Derby County's Tom Lawrence (left) and Jayden Bogle make binocular gestures after the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off, Semi Final, Second Leg match at Elland Road, Leeds. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty ImagesGetty
Next season, either Aston Villa or Derby County will be back in the Premier League. The other one could be midtable in the Championship, struggling to balance the financial fair-play books while rebuilding their side.
The EFL Championship Play-off Final is not called the most valuable match in soccer for nothing. The match is worth over 100 million dollars to the winners, and could be worth much more if they manage to stay in the Premier League and boost their global profile.
But for the losers, theres no guarantee they will have another shot at the big-time next season. Both sides will certainly lose some of their star players if they fail to go up, not least because Aston Villas top scorer Tammy Abraham is on loan from Chelsea, and Derbys top scorer Harry Wilson is on loan from Liverpool (Derby also have two key players, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, on loan from Chelsea). More worrying though is how both sides finances appear unsustainable, even for the Championship, where pretty much every club burns through money like its going out of fashion.
Derby County only avoided breaking the leagues Profitability and Sustainability rules by selling their stadium to the club owner, a piece of financial trickery that, unfortunately for them, can only be done once. Aston Villa also skirted the border of the Profitability and Sustainability rules this season, reportedly staying on the right side of the rules because the government force-purchased some of their training ground for a high-speed train line. If either side wants to stay on the right side of the P&S rules next season, they might be forced to sell some of their better players in the summer.
Aston Villa only finished two points above Derby in the regular season. Their playoff prospects looked finished after a poor run over the winter, but a club-record ten wins in a row towards the end of the season makes Villa the team on form.
They beat local rivals West Bromwich Albion on penalties in the playoff semi-finals while Derby finally got their revenge on Leeds United for the spygate incident in their semi-final. Leeds had beaten Derby three times this season, including a 4-1 battering at Pride Park back in August, but Derby won the match that mattered the most with a 4-2 win in Leeds on Wednesday, rubbing their play-off victory in Leeds faces with a binocular-based celebration.
After the match Derby manager Frank Lampard claimed they would be the underdogs in the final.
Based on previous form, Lampard is right. Villa smashed Derby 3-0 and 4-0 in the league this season with all four of the goals in their home win coming in the first half, including an absolute screamer from Jack Grealish, and all three goals of their away win coming in the second half.
Dean Smiths Aston Villa side have been one of the most exciting teams to watch this season, with the third most goals and fourth most shots in the league, they like to use wide areas a lot too, often looking to cross the ball in for Tammy Abraham to knock home. Lampards Derby, despite having a possession-based style of build-up play, have scored a lot of goals on the break this season, and given their heavy defeats to Villa earlier in the season, may look to play a little more cautiously. They need to work hard to stop Villas crosses, as balls in from the wings hurt Derby a lot in their previous games against Villa. Three of the five goals Villa scored from open play against Derby came from wide areas.
Aston Villa may have once been a big Premier League name, but many of their star players this season have come up from the lower leagues. The midfield spine of the team is made up of Conor Hourihane, who spent most of his career in League One and League Two with Barnsley and Plymouth Argyle; John McGinn, who joined from Scottish side Hibernian; and local lad Jack Grealish. Their manager, Dean Smith, is also from the West Midlands, and also worked his way up from the lower leagues, learning his trade with hundreds of games in charge of Walsall and Brentford before joining Villa.
His management roots are the polar opposite of the man in the other dugout Frank Lampard, who has had a solid first season as a manager, surprising many pundits along the way. Even with a strong squad like Derbys, success is anything but guaranteed in the Championship, and failure in a first job can end a managers career before it even begins.
One of these two managers will win the ultimate prize at Wembley on May 27th. Both will have a difficult task next season, either trying to survive in the Premier League, or balance the books in the Championship.