Here we are again!
Four teams that weren’t quite good enough to win automatic promotion competing for a position in the bottom half of the Premier League and there’s a good chance that at least one of them will back here next season.
Aston Villa and WBA have played in the Premier League within the last five years, but neither Derby nor Leeds have played in the top tier for over a decade.
The odd thing about this season’s playoffs is that although Leeds were one of the most improved teams this season, both Villa and Derby weren’t as good as they were in 2017/18. That’s also emphasised by looking at the head to head record between the four teams: Leeds only lost once in their six games against other teams in the playoffs, whereas the other three sides lost at least twice – Derby lost four of their six games against playoff teams and actually had a goal difference of -7. The other thing to note is how few draws their have been in these games: just the one, when Leeds drew with Villa a couple of weeks ago.
Villa and Leeds are the favourites, but it’s been a while since losing playoff finalists returned to the final and won it – the last occasion was when West Ham won in 2005 after losing to Crystal Palace in 2004.
Finally, does anyone remember the Curse of Fourth? It’s been joined by the Curse of Sixth: only three teams in the last decade that have finished in either fourth or sixth place have been promoted via the playoffs. Bad news for Derby and WBA in that case.
Therefore statistically speaking, it looks like Leeds should go up. It’s never that simple though.
Aston Villa v WBA (Sky Sports Football/Main Event 12:15pm)
A local derby in the playoffs so that’ll be fun for the neutrals. Until last weekend Villa had won five consecutive home games but the defeat against Norwich was the first time VIlla had lost at home since mid-February. This season they’ve been beaten at Villa Park three teams but have drawn twice in their next home outing. A draw wouldn’t be the end of the world for either team today, but would definitely give the Baggies an advantage next week.
The head to head record at Villa Park is interesting: WBA have won two of the last three matches there but those victories were the first since 2011. Villa have only won two of the last six.
Verdict: this is going to be a tight one.
Derby v Leeds (Sky Sports Football/Main Event 5:15pm)
Just three home defeats all season indicate that Derby are a force to be reckoned with, but two of those reverses were heavy defeats against Villa and Leeds and they only won three of their nine games at Pride Park against teams that finished in the top ten. The other side of the argument is that Leeds need to stop Derby scoring this afternoon, something that has only happened five times this season – and the Rams have only lost twice when they’ve failed to hit the net.
Leeds are on a four game streak without a win and haven’t won on the road since before Easter, but as I mentioned earlier, their away record against the top six – and indeed the top ten – is much better than Derby’s. The other problem Leeds have in this game is that they’ve got a poor record at Derby: although United won convincingly at Pride Park in August, before then they’d only won one of their last ten league games there.
Verdict: anything could happen here, but overall it’s going to be down to which manager prepares his team better. I don’t actually think Frank Lampard’s made much of a difference to Derby, but after what happened a couple of weeks ago against Aston Villa, my opinion of Marcelo Bielsa has gone up – even if my opinion of Pontus Jansson hasn’t.
I’ll update this post ASAP after today’s games and there’ll be a short post once we know who’s going to reach the final.
Aston Villa 2-1 WBA
Derby 0-1 Leeds
Update: Aston Villa will face Derby in the final. Villa won on penalties and Derby won at Elland Road in a very dramatic game.