Playoff finals over the years have tended to be low-scoring close affairs. Aston Villa know that all too well, they’re returning to Wembley a year after losing 1-0 to Fulham. The last six playoff finals in the Championship have seen under 2.5 goals scored, while we’ve predicted a narrow encounter in our Aston Villa vs Derby Predictions.
That means this clash is likely to turn on a moment. We could see something sublime or ridiculous swing promotion towards one of these two big clubs. However, which way is it going to go? Ahead of Monday’s huge game at Wembley, we’re looking at the key battles which will decide the richest game in football.
The Crucial Opener
As we mentioned, playoff finals in recent years have been incredibly tight. There’s obvious pressure in these clashes, given the crossroads the teams reach at Wembley. Fulham may not have enjoyed their top-flight season, but after winning promotion last summer they racked up a transfer bill of £100million. Meanwhile, Aston Villa ended up in financial trouble and only a late takeover prevented the club from falling apart.
In this day and age, all of the players step onto the field knowing what is at stake. It’s huge, which why these clashes tend to be close run contests. They’re also the kind of games were getting in front and defending your lead is vital. In the last 10 playoff finals at this level 76% of the total goals scored came before half time. Whoever gets out in front has a huge advantage, which makes the half-time/full-time market tempting. The Villains are well priced for a victory in that market, at 13/5 with bet365. We are siding with Villa in our predictions, so we like the look of Villa to be ahead at the end of each half.
Will the Rams Readjust?
Back in August, Frank Lampard started his Derby reign aiming to make the Rams a strong passing side. In the final game of his debut season in the dugout, he’s set to reverse that plan. Playoff finals tend to have one side on the front foot while another tries to soak up pressure. Given the talent and balance in this Villa side, we expect their attacking style to dominate the day. Can Derby adapt to shut them down?
West Brom may have lost to Villa, but they arguably laid out the blueprint for how to play them. They frustrated the Villains with their deep set up, but we struggle to see Derby matching them. While the Rams have inherited their manager’s work ethic, we can see them leaving the odd gap for Villa to exploit.
Grealish on the Big Stage
Should Derby go for a pragmatic approach to this clash, then there’s going to be space for Jack Grealish to operate. The midfielder was the man of the match at Wembley last year, while he’s improved in a side which plays more to his strengths. Should his team continue to dominate on the ball, then all the focus will be on Grealish again.
The Villa fan is desperate to take his team back to the top flight. He’s likely to play a pivotal role in their success or failure, especially given how he inspired their run to the playoffs. Grealish was the star in a 4-0 win over Derby, which kicked off the 10 game winning run that took them to fifth. Will he be able to inspire them one more time?
The Loan Rangers
Any Chelsea fans who catch the playoff final will get a glimpse of the club’s past and potentially their future. There’s plenty of Blues influence in the dugout, with Derby boss Frank Lampard clashing with Villa’s assistant boss John Terry. Derby also have Ashley Cole at left-back and Jody Morris as assistant boss. However, it’s the loan stars who are gathering interest.
Lampard’s link to Chelsea helped him bring in Fikayo Tomori in defence and Mason Mount. Mount was being hailed early in the campaign, but Tomori won their player of the year award. Despite that, the Rams’ most talented player is probably Liverpool’s Harry Wilson. He’ll be central to any Derby success, while the most important individual battle could be Tammy Abraham against Tomori. Abraham is another Blues loanee, while he’s hit 26 goals for Villa already this season.
Lampard’s Number Nine
It’s fair to say Frank Lampard has some pressure on his shoulders heading into this clash. Not only is he finishing his first managerial campaign in a one-off promotion decider which is worth £200million to his club, but his former club are monitoring closely. Chelsea remain linked with a swoop for their former star, but will he make an impression? That’s likely to come down to his big decision – the forward role.
Lampard has struggled with his number nine this season. Martyn Waghorn is his number one choice, but the striker isn’t match fit after missing the semi-finals. Lampard started without Jack Mariott in both legs, but the striker came off the bench at Elland Road to turn the tide. However, can he rely on Mariott against one of the strongest defensive partnerships in the league? Whoever starts up front for Derby is in for a tough afternoon, so Lampard needs to choose wisely.