Parker prunes his squad

Fulham have released nine players, including former Liverpool stars Ryan Babel and Lazar Markovic, after being relegated from the Premier League.

Babel scored five goals in 16 Premier League appearances for the club after moving to Craven Cottage from Besiktas in January.

The 32-year-old played for Liverpool between 2007 and 2011 before signing for Ajax.

Markovic also signed for the Cottagers in January but only made one substitute appearance for the club.

The 25-year-old joined Liverpool for £20million five years ago but failed to establish himself at Anfield and was loaned out to Fenerbahce, Sporting Lisbon. Hull City and Anderlecht before his short-lived spell with Fulham.

The other players that Scott Parker has decided will leave the Cottagers this summer following the expiry of their contracts are Elijah Adebayo, Robert Atkinson, Aron Davies, Jose Garrido, Christopher Kelly, Scott Armsworth and Showkat Tahir.

In addition, Calum Chambers, Sergio Rico, Andre Schurrle, Havard Nordtveit, Luciano Vietto, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who were on loan at Fulham this season, will return to their parent clubs.

Floyd Ayite, Stefan Johansen, Neeskens Kebano, Denis Odoi, Magnus Norman, Mattias Kait, Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson and Jerome Opokuh have had options activated in their contracts which keep them at the club until the end of next season.

Meanwhile, Aston Villa and Derby will meet in the Championship play-off final on Monday 27th May. The Villans are 8/13 to secure promotion, with the Rams available at 13/10.

Warnock extends Cardiff stay

Cardiff City have confirmed that Neil Warnock will stay with the club as they seek an immediate return to the Premier League.

The Bluebirds ended their single season back in the top flight at the weekend, ending with a 2-0 win at Manchester United.

City owner Vincent Tan said he wanted Warnock to remain at the club and afterwards the manager himself said that he would have another year in the Championship though he ruled out managing again in the Premier League.

Now it appears that has been confirmed with "positive" talks having taken place and chairman Mehmet Dalman said: "He is the best man for the job, there was never any doubt in my mind.

"We all share the same vision. We will give it (promotion) another go."

Warnock has a year left on his contract and had apparently sought assurances that there was money to add to the squad in an attempt to engineer an immediate return to the Premier League.

Adding to the squad is the priority now having already lost Icelandic midfielder Aaron Gunnarsson while Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa have returned to their parent clubs.

Warnock holds the record for having won promotion eight times and now looks set to aim for a ninth next season.

Norwich and Sheffield United are already promoted to the Premier League to replace relegated Cardiff, Huddersfield and Fulham while the one promotion place remains up for grabs via the playoffs.

Aston Villa and Leeds hold the upper hand after their semi-final first-leg victories over West Brom and Derby respectively and Villa are 11/8 to gain promotion at Wembley later this month with Leeds 5/4 and West Brom 7/1.

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Mee proud of Clarets finish

Ben Mee says that Burnley can feel proud of finishing the season 15th in the Premier League after a difficult start.

The Clarets finished seventh in the league a year ago, ensuring qualification for the Europa League but the campaign, just finished, proved a different matter.

Sean Dyche's side looked destined for a season-long relegation fight and were three points from safety after defeat to Everton on Boxing Day.

However their form improved sharply after that, embarking on an eight-match unbeaten run including five wins to steer them clear of trouble.

Three more successive wins at the end of March and into April secured their top-flight status for at least another season and Mee feels they can look back with satisfaction at the way they climbed away from trouble.

Mee, who played every minute in the Premier League last season, one of only three players to do so, told the Lancashire Telegraph: "It's a really successful season for the club, and it gives us chance to rebuild and get even stronger next year.

"From where we were at halfway to where we are now, it's been a brilliant turnaround, and with the summer now, the club will get the chance to get that extra bit of money coming in and hopefully we can make the club even stronger than we are now."

Though well clear of relegation trouble Burnley did end the season on a three-game losing streak, their campaign coming to an end with a home defeat to Arsenal at Turf Moor on Sunday.

