The race for the Premier League is one for the traditionalists this season, with all of Leeds, West Brom, Aston Villa and Derby boasting a prestigious top-tier history.

Villa have spent more time in the Premier League than the other three, and will take some stopping in the next fortnight.

Dean Smith’s side put together the best run of any team in the division this season to get themselves into this position, winning 10 consecutive matches in March and April to cruise into fifth.

That run directly coincided with the return of Jack Grealish from injury, and Villa’s talisman will be the key to their success in the play-offs.

The midfielder ranks third for key passes and fifth for dribbles per game in the Championship, but his technical brilliance is best proved by the fact he has been fouled a whopping 4.8 times per game. Swansea’s Dan James sits second on 2.7.

With Grealish in the side, Villa are a fair bet to make up for their defeat to Fulham in last season’s final.

Their prospects of at least getting to Wembley are helped by the fact that they play West Brom, the weakest side of the four.

The Baggies started the season well in terms of results, but quickly fell out of the automatic promotion race – and sacked manager Darren Moore – once their indifferent performance levels caught up with them.

They rank among the worst defences in the league in terms of xG (experimental361), and sit 10th for shots on target per game.

James Shan’s side have lost their last three matches against top-six teams, and that trend should continue here.


Having been the best of these four sides throughout the season, Leeds’ end-of-season collapse couldn’t have been timed worse.

Not only did Marcelo Bielsa’s side lose three and draw one of their last four games to miss out on automatic promotion, but they now must take on a Derby side on a totally different trajectory.

The Whites’ problems are not difficult to pinpoint.

They have scored more than once in just three of their last nine games, with key forward Kemar Roofe failing to net in any of his last 11 outings.

Things are getting worse at the other end, too, after a desperate defensive performance saw them lose 3-2 at already-relegated Ipswich on the final day of the season.

With no facet of their game inspiring much confidence, the lapse in energy many predicted would come as a result of Bielsa’s rigorous demands looks set to cost them.

The dynamic of this tie has an extra twist with the fact that Frank Lampard, the disgruntled ‘victim’ of Spygate earlier this season, will be in the opposite dugout.

But, having already triumphed where several Derby managers failed before him, it seems unlikely that Lampard will be affected by such trivial matters now.

The Rams have capitulated under pressure in recent seasons, but the class of 2019 – led by Mason Mount and Harry Wilson, on loan from Chelsea and Liverpool – have changed that perception, after coming through a must-win match against West Brom on Sunday to finish sixth.

Since Mount returned from injury in March, Derby have won four from four at the iPro Stadium, losing just once overall.

No team has conceded fewer shots on target per Championship home game, while they rank seventh in the same metric at the other end, so playing the first leg of this tie on their own patch should help them over the line.



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