Championship Play-Off 2nd Leg Previews7 min read
West Brom v Aston Villa (1-2 agg.)
The odds are against West Bromwich Albion, after a 2-1 loss at Villa Park.
Confirmation that @AVFCOfficial v @WBA set a new record for the highest-ever Play-Off Semi-Final attendance on Saturday, with 40,754 at Villa Park!#EFL | #EFLPlayOffs | #StepUp pic.twitter.com/G6JI9eNagq
— E F L (@EFL) May 13, 2019
The margin of deficit, of course, is manageable – but Dwight Gayle’s suspension, after his red card late in the first leg, is a huge blow.
One of the main things Jimmy Shan has got right in caretaker charge is moving Gayle into a central role, partnering him up top with Jay Rodriguez in a 3-5-2.
Albion do not possess an alternative senior striker with Hal Robson-Kanu also suspended; even their best young attacking players – Jonathan Leko, Kyle Edwards and Morgan Rogers – tend to play wider or more withdrawn roles.
Shan will therefore have no option but to change the formation, hardly an ideal scenario at this defining point.
Smith’s super subs
Dean Smith should be credited for his substitutions in the first leg.
Aston Villa were not at their best in the first half: Jack Grealish was struggling to influence the game as high up the pitch as he can do and their play was not quite to the tempo they might have liked.
— Matt Lynch (@mattlyynch) May 12, 2019
With the team behind though, Smith replaced quiet winger Albert Adomah and ball-winner Glenn Whelan – the latter at fault for West Brom’s goal with a misplaced back-pass – with Andre Green and Conor Hourihane.
Green injected pace and exuberance into Villa’s play, before Hourihane struck a wonderful left-footed equalizer – both helped bring the best out of Grealish and could have earned starts at the Hawthorns.
There are suggestions that the Villans are likely to spend £25 million on Tammy Abraham, who netted the penalty at Villa Park – in the summer if they go up.
A lot of money, of course, but this is a striker with the potential to play at the very top of the game and his value is likely to rise.
The Chelsea loanee’s power, athleticism and ruthless finishing has been crucial for Villa this season and will once again be massive in the Play-Offs.
Leeds v Derby (1-0 agg.)
Leeds United have given themselves a good chance of reaching the Play-Off Final on Saturday, when they won the first leg of this Semi-Final 1-0 at Derby.
Kemar Roofe’s return from injury is a massive plus for the Whites, especially with Patrick Bamford banned and the ex-Oxford striker turned home the winner early in the second half, following an excellent deep left-sided cross from Jack Harrison.
? That pass from Harrison!
? That finish from Roofe! pic.twitter.com/nQSc1svMfQ
— Leeds United (@LUFC) May 11, 2019
That moment aside, it was not necessarily a classic performance from Leeds – they did not blow Derby away like they did in August’s league fixture and there was no individual wonder-show like Jack Clarke’s display against the Rams in January.
Rather, it was a solid, team display in which Marcelo Bielsa’s men restricted the Midlanders to a paltry seven attempts, none of which being on target.
Kalvin Phillips protected the defence with typical tenacity, Liam Cooper led by example, centre-back partner Gaetano Berardi deputized for the absent Pontus Jansson superbly, Luke Ayling was steady as ever while Stuart Dallas produced an adaptable display at left-back.
Leeds fans will just hope that at Elland Road, they see a bit more from Pablo Hernandez, who has been their main creative influence this term.
Derby must be brave
Derby County have tried to play their normal game against Leeds three times this season and each time, they have not been able to find central routes to goal while Mason Mount has been nullified.
The question for Frank Lampard, therefore, is whether he and his side can find another way of trying to get past Leeds, who are so well-organized.
One option would be to start Jack Marriott up top; his pace and tenacity could shake things up.
However, the reason Marriott has struggled for starts for much of the campaign is because he does not play particularly well with his back to goal and a two-striker system does not bring the best out of wide forwards like Harry Wilson and Tom Lawrence.
I’m going 4231 on Wednesday. Huddlestone and Johnson in the middle. Lawrence, Mount and Wilson behind Marriott.
— Totaal Derby County (@totaldcfc) May 11, 2019
However, David Nugent – as solid a pro as he’s been – can sometimes slow play down so it will be a dilemma for Lampard to devise a system that can unlock the Whites.
Unless there is a huge transformation from Derby’s performance on Saturday, Leeds look good value for another clean sheet.
Aston Villa to win
Derby not to score