Aston Villa v Derby: Margins tight with Premier League in sight

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CHAMPIONSHIP specialist James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) shares his thoughts on Monday's play-off final showdown between Aston Villa and Derby from Wembley.

Aston Villa v Derby | Monday 27th May 2019, 15:00 | Sky Sports

The third of the end of season play-off finals takes place on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon at Wembley as Aston Villa and Derby play it out to earn the final spot in next season’s Premier League.

It what is dubbed as ‘the richest game in football’, there is certainly plenty on the line for these two sides. The victor is set to earn a sum in the region of £170million, as well as a spot alongside the likes of treble winners Manchester City, Champions League finalists Liverpool and Tottenham, and also Europa League finalists Chelsea and Arsenal.

For Aston Villa, this has been their third season out of the top-flight, with boyhood fan Dean Smith looking to lead them back after Steve Bruce oversaw last season’s play-off heartache versus Fulham at the same hurdle.

Frank Lampard could potentially be taking charge of his final Rams game if the betting in the next Chelsea manager market is to be believed. Derby have been plying their trade in the English second tier since 2008 and this is their fourth play-off appearance in that timeframe.

Villa favourites to lift trophy

We cannot deny that there is pressure on both teams in this one. They are so, so close to getting what they want. Ultimately, there is going to be one team celebrating with copious bottles of EFL approved champagne and another with players scatted across the Wembley turf with heads in hands.

However, Aston Villa are deemed the favourites to take their spot in the Premier League, and that is a tag that they need to handle. Does the fact that made the play-off final last season stand them in good stead? Possibly. They did lose that match however and those memories would soon return if Derby were to take the lead in this one. Also, 11 teams have managed to secure consecutive EFL play-off final appearances after losing the first, with nine winning second time around.

It was only a few months ago where it looked as though Villa were consigned to their second mid-table finish in the Championship, after finishing 13th in their first campaign in the division. However, it was their 10-match winning streak, which began with a 4-0 home win over Derby and ended with a 1-0 success versus Millwall that ultimately fired them into contention. So much so, they managed to seal a spot in the end of season lottery with a few games to spare.

The Claret & Blue are best-priced 13/10 to win on Monday inside 90 minutes, whilst 8/13 to win including the possibility of extra time and penalties.

Derby deemed underdogs

Considering that Derby needed a final day of the season win over West Brom to confirm their place in the play-offs, it meant they went into this firmly as the outsiders. Leeds were in the automatic promotion race for some time, West Brom had been comfortable in the top-six for a while and Aston Villa had serious momentum.

Derby are in their eighth second-tier play-off campaign, which is a joint-record for the division alongside Ipswich. The fans therefore have seen all the ups and down in that period, but it was Stephen Pearson’s strike in 2007 that earned Billy Davies’ side a 1-0 win over West Brom at Wembley to last earn promotion into the big league. It is best we don’t touch upon their lack of success after winning promotion, as they were instantly relegated after earning 11 solitary points.

Derby have been in and around the play-off positions for the majority of the season. They did not make the play-offs last season, but did in this, despite earning one-point less this time. That highlights the fine margins at this level and it should not be taken for granted. For all that they have been the underdogs in this play-off campaign, it could be argued that their performance in the second leg versus Leeds in the semi-finals has very much increased the level of expectancy upon them.

County only lost twice in their last 14, one of which was the first leg setback to Leeds at Pride Park. Notable scalps over West Brom and Bristol City arrived in that time as well. For all that they lost 4-0 away to Aston Villa the last time these two teams met, this was seemingly a turning point in the Rams’ season, with their strong 14-match run of form arriving immediately on the back of that.

Derby are 13/10 to lift the trophy, and a best priced 13/5 to win inside 90 minutes. The draw is around the 9/4 mark.

Champ play-off final history

Of course this game does have the tag of being ‘the richest game in football’. With finances playing more and more of a prevalent role in our beautiful game these days.

Being a football romantic, I don’t always like to hear this tag being branded about this game especially. Of course there is the £170million gain, but playing in the Premier League should ultimately be what every team strives to achieve. After all, you only need to ask Fulham from last season that getting all that money is not all what it is cracked up to believe.

You can suddenly afford a different calibre of player to what you’ve been used to, and those that won the promotion are seemingly pushed to one side. I do wonder if Villa or Derby would look towards Fulham’s crumble and have second thoughts after opening the chequebook at every opportunity. Anyway, enough of money!

Over the years, this fixture has generally been quite a close affair. Since 1990, it has been decided with a one-off final, with the first three between 1987 and 1989 decided by a two-legged final. Swindon won the first one-off final in 1990, but financial irregularities meant that losing finalists Sunderland would take the available spot in the top-flight. It does mean we have data from 29 finals to run the rule over to see if we can get any potentially idea of what we’re likely to expect on Bank Holiday Monday.

Of the 29 one-off second-tier play-off finals, only six have ended level after 90 minutes and gone into extra time. Four of those would be decided by penalties, so if this was to go beyond the 90, there is a good chance it could very well go all the way, with neither side wanting to risk winning at the cost of possibly losing, which is common in most finals when it comes to extra time.

