The English Premier League might be over and there is a lot of focus on the – all English – European finals but the biggest game – certainly in terms of finances – is set to take place at Wembley next Monday, 27th May. Derby County and Aston Villa are set to face off in the Championship play-off final.
It’s a match that can – and likely will – be settled by the smallest of margins but the stakes couldn’t be larger – the last promotion place in the Premier League and a cash windfall of over £90 million. Adding to the build up is the subplot of two former Chelsea teammates pitting their wits against one another. Frank Lampard, who is Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer, took over at Pride Park last Summer and has guided his side to this stage whilst John Terry, a former Chelsea skipper, returned to Villa midway through the season as incoming manager Dean Smith’s assistant.
The Villains overcame local rivals West Bromwich Albion on penalties in the semi-final whilst Derby became the first team to ever overturn a first leg home defeat to triumph – that was an extra sweet win for Derby as they defeated Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United. So what team should you place your soccer bets on ahead of Monday’s showdown?
Derby have a squad packed with match winners; Jack Marriott netted two goals in the semi-final second leg and will hope to keep his place, but Lampard could choose to keep Marriott as an impact sub – he played the role well last time out after all. That would likely see Martyn Waghorn, Harry Wilson or Mason Mount providing the goal threat – although the experienced David Nugent and Mason Bennett might have something to say about it. Any of those former four are a decent bet to net at any time.
So, they have a youthful squad that will be fearless in the electric atmosphere that is sure to surround Wembley – although they have experience in key positions such as captain and centre back Richard Keogh – whilst Villa will not only have to deal with the favourites tag but also the acknowledgment that failure for a second straight year will see their star players disappear ahead of the next campaign.
That said, Villa are hardly lacking in attacking quarters though and were the third top scorers during the regular season. In a Chelsea infused final, Smith’s men will be looking towards their Blues loanee Tammy Abraham to score the goals to fire them to promotion, although midfielder Conor Hourihane is good for chipping in now and then too; in fact both players notched in both league games against Derby – a combined seven goals to nil.
Seven goals without reply in two league fixtures, the latest of which was a 4-0 drubbing just two months ago might suggest Villa should be a banker. However, even if they are indeed the favourites by bookmakers, it won’t be easy.
Chelsea have a potential transfer embargo being brought into place and that would likely see them use Abraham in their squad next year; if the ban doesn’t go ahead you can guarantee other Premier League teams will take a punt on the sharpshooter stepping up. On top of that, their magical midfielder Jack Grealish will undoubtedly attract attention from the Premier League.
There is no getting away from that and it could mean now is their best chance to get back in the big stage. For Derby, they would probably be able to maintain their squad – albeit loans might return – but rumours over Lampard’s long-term future won’t go away and should Chelsea come looking for a new manager it would be a hard gig to turn down. It’s unclear how plausible that development currently is but the market is available if you’re tempted.
Aston Villa x Derby County – Prediction
For the match itself, expect Villa to force the game early on but don’t be surprised if the result is a damn sight closer than the league fixtures. It will be a tight affair in which both teams score and it may well come down to a moment of pure inspiration – something Grealish and Derby midfielder Tom Lawrence have both delivered throughout the campaign – being the difference; it could even go all the way to the dreaded shoot out.
If you fancy a long shot – pun intended – back Lawrence to score from outside the area, both teams to score and with the game settled on penalties. Still, most importantly, enjoy the spectacle.
Alex Tuanzebe – Manchester United loanee is still a doubt for the game, after getting an ankle injury against West Brom;
Ørjan Nyland, Jordan Lyden and Thomas Carroll – Also likely to be out for Villa, due to long term injuries
Scott Malone – Derby’s left-back will miss the game after being sent off against Leeds. This might mean than Ashley Cole will line up for Lampard’s team, thus putting another former Chelsea star under the spotlight.
Villa – Steer, Taylor, Mings, Tuanzebe (in doubt), Mohamady, Hourihane, Ghazi, Grealish, McGinn, Adomah, Abraham.
Derby – Roos, Bogle, Keogh, Tomori, Cole, Johnson, Holmes, Wilson, Mount, Lawrence, Marriott.
Derby to win 11/5 (bwin)
Villa to win 5/4 (bwin)
A draw during the 90min 11/5 (bwin)