Saturday the 26th of May 2018 could end up being one of the most important dates in Aston Villa’s history as they travel to London to play Fulham at Wembley. The culmination of 10 months hard work comes down to one game with the difference between winning losing estimated to be around ￡170m making it the most expensive game of football in the world.
Fulham has had another fine season this year missing out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season. They improved on last season’s six placed finish by finishing 3rd this campaign by playing what many consider to be the best and most attractive football in the league after Wolves. Last season, however, Fulham were knocked out of the playoffs in the semi-finals after losing to Reading, who went on to lose in the final, so the Cottagers will be hoping to rectify this disappointing end of the season.
The London side came close to repeating this fate once again this season after entering the second leg of the semi-final this year 1-0 down to Derby until star player Ryan Sessegnon and Denis Odoi saved the day sending them to Wembley.
At the end of the regular season, Fulham ended the season topping a lot of the key stats. They finished the campaign with the most possession in the league averaging 57.9% of possession in their games. As well as this, they were the most successful passers in the league with an impressive 83.1% of their passes reaching their intended targets. However, Fulham didn’t perform so well in other departments such as in the air. The Cottagers came bottom of the league in terms of aerial duels won, winning just 16.6 aerial duels per game. They are also the worst in the league in terms of interceptions with just 8.3 per game.
Tom Cairney is the league’s best passer of the ball completing 91.5% of his passes. American centre-half isn’t far behind with 88.3 % of his passes reaching the intended target followed closely by Villa’s James Chester with an 87 % pass accuracy. As well as this, Tom Cairney has completed by far the most passes per game this season with 81.4 followed by fellow Fulham midfielder Kevin McDonald with 65.6.
Fulham’s star player has been youngster Ryan Sessegnon. The player that many were tipping for a place in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad, picked up the Player of the Season award this year for the Championship after finishing the season with 16 goals and 7 assists.
THE BIG MATCH
It is many people’s opinions that the final this year is made up of the two most deserving teams and “the best of the rest”. This should make for a very good game of football with two sides that are full of quality knowing that they only have one game to do it so there’s no second leg to rectify mistakes.
Due to Fulham being the best passing side in the league, Villa should be looking to press them high up the field in the hope of creating some unforced errors in the Fulham team that Villa midfielders Grealish and Hourihane can pounce on.
In my opinion, the best way to counter the threat of the dangerous Ryan Sessegnon is for Villa to put the majority of the ball down the right to Robert Snodgrass. This is because it will occupy left-back Matt Targett who was brought to Craven Cottage in January and since then has done all the defensive work allowing Sessegnon to get forward. If Snodgrass can keep running down the right then it makes force Sessegnon drop back and help out defensively.
Snodgrass will be a hugely important player for Villa on Saturday after finishing the season equal top of the assists charts with Wolves left-back Barry Douglas with 14 as well as scoring 7 himself. On the other flank, Villa’s top goal scorer this season Albert Adomah is without a goal since the 4-1 thrashing of Wolves in early March so he will certainly be looking to rectify this in the biggest game of the season.
For me, this could be one of the best playoff finals in a long long time as the Championship hasn’t had this level of money invested in it before so the abundance of quality on show hasn’t been there before. I doubt you’d use one hand to count the number of players on the Wembley field come Saturday that would look out of place in the Premier League for both sides.
Fulham is looking likely to field a full-strength lineup unless any last minute disasters occur with the only doubt being loan forward Sheyi Ojo who isn’t near the starting eleven. The only question in the Fulham side is on the right wing and Jokanovic will have a tough choice between Floyd Ayite who has played more of the season that Kamara who stood out as an important member of Fulham’s semi-final success.
As for Steve Bruce’s men, right back Ahmed Elmohamady is the only doubt after missing the playoff semi-final second leg being replaced by the ever reliable James Bree. This may be the case for Villa again unless Elmohamady can shake his injury. The other question something fans are asking is who to play in the defending midfield position. As good as Mile Jedinak has been in recent weeks, scoring the goal that sent Villa to Wembley, some fans are suggesting that Bruce should opt with the more mobile Birkir Bjarnasson to handle the fast-paced Fulham side.
Aston Villa has sold is full allocation at Wembley Stadium.
LIVE MATCH CHAT
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