Aston Villa v Derby County
(Sky Sports Football/Main Event 2:oopm, kick off 3:00pm)
Well that flew by didn’t it: the
most boring ‘richest’ game in the world is here once more, although let’s not get too excited.
The recent history of the final has been dominated by low scoring games, half of which had to go to extra time to be settled. The last time we saw more than two goals scored and both finalists actually scoring was in 2012: five of the last six matches finished 1-0 and on average we had to wait about an hour for a goal
However, the fact that a 5th v 6th final is such a rarity may mean that it’s a tendency breaker – but as you’re about to find out, that may not be a good thing for one of the teams involved.
And let’s not forget that one of these teams will become the first club since Crystal Palace in 2013 to be promoted to the Premier League having won fewer than 80 points.
Beaten finalists 2018. Last ten regular season away games: 5-3-2 13-9 – almost exactly the same as last season.
Their current streak of seven games without an away defeat is Villa’s best form on the road this season, but all of those games were against sides with an average finishing position of 14th, including two wins against teams that were relegated and ‘that’ equaliser at Leeds last month that was possibly a parting gift from Marcelo Bielsa. Then there’s this interesting stat: they had the second worst home defence last season (only Rotherham conceded more) but the fourth best away defence in the Championship – and that could be crucial, considering Derby finished with an away goal difference of -5.
Villa scored the sixth most away goals last season but that was still 18 fewer than they did at Villa Park. They also failed to beat any of the teams that finished above them on the road but won 3-0 at Derby in November:
Overall: don’t be fooled by the ‘big name’ nonsense – Villa weren’t actually as good as they were in 2017/18, but that was one of the reasons Steve Bruce was replaced in October and Dean Smith seems to have got the best out of the team. However, let’s not forget that they finished thirteen points behind runners up Sheffield United, which is more than twice the difference from 2017/18, when they finished six points behind Cardiff – who were relegated from the Premier League in April. Villa might be a big fish in a small pond in the Championship, but if they go up that situation will be reversed.
Winners: 2007; Finalists: 1994, 2014; Semi Finalists: 1992, 2005, 2016, 2018.
Last ten away regular season games: 1-5-4, 9-16
Take a look at that record: over the last 25 years, The Rams have reached the playoffs seven times and have only been promoted once – and then were historically awful.
With the benefit of hindsight, Derby’s win at Leeds in the playoff semi final might actually just be an indication of how dramatic Leeds’ end of season implosion actually was rather than showcasing Derby’s promotion credentials. Before they won at Bristol City (with the help of card happy referee Darren Bond) they’d gone eight games without a win and hadn’t won an away game in 2018; those last ten games mentioned above were all against similar teams to those that Villa have done well against recently.
Derby did win their regular season games at WBA and Norwich but remarkably they also only picked up one point from nine available at those teams that will be playing in League One next season. The Rams also conceded in all but three of their away games last season and had the tenth best away defence in the Championship; they’ll have their hands full with Tammy Abraham but it’s also fair to say that they’ve been over reliant on Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson for goals.
Yet it’s not inconceivable that Derby will win promotion: they earned four more points that Blackpool did in 2009/10 and the same amount as Sheffield Wednesday earned when they reached the finals in 2015/16 but it was Blackpool who went up. In terms of Derby’s play-off history, this season’s team won three more points than the side that lost to Leicester in the 1994 final, but nine points fewer than the iteration that lost so dramatically in the 2014 final.
Head to head: Villa have won six of the last ten meetings and only lost twice – both of those defeats were at Derby.
Previous finals – last ten only:
Today’s game is only second time that a sixth placed team has actually reached the final over the last decade. The last sixth placed finisher to win the final was Blackpool in 2010.
It’s the first 5th v 6th final since West Ham v Preston in 2005 – West Ham won 1-0.
Higher placed teams have won exactly half of last ten finals.
The last six finals have all featured under three goals, the last time both teams scored was all the way back in 2012 (West Ham 2-1 Blackpool)
Verdict: history is against Derby here. They finished 3rd when they lost to QPR in the 2014 final and that team was a lot better than this season’s version but as you can see here, this year’s team seems to have more in common with the QPR side that beat them five years ago – which might be very significant.
On the other hand, history is also against Villa. The last team to return to a playoff final after losing it at the end of the previous season were West Ham in 2005, even though Crystal Palace (1997) and Leicester (1994) had both managed that feat before then. Villa fans can take some comfort that in both of the previous all-Midlands finals the higher placed finisher won both.
Now bearing in mind that I have a record of getting these wrong, I’m going to back Villa to win promotion – especially if they score first, as I’d also expect them to get another within ten minutes as Derby have to adapt tactically. It’s also worth remembering that Derby failed to score in both games against Villa this season and they were particularly vulnerable to Conor Hourihane.
Update: Derby and Charlton will be playing in the Championship next season.