compared to 11 on the road. They averaged 55.53 per cent of the possession in matches – in contrast, Palace averaged just 39.9 per cent across 38 Premier League games last term.

Under Vieira, Nice scored 106 goals, not quite managing to match their expected goals (xG) total of 110.59, though their 115 goals conceded fell short of their expected goals against (xGA) tally of 122.59.

Vieira was not too heavily reliant on set-pieces when it came to chance creation, with his Nice team crafting 596 of 720 goalscoring opportunities from open play.

This may suit Palace, who created 38 chances from set-pieces in the league last season, the joint third-lowest in the division alongside Leicester City and ahead of only Sheffield United (35) and Arsenal (31).

Everton continue their search for Carlo Ancelotti's replacement.

One emerging candidate has plenty of familiarity with Liverpool. 

Could the Toffees turn to a former rival? 

 

TOP STORY – BENITEZ IN MERSEYSIDE RETURN?

Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has emerged as a strong contender to replace Carlo Ancelotti at Everton, the Daily Mirror and other outlets report. 

As the Merseyside club's interest in former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo has faded, majority owner Farhad Moshiri apparently plans to speak to the 61-year-old Benitez. 

The Spaniard was Liverpool's manager from 2004-10, winning the Champions League title in 2005. He spent 18 months in charge of Chinese Super League club Dalian Professional before leaving by mutual consent in January. 

Others under consideration include Brighton and Hove Albion head coach Graham Potter, former Lille coach Christophe Galtier and former Toffees boss Roberto Martinez

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea have matched Paris Saint-Germain's offer of about €65million (£56.1m) to Inter for Achraf Hakimi, according to Sky Sport Italia, though Inter value the 22-year-old at €81m (£70m).

- Barcelona see Manchester City's Raheem Sterling as a potential replacement for Ousmane Dembele should the France international depart, according to Sport, and Marca says PSG have interest in Dembele. 

- David de Gea seems inclined to extend his stay at Manchester United and expects to be the first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Dean Henderson, The Sun reports. 

- Atletico Madrid rejected United's £10m bid for England right-back Kieran Trippier, according to Football Insider. 

- Roma are close to completing their long-rumoured signing of Arsenal's Granit Xhaka, Corriere dello Sport claims. 

- West Ham would like to sign Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard on a permanent deal, The Sun reports. 

- Tottenham have had discussions with Borussia Monchengladbach winger Marcus Thuram, RMC Sport reports, and The Athletic says Spurs could also be eyeing RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer

- Former Roma coach Paulo Fonseca has emerged as Spurs' preferred option to replace Jose Mourinho and the sides have discussed a three-year contract, the Guardian reports. 

- Former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard could be in the mix for the Crystal Palace opening, the Daily Mirror reports. 

Manchester City's ambitions are showing no end after missing out on the Champions League title.

City have been linked with star England pair Harry Kane and Jack Grealish to further bolster the Premier League champions.

But the price tags on the duo from Tottenham and Aston Villa may be their stumbling blocks.

 

TOP STORY – CITY SALE TO FUND KANE AND GREALISH MOVES

Manchester City will offload several fringe players to raise £70million in order to fund their moves for Tottenham star Harry Kane and Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims the Daily Mail.

With Sergio Aguero departed, City manager Pep Guardiola wants a frontline striker and those surplus to requirements will reportedly be let go.

First-team players Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez all have admirers and could move on.

But also fringe talent like Yangel Herrera, Ivan Ilic, Jack Harrison, Pedro Porro and Lukas Nmecha, who have had loan spells elsewhere, could be cashed in.

Bernardo Silva has been linked with a move to Atletico Madrid in exchange for Saul Niguez, while Juventus are reportedly eyeing Gundogan.

 

ROUND-UP

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are both keen on Inter's Achraf Hakimi and have lodged €60m (£52m) offers, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Inter's asking price may be higher, while Chelsea may utilise Emerson Palmieri or Andreas Christensen as part of a swap deal.

- Bild says Borussia Dortmund will sell Jadon Sancho to United if they receive a suitable offer by the end of July. Sancho has long been tipped to swap Dortmund for United.

- Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin is being linked with LaLiga champions Atletico and Real Betis by CBS Sport, while Sport have also claimed Juve are interested in the Spaniard, utilising Aaron Ramsey in a swap deal.

Liverpool are looking to replace Georginio Wijnaldum, lining up Roma skipper Lorenzo Pellegrini, according to Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims West Ham are ready this month to step up their bid to sign Jesse Lingard permanently from Manchester United after his excellent loan spell.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Arsenal are set to finalise the details on a new contract for young talent Emile Smith Rowe.

Crystal Palace are closed to appointing former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo as their new manager to replace Roy Hodgson, claims The Telegraph.

