Championship Play-Off Final: Aston Villa vs Fulham

John Terry and Ryan Sessegnon

Aston Villa and Fulham will battle it out in the £170million Championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday with both sides desperate to return to the Premier League

Both teams won their home matches in the Championship this season. At Villa Park, ex-Chelsea captain John Terry and Albert Adomah scored the goals to clinch a 2-1 victory in October, but Fulham got their revenge in February at Craven Cottage with a 2-0 win. Ryan Sessegnon and Floyd Ayite were the goalscorers.

Villa go into the match as underdogs, as Fulham have been the form team in the Championship over the second part of the season. However, Villa have a great deal of experience and Chelsea reminded us last weekend that the favourites don’t always win.

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Championship Play-Off Final
Saturday 26 May  
Wembley Stadium 
18:00

To Win (90 mins)
Aston Villa 22/10
Draw 21/10
Fulham 13/10

Aston Villa

After overcoming Middlesbrough in the semi final, Aston Villa have a chance to return to the English top-flight after a two-year absence. They were relegated for the first time in 2015-16 from the modern Premier League and have quickly rebounded after a 13th-place season in the Championship in 2016-17, finishing in fourth place. 

Despite a poor start to this season, Steve Bruce's men have looked much more like promotion material this season – particularly since Jack Grealish's return from injury in November – and a thumping 4-1 victory over champions Wolves in March underlined their credentials.

Bruce has won promotion to the Premier League four times before – twice with Birmingham City and twice with Hull City. The 57-year-old Villa manager will be hoping his previous successes will help the team progress. There’s also experience in the squad with players like John Terry, Mile Jedinak, Alan Hutton, Glen Whelan and Robert Snodgrass in the dressing room.

Terry has been a rock at the heart of the Villa defence with his impressive performances earning him a place in the EFL Championship Team of the Year, along with Ghanaian winger Albert Adomah who has been superb with 15 goals and five assists. Striker Lewis Grabban, on loan from Bournemouth, is the Championship's second top scorer with 20 goals. He’ll be looking to fire the Villains to promotion. 

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Fulham have been stuck in the Championship for the last four seasons and are seeking a return to the top flight. Since they were relegated in the 2013/14 campaign, the Cottagers had finished 17th, 20th and sixth in 2016/17, but this season they were brilliant under Slavisa Jokanovic, finishing third in the Championship on 88 points, two behind second-placed Cardiff City and 11 behind champions Wolves. The 49-year-old Serbian has even emerged as a shock candidate to replace Antonio Conte at Chelsea. 

Fulham booked their place in the Championship play-off final with a 2-0 win over Derby County that sealed a 2-1 aggregate victory in the semi-final. Ryan Sessegnon, named the division's Player of the Season, scored the first and set up Denis Odoi's decisive header. The 18-year-old has had a remarkable season and has attracted interest from the Premier League's biggest clubs. 

He is the club’s top scorer this season with 16 goals and has provided the mosts assists, along with Ryan Fredericks – both setting up seven goals. Tom Cairney is another key player for Jokanovic’s side. The 27-year-old has been a midfield marvel this season, being the engine that makes sure the rest of the Cottagers can be at their best. Sessegnon, Fredericks and Cairney have all made the EFL Championship Team of the Year.

Leading the line up front for Jokanovic’s side is on-loan Newcastle United striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian has played a key role in helping the Cottagers mount a promotion challenge, scoring 12 goals in his 19 games for the club.

The Cottagers have shown how tough they are to beat, going on a 23-game unbeaten run in the Championship from December 2017 right until May 2018. 

Probable line-ups:

Aston Villa: 4-5-1
Johnstone; Bree, Terry, Chester, Hutton; Hourihane, Jedinak, Grealish, Snodgrass, Grabban; Adomah.

Fulham: 4-3-3
Bettinelli; Fredericks, Odoi, Ream, Targett; McDonald, Cairney, Johansen; Kamara, Mitrovic, Sessegnon. 

Prediction: Aston Villa Win (22/10)

I’m expecting a tight affair, but I think Villa’s experience will count. Steve Bruce has been here and done it before on more than one occasion, his experience of game management on the big stage will be key. I’m backing the Villains to secure promotion with a win in 90 minutes.

Written by Chadley Nagel

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