Burnley are 7/1 to finish next season in the top half of the Premier League while the Clarets are 13/8 to be relegated with Sheffield United 4/6 to spend just one season back in the top flight.

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Hasenhuttl seeks more quality

Ralph Hasenhuttl wants to add some quality to his squad this summer and is keen to ensure Southampton are not involved in another relegation battle.

The former RB Leipzig boss says he has "a very clear picture" of what Saints, who drew 1-1 with Huddersfield Town on the final day of the Premier League campaign, need.

Southampton flirted with relegation for the second season in a row and, although they eventually finished 16th, five points clear of the bottom three, Hasenhuttl is desperate to make sure they are not involved in another struggle to avoid the drop in 2019/20.

The Austrian said: "It is a very clear picture for me now what we are still missing in our game. Maybe we know that we only win games when we have the perfect commitment and shape and work perfect together.

"If there are a few guys not 100 per cent in the right direction then we are struggling always.

"That means we need more quality next season. It will be a difficult summer for sure because we have our limits with transfer fees and things like that but we must be clear that we have to make a few new players in the team.

"We need to create a new spirit and new mentality because we must give a different picture from the first game day. That's the goal and a clear message for the summer and we will work on this."

Southampton are 1/7 not to be relegated next season while Sheffield United can be backed at 6/5.

Seagulls send Hughton packing

Brighton have decided to part company with head coach Chris Hughton following their narrow escape from the threat of relegation from the Premier League.

Hughton took charge of Albion on the final day of 2014 and led the club to promotion to the Premier League for the first time in April 2017.

Last season they finished in 15th place, six points clear of the drop zone, but this term they found things a little more difficult – eventually ending just two points clear of the relegation places.

They did reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup, but two wins in the league since the turn of the year was form which troubled chairman Tony Bloom enough to decide to make a change.

He told the club's official website: "Chris has done an excellent job over the past four and a half years.

"Undoubtedly, this has been one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make as chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion, but ultimately one I have made due to how we struggled in the second half of the season.

"Our run of three wins from 23 Premier League matches put our status at significant risk. It is with that in mind, and the performances during that period, that I now feel it's the right time for a change."

Brighton are priced at 2/1 to be relegated from the Premier League next season, while they are 2/5 to avoid the drop.

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Benitez waits on Magpies talks

Rafa Benitez says everyone will have to wait and see if he remains in place, having strongly hinted that he would like to continue as the man in charge of Newcastle United.

Benitez was speaking after seeing his side complete their Premier League programme with a commanding 4-0 win at already-relegated Fulham, a result which left the Magpies in 13th place in the table.

That is three places worse off than last season, but one point better off, with Benitez believing that the future could be bright on Tyneside if the club get things right off the field.

He told reporters: "Obviously, I think in the end it was a very good season.

"We have proved that this is a very difficult competition and I'm really proud of this group of players, giving everything even after the games we were safe.

"We have a meeting coming soon, hopefully, and then we'll see where we are. Someone will ask me the question, do I want to stay? It's very easy.

"I can see the potential of this massive club and hopefully we can do things in a way that will be good for everyone to move forward, maybe together.

"At the moment, it's just keep talking and see what happens next week."

Newcastle are 7/2 to finish in the top half of the Premier League table next season, while they are 1/5 to end up in the bottom half of the standings.

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Benitez pleased for Mitrovic

Newcastle United boss Rafael Benitez insists he remains a fan of Aleksandar Mitrovic even though he sold the Serbia international to Fulham last summer.

The Cottagers entertain Benitez's team on Sunday and Mitrovic, who is being linked with a move away from Fulham this summer, is 6/4 to score at any time against his former team.

Benitez sold Mitrovic to Fulham for £27million and replaced him with Salomon Rondon, who has enjoyed a fine campaign since moving to St James' Park on loan from West Brom.

Former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Chelsea boss Benitez said: "I've said so many times that my relationship with Mitro is much better than maybe people think. I am a professional and I had to analyse whether, in my opinion, we needed him.

"But I'm really pleased he's done well there and is scoring goals – although hopefully not this weekend. He's a good player and he suits the style they play there.

