With the Championship playoff final at Wembley Stadium on May 27, the richest game in soccer will see one of Aston Villa or Derby County promoted to the Premier League.
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Which club deserves a spot in the English top-flight, and the estimated minimum $120 million it will generate, more?
You can use metrics such as fanbase, stadiums, players, historical success and quality of coaches to try and sort this out, but the fact of the matter is, the playoffs are always a complete, and utterly brilliant, lottery.
The path Villa and Derby took to get to the final this season proves that.
We’ve already focused on why Villa deserve to return to the PL after a three-year absence, so now it is time to see why Derby should return after an 11-year absence…
The Rams are on a roll and Frank Lampard, in his first season as a manager, has led Derby to Wembley to play Aston Villa with the latter the favorites to win.
Like Villa, we are talking about a team which has some magical moments in its history. Derby were Champions of England in the 1970s but since then success has been hard to come by. A five-season spell in the Premier League from 1996-2002 was followed by a miserable season in 2007-08 (the worst in PL history) and the Rams haven’t been back to the top-flight since.
Owner Mel Morris, a local businessman who is behind gaming apps such as Candy Crush, has led their crusade back towards the PL in recent seasons but Derby have come up short in the playoffs time and time again, with the Rams failing in the playoffs in three of their previous five campaigns.
Heading into the final weeks of this season Derby were in the chasing pack after a poor second half of the campaign. For most of the season it seemed like Frank Lampard’s youngsters were nailed on for a top six finish, but then they wobbled and it seemed like they may miss out on the playoffs altogether.
But a run of four wins in their last six to finish the season gave them extra momentum heading into the playoffs.
Then came that incredible night at Leeds.
1-0 down from the first leg, then 1-0 down on the night in the second leg, Derby had a mountain to climb with a 2-0 aggregate deficit at Elland Road as Leeds’ fans started the party… Then Derby scored three unanswered goals in a wild 13-minute spell to turn the game on its head before Jack Marriott added his second and Derby’s fourth of the game late on to stun Leeds and send them to Wembley.
With the backdrop of the spygate scandal — which saw Leeds and Bielsa punished earlier in the season for spying on Derby’s training sessions — and the fact Leeds were heavy favorites to get past Derby, this was a sweet moment for Lampard and his adoring squad and fans.
Derby don’t have a lot of cash to work with. They have relied this season on Lampard’s contacts as some of the best young talents at the Premier League level (Mason Mount and Harry Wilson) wanted to learn from him and that is why they arrived at Pride Park on loan. Lampard has translated his knowledge as a player who had an amazing career to several of his Derby players, and it is exciting to think what he can go on to do.
This Derby squad is made up of youngsters from the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool and veterans like Richard Keogh, Ashley Cole and Bradley Johnson who are desperate for one last chance to play in the Premier League.
Lampard has galvanized the entire club and the Chelsea legend regularly bounces in celebration with the Derby fans after games. Runs in both the FA Cup and League Cup saw them beat Manchester United and Southampton on penalty kicks, while they also pushed Chelsea close to show they are capable of competing with PL clubs regularly.
Derby are full of guts and their young stars Wilson and Mount have the ability to win games with one swipe of their foot.
Lampard is a loveable character and if Derby do beat Villa to clinch promotion, he can work his magic to secure some big names signings and they will be an intriguing squad who, like Villa, will play open, expansive soccer. If Derby don’t get promoted then Lampard is already being lined up for Premier League jobs, even at the club where he became a legend, Chelsea. If the Rams do go up we will get to see Lampard and this exciting attacking side put on a show.
That is why Derby deserve promotion to the Premier League.