The key areas of debate ahead of the Championship play-off final
Recognised as the richest fixture in football, the Sky Bet Championship play-off final will be contested by Aston Villa and Derby with a place in next season’s Premier League up for grabs.
Villa defeated West Brom in a penalty shoot-out earlier this month to book their spot in this match for the second time in 12 months while Derby overturned a two-goal deficit to stun Leeds in their semi-final.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some of the talking points ahead of the pivotal encounter at Wembley on Monday afternoon.
Money, money, money
— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) May 24, 2019
There is simply no getting away from it. While the opportunity to play in the Premier League will ensure members from both sides give their all, the fortune that follows a win can shape clubs for the next decade or more. Deloitte’s Sports Business Group has estimated that the winners will pocket £170million, irrespective of whether they drop immediately back down to the second tier. That figure would rise to around £300million if they can avoid relegation. The guaranteed windfall is therefore sure to be mentioned as the final nears.
Can Villa afford another play-off defeat?
The talk of a significant jackpot is especially noteworthy for Villa after last year’s play-off defeat against Fulham meant their financial struggles were laid bare under former owner Tony Xia. American financier Wes Edens and Egyptian businessman Nassef Sawiris bought the club in July and have managed to steady the ship, but Villa’s parachute payments end this season following their Premier League relegation in 2016. Boss Dean Smith is relaxed about the situation, insistent that Edens and Sawiris are “fully behind the club”.
Frank Lampard’s future
The former England midfielder has led the Rams to the cusp of a top-flight return, in the process gaining sweet revenge on Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds following the Spygate furore earlier in the season. The footage of Lampard celebrating with his players in the visiting dressing room at Elland Road will endure for a while. However, there have been rumours linking the Derby manager with a return to Chelsea. The Blues’ record goal-scorer did little to quell reports, insisting he will speak to Derby owner Mel Morris next week once their fate is known.
Ashley Cole’s final match as a professional?
With two of his former Chelsea and England team-mates in opposing sides of the dugout – Lampard as Derby boss and John Terry as Villa assistant – Cole could be forgiven for wondering why he is still playing. The 38-year-old, only a couple of weeks younger than Terry, is undoubtedly in the twilight of a glittering professional career but even though he has been used sparingly since signing for Derby on a short-term deal in January, it seems the fire burns brightly. He has dropped no hints as to whether this match will be his swansong. Does he fancy another crack at the Premier League?
Can Jack Grealish make the difference?
The Villa captain has been their inspiration in their late run to the play-offs, scoring four times in a club-record run of 10 straight wins. Grealish scored a stunning volley when Villa beat Derby 4-0 at the start of March,
his first game for three months after returning from a shin injury, which kick-started their winning run. It is little wonder, then, that Tottenham have been heavily linked with making a move for the midfielder this summer. But, win or lose on Monday, Smith warned any potential pursuers they will have to dig deep to sign the former England Under-21 international.