Championship Play-off Final

Aston Villa vs Derby County | Monday 27 May | Wembley Stadium | 16:00

Derby County and Aston Villa will battle it out in the Championship play-off final at Wembley Stadium on Monday night for a place in the Premier League, with Rams boss Frank Lampard and assistant Jody Morris coming up against Dean Smith’s Villains, for whom ex-Chelsea captain John Terry is the assistant.

Villa are seeking a return to the top flight after an absence of three years, while Derby haven’t been in the Premier League since 2008 when they were relegated after collecting just 11 points – the worst total ever recorded in the top flight.

Norwich and Sheffield United were promoted automatically from the Championship after finishing as the top two in the regular season.

To Win (90 mins)
Aston Villa 12/10
Draw 23/10
Derby County 9/4

Aston Villa

Aston Villa head into this match as favourites, having beaten the Rams comfortably in both league meetings this season with a combined 7-0 scoreline. The Villains hammered Lampard’s side 3-0 in their own backyard in November and ran out 4-0 winners at Villa Park in March, with Conor Hourihane and on-loan Chelsea starlet Tammy Abraham netting in both ties.

Smith has had a fine season, replacing the sacked Steve Bruce in October 2018 and taking the club from 14th in the Championship to the play-off final. No doubt, the experience and leadership of Terry has played a key part too. The Villains finished fifth in the league on 76 points, two ahead of Derby County who ended the campaign in sixth, and scored 82 goals – only Norwich and West Brom scored more.

Villa would probably not be in this position had they sold their skipper, Jack Grealish, to Tottenham prior to the season. The midfielder has been at the heart of Villa’s impressive resurgence under Smith, returning from a three-month injury layoff in early March to help his side go on a brilliant run to clinch a top six finish. Ireland star Hourihane has also played a vital role in midfield this season, scoring eight goals and notching 11 assists.

Key to Villa’s hopes of returning to the top flight lie with Abraham. The two-cap England international has been the club’s shining star this season with 26 goals and three assists in all competitions. With all eyes on the Wembley showpiece, Abraham will want to impress, especially if latest reports are to be believed that Chelsea are potentially looking at including him in their first team next season, due to their transfer ban.

Derby County

It’s been a fantastic season for Lampard and Derby County. In his first season as head coach, the Chelsea legend has guided the Rams to a top six finish and stands on the brink of taking them to the Premier League for the first time since 2008 after they upset the odds to beat Leeds United 4-3 on aggregate in their two-legged play-off semi-final.

Having played under high profile coaches such as Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez and Guus Hiddink, the 40-year-old has been widely tipped to have a successful career and after just one season, the signs are there. In fact, there are some whispers about this potentially being Frank’s final game as Derby boss with Roman Abramovich reportedly keen on him replacing Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea. One thing’s for sure. Frank is a professional and he’ll only be thinking of securing promotion with Derby on Monday.

A key factor in Derby managing to make it this far has been their loaned stars. Chelsea loanees Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount, along with Liverpool’s Harry Wilson were all instrumental in securing Derby a play-off spot. Tomori was named the club’s Player of the Year after an outstanding campaign, while Mount lit up the Championship, bagging nine goals and creating four assists and Wilson was involved in 20 league goals, netting 16 times with four assists.

Derby know that they’ll be underdogs heading into this match, but they’ll look to use that label as motivation and defy the odds, like they did against Leeds last time out and back in September when they knocked Manchester United out of the Carabao Cup.

Derby will be without the services of left-back Scott Malone for the final after he received a red card in added time at the end of the Leeds game. Lampard is set to turn to his former Chelsea teammate, Ashley Cole. The 38-year-old has made 11 appearances (six starts) for the Rams since joining on a free transfer in January.

Derby were battered by Villa this season, home and away, but will look to beat them where it matters most.

Prediction: Aston Villa (12/10)
Even though Villa failed to win automatic promotion to the Premier League this season, they arguably have the best side in this season’s English second-tier on paper. Back the Villains to oust Derby and secure promotion.

Chad Nagel

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