VILLA and Derby County are facing their biggest game of the season – a Wembley meeting that will send one of them to the Premier League and the other left in the Championship to try again.
There will be some key individual battles that could decide the outcome and the prize of promotion back to the top flight.
BETH SMITH takes a look at some of the most important duels of the day.
Richard Keogh vs Tammy Abraham
Derby captain and central defender Richard Keogh will be hoping to keep Villa striker Tammy Abraham quiet. Keogh is an ever present member of Derby’s back four and has been an important part in them sealing a Play-off place. They did not have the best defensive record during the first half of the season where they went on a long streak of games without a clean sheet. But that changed and the Rams were able to tighten up and get the points required to reach the playoffs.
Tammy Abraham has been the main man for Villa in terms of goals and is their top scorer this season with 26 goals in 39 matches. Aston Villa are in talks with Chelsea over a permanent deal for there Stamford Bridge loanee but that will only happen if they reach the Premier League.
This will be an intriguing battle between the experienced defender and a young striker in a rich vein of form.
Mason Mount vs Conor Hourihane
Mason Mount has had a fantastic season on loan at Derby County from Chelsea. He was an integral part of helping the Rams beat Leeds in the second leg of the Play-off semi-final. His goal put Derby ahead of Leeds on the night and level on aggregate. He has had an impressive season playing the majority of games since he arrived at Pride Park.
But Conor Hourihane has had a bit of a stop start season for Villa because of injuries. However when he has played, he has been a vital part of Villa’s team. Not only has he been a strong and steady presence in midfield, he has also contributed nine goals.
This battle will come down to who can take control of the midfield on the day and it will be interesting to see what happens here.
Ones to watch
Villa have a lot of young players at their disposal, but none are more noteworthy than Jack Grealish. As soon as you say his name everyone knows you are talking about Villa or the wave of clubs that are interested in signing him. He has struggled with injuries – and was sidelined for three months during the winter – but when he came back he returned stronger and that has shown in Villa’s performances. He has scored vital goals for Villa and pulls the strings going forwards. He will be a threat there is no denying that.
Villa have had few injury problems with their central defenders this season, but one who has been solid since he came on loan from Bournemouth is Tyrone Mings, especially during the final run in to the end of the season. Mings put in some brilliant performances alongside Axel Tuanzebe, Kortney Hause and – before he picked up an injury in March – Tommy Elphick. If Mings can do the same against Derby, it may swing the game Villa’s way.
Derby County also have young players who have excelled this season. Jack Marriott is one of them. He changed the game when he came on against Leeds during the Play-off semi-final, second leg. Leeds were 1-0 when he equalised for Derby with virtually his first touch. He also scored their final goal of the night and Villa should be wary.
Another young player to look out for at Wembley – and in the future – is Harry Wilson. The 22-year-old is on loan from Liverpool and has had a brilliant season for Derby playing 42 matches this season, scoring 18 goals. Even if Derby do not win and stay in the Championship, Liverpool fans will certainly be excited about the prospects of Wilson.
This season Aston Villa have come out on top in both matches. Villa were 3-0 winners at Pride Park and 4-0 winners at home against an injury-hit Rams side. But this probably will not have any bearing on the result – as Leeds had a similar record against them before losing to Frank Lampard’s side.