Championship Play-Off Final: Rams To Rise To The Occasion?7 min read
Derby County’s 4-2 win at Elland Road last Wednesday, which gave them a 4-3 aggregate victory in the Play-Off Semi-Final, was one of the most captivating nights in Championship history.
Derby were under the cosh for much of the first half and had one or two things gone against them in, they could have gone three-goals behind in the tie.
The Rams had been short of an out-and-out striker to lead their attacks, so Frank Lampard should be credited with replacing wide midfielder Duane Holmes just before half-time with Jack Marriott – the speedy front man raced onto a loose ball to halve the aggregate deficit and from then on, vulnerabilities in the Leeds defence were now exposed by tenfold.
— Jordan Thomas (@jordanthomas95) May 15, 2019
We can expect Marriott to start up top here and perhaps the timing could be perfect for him; without having started every week in the second half of his campaign, it could be that he will be fresh and ready to unleash his energy and tenacity in this crucial play-off final.
Wilson and Mount to shine?
Harry Wilson and Mason Mount both produced exciting performances at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge in Derby’s EFL Cup run; they also played key roles in the four-goal hauls at West Brom, Norwich and Leeds.
That suggests that when the on-loan duo play at a big stadium, in front of the TV cameras, they tend to up their game because they know they have a wonderful opportunity to impress their parent clubs, Liverpool and Chelsea respectively.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the chance to play in front of a 90k capacity crowd with the nation watching is something both will jump at and that could be positive for Derby’s chances.
Villa uninspiring in victory
Aston Villa won their Semi-Final through a penalty shoot-out after a 1-0 defeat at West Brom in the 2nd Leg meant a 2-2 draw on aggregate, but it was not the most convincing performance from Dean Smith’s side, who looked limited in certain areas.
Because Jack Grealish and John McGinn were so heavily involved in the central link-up between the lines, we often saw that the players who picked up the ball in space were not necessarily the most technically gifted performers.
Grealish: “He (McGinn) has been a breath of fresh air. He is one of the best I have ever played with – and I've played with some decent players.” #avfc
— villareport (@villareport) May 20, 2019
The task here, therefore, will be to find pace and quality simultaneously out wide.
Andre Green has pace on the right – and with Ashley Cole set to start at left-back over the injured Scott Malone, Derby will need to be careful to protect the veteran from one-on-one scenarios – but Green’s end product can be limited.
Although Ahmed Elmohamady has earnt praise for his Play-Off performances, he is a deep crosser rather than a right-back who can provide genuine width, while left-back Neil Taylor rarely ventures into the opposing half with too much enthusiasm.
Will El Ghazi be at his best?
It could be that the only wide man who can beat a full-back and deliver accuracy is Anwar El Ghazi.
By Monday, the Dutchman will have been fasting three weeks during Ramadan – and it is of course very important to wholeheartedly respect his religious commitments.
However, this means he cannot eat or drink from 5am to 9pm – that’s 10 hours up until kick-off with no nutrients, putting him potentially at risk of dehydration among other things.
That could be a problem for Villa, who do not possess another winger of the same calibre.
Lampard vs Smith
Dean Smith has never managed in a Play-Off Final – or led a team into a close promotion race at a critical time of a season.
Smith has previously coached Walsall and Brentford with the remit of working on a modest budget and developing young players to sell on at a profit, whilst perhaps challenging for a top half berth.
To achieve those aims, Smith has had to be very process-driven: he tends to stick to one way of playing throughout the games he manages, he removes himself from the emotional aspect by staying away from the players at full-time – whether his side have won or lost – because he wants to work in a controlled environment.
Although the 48-year-old has done that job very well, one wonders how he can adjust to a one-off game in which everything is on the line: the margins between despair and jubilation are so fine that it can be important to use the emotion and perhaps adapt that little bit more.
Of course, Lampard also has no experience of Play-Offs as a manager, but to him the pressure may be slightly more familiar: he has been a key participant in Champions League Finals, FA Cup Finals, Premier League title-deciders and much more.
For that reason, Lampard is happier to engage in the emotional aspects – we saw scenes of him enjoying the celebrations at Elland Road – it’s something he relishes.
— GiveMeSport Football (@GMS__Football) May 15, 2019
Value with the Rams
The lower-placed team has triumphed in five of the last 10 Championship Play-Off Finals.
If we looked at that in isolation, Derby would have a 50