A stunning move for Cristiano Ronaldo could be in the works.

The Portugal captain may end up back with a former club in a swap deal.

The price for Manchester United would be high.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO SWAP DEAL RUMOURED

If Manchester United want to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford, they may have to surrender Paul Pogba.

La Gazzetta dello Sport reports Juventus would consider using the 36-year-old forward in a swap deal for Pogba, who has a year left on his contract.

The question is whether United would part with the 28-year-old France midfielder in return.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City could land Harry Kane via a cash-plus-swap deal that sends Gabriel Jesus to Tottenham, the Daily Star reports. 

- Arsenal are interested in Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde and Bayer Leverkusen's Edmond Tapsoba, according to The Athletic. 

- Barcelona have not given up in their attempts to sign Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus, Marca reports.

- Lazio have joined Roma as suitors for veteran centre-back Jerome Boateng with the Germany international set to leave Bayern Munich. 

- Granit Xhaka is a target for Jose Mourinho's Roma, and Arsenal have said they want £17million for the midfielder, La Gazzetta dello Sport reports. 

- Pedrinho will leave Benfica before next season, ESPN reports, with Shakhtar Donetsk the likely destination for the 23-year-old Brazilian. 

- Crystal Palace will speak to former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo about replacing Roy Hodgson, The Sun reports. 

The Premier League race is run. A season that has seemingly been a never-ending story finally concluded on Sunday with the focus centred on the top four.

Chelsea lost but still ended up securing Champions League qualification, Liverpool won to astonishingly end an eventful campaign in third and poor Leicester City missed out after a crazy game at home to Tottenham as Harry Kane clinched the Golden Boot.

West Ham finish above Spurs in sixth to make the Europa League, while Manchester United ruined Nuno Espirito Santo's last game in charge of Wolves. There was yet another goal for Joe Willock, while David McGoldrick made sure he will no doubt be the subject of a pub quiz question in years to come.

Manchester City had clinched the title long ago, but a home game with Everton offered a chance for their returning fans to say farewell to a club legend.


Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea: Tuchel slips up on the road as Blues lose

Thomas Tuchel's side held on to their top-four spot thanks to the result at the King Power Stadium, with the German coach able to celebrate despite suffering his first away defeat in the league since taking charge at Stamford Bridge.

Bertrand Traore scored the opener for Villa, in the process becoming the 25th different player to manage a Premier League goal against Chelsea having previously been at the Blues. Anwar El Ghazi doubled the lead with the 100th penalty scored in the competition this season, the first time a campaign has reached triple figures.

On the subject of penalties, Jorginho finished with the most goals for Chelsea in the league with seven – all from the spot. It is the lowest number for the club’s leading scorer in a top-flight season since 1974-75, when Ian Hutchinson also managed seven.

Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace: Mane helps Reds prosper at Anfield

Jurgen Klopp has now finished in the top four at the end of the five full seasons he has had in charge of the Reds, who handed their former boss Roy Hodgson a 2-0 defeat in his Palace swansong.

Sadio Mane got both goals, the second with the aid of a huge deflection. He has scored 10 or more in all seven of his Premier League campaigns, including his two with Southampton before moving to Anfield in June 2016.

Liverpool won their meetings with Palace by a combined 9-0 score; only against Ipswich in 2001-02 (11-0) have they enjoyed a bigger aggregate margin across two Premier League games in the same season. While he had no need to conjure up another last-gasp goal this time, Alisson Becker did manage to keep a clean sheet on his 100th league outing for Klopp's side.

Leicester City 2-4 Tottenham: Foxes run into trouble against Bale and Kane

Leicester spent 242 days in the Premier League's top four this term, only to end the final one sitting in fifth place. For a second successive year, a late loss of form has cost them a Champions League place.

A sixth defeat in 13 matches did not appear on the cards when they twice led against Spurs thanks to Jamie Vardy, who scored two penalties in a match for a third time this season. However, a Kasper Schmeichel own goal – his second in the top tier – levelled matters, with the visitors then moving clear in a frantic finish.

Gareth Bale scored twice late on in potentially his final game for Tottenham, but will Kane still be there when the transfer window shuts? The striker's 41st-minute effort lifted him to 23 for this term as he became only the third player to win the Golden Boot award as many as three times, following in the footsteps of Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer (also three).

Aguero at the double, Willock matches Shearer (yes, really)

In scoring twice after coming on as a substitute, Aguero ended his City career as he had started it – with a brace off the bench (he had done just the same on debut against Swansea City, way back in August 2011). His double takes his final tally to 184 Premier League goals, in the process surpassing Wayne Rooney (183) for the most by a player for a single club.