There has been a few high-scoring finals, but they have generally been outweighed by much tighter affairs. The Charlton against Sunderland contest that ended 3-3 after 90, 4-4 at ET and Michael Gray’s penalty miss saw the Addicks promoted being one of the most memorable finals. We’ve had a 4-2 and 3-2 in more recent times, but scores of 4-3, 2-2 (4-3), 3-3(4-3) and 4-2 all came within the first 11 finals, the last being in 2000.

It means that in this millennium the games have certainly become cagier. Interestingly, BTTS ‘No’ has paid out in the last six, and all of them have also ended below the 2.50 goal line – 16/29 have ended below 2.50, with 12 of the last 17 also doing so. It suggests we’re likely to see a closer match on Monday.

35% of Villa’s and 48% of Derby’s regular season league matches this season ended over 2.50, so I’m happy to take my chances on this being close. We only have to remember last season that Fulham were scoring goals for fun and that final ended extremely cagey.

49/50 (Blacktype) on Under 2.5 Goals looks worth a play. I normally don’t like backing under’s in a Championship game, especially this season, but this is more than just a game. Given the history of the fixture, I’ll have Both Teams To Score ‘No’ at 23/20 (BetVictor) as well.

Two evenly-matched teams

To put it simply; there really isn’t much to separate these two. Both have an offensive-mind philosophy and in an ideal world they’d look to take the game to the other on Monday. However, the occasion is likely to get to quite a lot of these, and it has done over the years in this final, as we’ve touched upon above.

I don’t necessarily think paying a huge amount of attention to the regular season form counts for an awful lot for these Wembley showpiece occasions. I really cannot be emphasised at how big this game is; the biggest in football in the eyes of many. True, we can say that Aston Villa scored 13 more goals than Derby, and we can state both teams saw BTTS pay out more often than not, being it will be fine margins that finalise this final.

Even over the play-off semi-finals, we didn’t necessarily see the best of Aston Villa and Derby a lot of the time. Villa performed in the first leg and elected to sit back in the second, with them looking suspect at defending a lead over a West Brom team missing some key players. Villa ultimately needed penalties to progress at the end of the day, and they were certainly lucky West Brom didn’t have many forwards on the pitch to take a spot kick!

Leeds were superior to Derby in every way in the first leg, and for all that Derby showed plenty of bottle to turn things around in the second leg, the massive turning point was the defensive mix-up between Kiko Casilla and Liam Cooper. Even so, Leeds have their chances afterwards, but took theirs very well.

Using data from @rramesss on Twitter, we gain an understanding of who really makes Aston Villa and Derby tick. We have data on who generally produces the most clear-cut opportunities, so Smith and Lampard will know exactly who to keep quiet on the opposition side.

It won’t surprise you to see Jack Grealish lead the way for Villa at 16.67%, but Conor Hourihane is only just behind on 15.57%, which quashes the theory that Villa do rely on Grealish too much. John McGinn is at 13.37%, so it is these three who hold the key for Villa’s possibly success on the day.

For Derby, Mason Mount tops their figures on 15.05%, which again won’t come as a surprise. Jayden Bogle on 13.26% however might do, which does suggest that Lampard really wants to get his full backs involved, especially on the right back. Harry Wilson on 11.56% is also no shock, so two key forwards and right back Bogle will be important for the Rams on Monday.

Final thoughts

I personally won’t be touching the Match Odds market on this one. It really is too close to call. For all that Villa ended the season higher up the table, a case can also be made for Derby as well. After the first leg on the semis, we’d back Villa, but after the second legs, we’d probably back Derby. This really is a flip of the coin job.

If you are tempted, then I do think experience generally counts for a lot in this game. The fact Villa played in this game last season could count for a lot, and the stat I touched upon early on that team’s do generally win the play-off final second time around when returning consecutively.

Nevertheless, I won’t get involved in that. Villa being odds-on to lift the trophy also doesn’t interest me either. Under 2.5 Goals and BTTS ‘No’ are my selections from above, but there’s only last selection which tickles my fancy.

Bet365 do produce usually go above and beyond for the big games and they’ve produced quite a few specific markets on this occasion. One which is tempting in is the Player Tackles column. It might not be the most glamorous of bets to get involved with, but I think I’ve found a little gem which has every chance of paying off.

There is a player shots category too and I was hoping to see Anwar El Ghazi on their, someone who shoots at every opportunity. Unfortunately he is not.

Therefore, John McGinn Over 2.5 Tackles at 7/4 (Bet365) looks appealing, especially as WhoScored data claims he averaged 2.00 tackles per-game across the season. He has 14 bookings to his name, the most in the Villa squad, so he certainly is not one to shy away from a challenge. He’ll have a big role to play.

Best Bets

Aston Villa v Derby – Under 2.5 Goals (49/50 Blacktype)

Aston Villa v Derby – Both Teams To Score ‘No’ (23/20 BetVictor)

Aston Villa v Derby – John McGinn to make Over 2.5 Tackles (7/4 Bet365)

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