"He loves football, he's very competitive, I think he's a good player. He will score goals for sure."

Mitrovic has netted 11 goals this season even though Fulham have been relegated from the Premier League. However, he has only found the net once – against Bournemouth – in his last 12 league appearances for the Cottagers.

The 24-year-old scored 12 times in the second half of last season for Fulham as they were promoted from the Championship via the play-offs.

Fulham are 17/10 to beat Newcastle on Sunday.

Parker handed Cottagers job

Scott Parker has been handed the task of trying to return Fulham to the Premier League, having signed a two-year contract to become full-time head coach.

Parker took up the Cottagers reins on a caretaker basis in February following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri and has steadied the ship, despite the Londoners suffering an immediate return to the Championship.

And Parker has now been given the job of overseeing a promotion challenge next season, with chairman Shahid Khan telling the clubs official website: "Scott was brave to accept a very difficult challenge in February when appointed as our caretaker manager.

"Since that time, day-by-day, whether in training or on matchday, we've undeniably become a better football club.

"Scott will now have another challenge to face and that is to return Fulham to the Premier League. I fully believe he is more than up to the task.

"I appreciate that he's been clear for many years that his ultimate goal is to excel as a manager and he will be given every opportunity to succeed at Fulham."

Fulham round off a truly disappointing season on Sunday with a home game against Newcastle United, with the Cottagers having won three games in a row before a 1-0 reverse at Wolves last time out.

The meeting of the two sides on Tyneside just before Christmas ended in a goalless draw and a 0-0 final scoreline on Sunday is priced at 12/1.

Fulham are 10/1 to edge a 1-0 victory, with a 1-1 draw available at 6/1.

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Romeu expecting Saints progress

Midfielder Oriol Romeu has backed his Southampton side to improve next season, having staved off the threat of relegation from the Premier League.

The Saints were in deep trouble at the turn of the year, but the arrival of new head coach Ralph Hasenhuttl saw a revival in their fortunes, with safety assured by a 3-3 draw with Bournemouth two weeks ago.

And former Chelsea and Barcelona man Romeu believes that there is now a positive feeling around the club which can be built on in the coming months.

He told Sky Sports News: "The beginning of the season was tough and not good enough, so getting there (safety) with two games to go was a great achievement and now we are all looking ahead to next season.

"We felt good the last two months and we feel we can do more and have enough potential to grow as a club.

"I'm pretty sure things will be better, but it's going to be another tough season. The Premier League doesn't give anything away and we need to work really hard to get in a good position."

The South Coast outfit round off their league campaign with a visit from rock-bottom Huddersfield Town on Sunday, with the Saints having won 3-1 when the two sides met in West Yorkshire just before Christmas.

Southampton are 4/11 to win on Sunday and are 13/2 to win the game 2-0, while Shane Long can be backed at 11/8 to score at any time.

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Cairney stays to aid Fulham return

Midfielder Tom Cairney is hoping to help Fulham mount a strong challenge for an immediate return to the Premier League, having signed a new long-term contract.

The 28-year-old Scotland international joined the Cottagers from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2015 and has since scored 28 goals in 161 appearances in all competitions, including the play-off final winner against Aston Villa just under a year ago.

And, despite Fulham suffering relegation straight back down to the Championship, Cairney says he is more than happy where he is and is delighted to sign a deal running until the summer of 2024.

He told his club's official website: "I want to stay for a long time and hopefully finish my career here. This place feels like home and I can't see myself anywhere else.

"I feel like I've got unfinished business. I want to stay here and I want to get the club back to the Premier League.

"I want to bounce straight back next season. I know how hard the Championship is, but, knowing our owners and how ambitious the club is, I'm sure we'll give it a good go."

Fulham and Cairney are back in action on Saturday afternoon, when they head to Molineux to take on Wolves, who currently stand in seventh place in the table.

The Cottagers are 16/5 to to earn a draw, with the hosts 8/15 to win the game and 7/1 to do so by a 2-0 scoreline.

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