As for Manchester United, a 2-1 triumph at Wolves sees them become just the fourth side to remain unbeaten away across an entire top-tier season, a feat most recently achieved by Arsenal in 2003-04. The current-day Gunners beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0, though still finished eighth for a second year in a row.

At Fulham, Willock was on target once more in a 2-0 win for Newcastle United. It means the on-loan Arsenal midfielder becomes only the second Newcastle player to score in seven consecutive Premier League appearances, after hall-of-famer Shearer in 1996.

West Ham secured a top-six finish for only the second time in the Premier League era thanks to a 3-0 win over a Southampton team who do not prosper on their travels – they ended up losing 10 of their 11 away fixtures in 2021, during which they leaked 33 goals and scored just seven times.

There was a win for Leeds United at home to West Brom, taking them up to 59 points – the most by a promoted club since Ipswich Town (66) in 2000-01. Sheffield United finished bottom, but at least signed off on a winning note. Striker McGoldrick grabbed the only goal against Burnley to earn his own place in history: it was the 1,000th scored in the Premier League during the 2020-21 season.

Jurgen Klopp paid tribute to his squad's togetherness in tough moments after Liverpool ended a testing season by claiming a place in the Champions League.

Top of the Premier League at the turn of the year, the Reds' title defence began to unravel as the absences of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and countless other injury blows began to take their toll.

With 10 games of their campaign remaining, Klopp's side sat in eighth place, seven points shy of Chelsea in fourth and 10 behind third-placed Leicester.

But a run of eight wins and two draws – including victory over Crystal Palace on the final day – saw them climb to third and book their place in Europe's premier cup competition.

And Klopp was understandably delighted with how his players dealt with every challenge thrown at them to enjoy a successful end to the season.

He said: "It's great, it's absolutely great, it's outstanding. From outside you cannot really understand because we are just Liverpool: we have to perform, we have to win, we have to become champion or whatever. 

"It was not possible for us this year so you have to fight through and in the harder moments you can learn the most. In the harder moments you can show the most and we really stuck together all the time. 

"There was no argument or whatever about different things, we just knew some things are tough [and] we have to improve. That's true, we have to, but football is a game based on confidence and we did not have a lot of opportunities to gain confidence. 

"We were constantly sorting problems and that's so nice to see that we could use the last five, six, seven weeks to give this season a proper turnaround.

"I'm really happy for the Champions League that they don't have to play without us! So, we are in it, that will be great, can’t wait for that. Outstanding achievement from the boys. 

Klopp was also asked about Georginio Wijnaldum, who confirmed after full-time that his five-year stay at Anfield will come to an end when his contract expires on July 1.

Unsurprisingly, the German paid a heartfelt tribute to a player who has been a virtual ever-present as the Premier League, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup were secured in his tenure.

He continued: "Where can I start? I met this wonderful player for the first time – we played, obviously, against him, and the first time I met him was in my living room at home because I had to see him and talk to him. 

"From the first moment it clicked between us. He is a very friendly, very smart, very open person, and that never changed, that just improved. 

"Yes, it is very emotional for me because I lose a friend and I will miss him, that's how it is. But it's normal in football that these kinds of things happen – it's not always nice, but normal, and I am really sure he will find a great place. 

"Each club who is interested in him should call me and ask about him. Then you will take him, definitely, because I could not be more positive about what he did here. It's incredible. He was not only always available, he played 90 per cent of the time really, really good."

Georginio Wijnaldum has confirmed he will leave Liverpool on a free transfer this off season and suggested that the decision to depart was not his own.

The Dutchman is approaching the end of the five-year contract he signed upon arriving from Newcastle United in a £25m deal in July 2016.

In the build-up to his final appearance for the Reds – a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace that secured Champions League football for next season – both club and player had not let much slip over what the future held.

But, speaking after he was given a guard of honour by his team-mates, Wijnaldum explained that he will be leaving Anfield – and not of his own volition.

He told Sky Sports: "I'm fighting against tears right now. The people in Liverpool have shown me love during the five years. I will miss them, you know? 

"I hoped to have played many more years for the club but unfortunately things went different. I have to start a new adventure. 

"I knew I went to a big club. I remember that I was sitting in the living room and the manager said when I come to Liverpool we would win prizes. 

"I am happy it went that well. It would have been really painful to leave the club without any.

"It's really special. Since I've joined the fans have sung my name. Week-in, week-out they saw I was giving 100 per cent to give everything for this club. 

"That's what the supporters want to see and that's what they appreciate from me. It is something I'm going to miss."

Barcelona were linked with a cut-price move for Wijnaldum last summer, while Bayern Munich have emerged as potential suitors in recent weeks.

However, the 30-year-old insists no decision over his next move has yet been made.

He added: "I didn't sign somewhere else. Everyone knows in football everything can happen. The situation is right now that on 1 July I am not a Liverpool player. 

"We will see what I will do in the next couple of weeks. I will rest a little bit then go to the national team. I will have to look at my story and how everything went. 

"The fans deserve to know the story behind it."

Liverpool secured their place in next season's Champions League and a third-placed Premier League finish as they beat Crystal Palace 2-0 at Anfield.

Goals in each half from Sadio Mane helped the Reds spoil former boss Roy Hodgson's final game in management and claim a place in the top four that looked a distant dream just a few weeks ago.

There was also an emotional farewell for Georginio Wijnaldum, who, with his contract expiring in the coming days, looks to have played his final game for the club.

Liverpool's returning fans were given an early scare when a loose Trent Alexander-Arnold pass inadvertently played in Andros Townsend, who should have done better than to miss the target in a one-v-one situation.

But that let-off sparked the hosts into life, with Rhys Williams heading a corner over before Mohamed Salah stung Vicente Guaita's palms and Mane missed the target from a promising position in quick succession.

The latter in particular looked to be reenergised by the return of supporters, and so it was no surprise to see him react first to toe home a Williams corner flick-on that had bounced off Roberto Firmino.

Mane's strike proved sufficient to give the Reds the lead at the end of a half that was extended by head injuries to both of their centre-backs - perhaps fitting in the context of their season.

Having no doubt learned at half-time that results elsewhere were going in their favour, Liverpool prioritised control over the desperate search for a second goal.

But they were not finding it too difficult to get into dangerous positions, and eventually grabbed a deserved second as Salah picked out Mane to fire one in off Gary Cahill.

That goal was followed by emotional scenes as Wijnaldum left the pitch to a huge ovation after playing a typically understated by crucial role in another important win for Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp hopes the return of fans to Anfield can help spur Liverpool on as they aim to come through an "intense" clash with Crystal Palace and clinch a Champions League spot.

A 3-0 triumph at Burnley on Wednesday lifted Liverpool up to fourth in the table, above Leicester City on goal difference and just a point behind third-placed Chelsea.

The Reds wrap up an eventful season by hosting Palace on Sunday, with 10,000 fans allowed to attend the fixture following changes in social distancing restrictions.

The game will see outgoing Eagles boss Roy Hodgson come up against one of his former clubs, too, with Klopp well aware of the challenge the visitors will pose to his team.

However, the German – who admitted he has become accustomed to coping with stress on the final day – wants those inside the ground to show a little patience if things do not go immediately to plan, acknowledging there is still work to do despite a recent upturn in fortunes.

"You have to fight to it, I respect Crystal Palace too much and what they want to do for Roy in possibly his last game as a manager," he said of a top-four finish being in Liverpool's hands.

"I'm pretty sure they will want to give absolutely everything, and rightly so, just like the last few opponents did.

"Obviously we will have supporters back and I'd like to take the opportunity to welcome them all – you cannot imagine how much I'm looking forward to seeing them again, at least 10,000 of you.

"But it's really important that with all the excitement we feel, we don't lose patience after a minute or something like that. We need the best support possible, very supportive, very encouraging, just like we left each other what feels like years ago.

"It will be a really intense game and, when you fight for the Champions League, it should be intense."

Klopp added during his pre-game media conference: "The door opened a little bit for us, but when that happens you must step through. That's what the boys have done so far, but there is still one game to go. That's what we have to focus on.

"It was a strange season; nothing will change that. It was an intense season; nothing will change that. But we have it now in our hands to make a top, top finish.

"It's not done yet. There is an opponent and this is football, that is why we are really, really not even close to any kind of celebration or whatever. We are only focused on the 95 minutes we will play."

Liverpool won the reverse fixture against Palace 7-0 back in December, a stunning result on the road that moved the defending champions five points clear at the top.

A run of just three victories in their next 14 league outings led to a slide down the table, yet a rejuvenated Reds have moved into a strong position to clinch Champions League qualification with a four-game winning streak down the stretch.

Klopp insists he will not be taking anything from that stunning result at Selhurst Park, making clear the final scoreline was not a fair reflection of how the game panned out.

"It's not really helpful, apart from a goal difference point of view," the former Borussia Dortmund boss said.

"It was not a 7-0 game that day, Palace had chances of their own, it was more a crazy one, really open with chances here and there.

"The difference was we took ours; I think we had seven shots on target and scored seven goals. It was one of these lucky days you do not have a lot of in your life.

"This game will not be like that. Palace will want to make sure those kind of things don't happen. Nobody has to worry that it will be like that, we just have to win the game.

"We know we will have to fight for this, the result from the first game is 0.0 relevant to us. There are moments when you use pictures from the first game [in team meetings], but none from that game will be shown to the boys."

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