There are plenty of key battles to focus on in the build-up to Aston Villa’s Play-Off final matchup with Derby County. For instance, we could zone in on Tammy Abraham and the clash he faces against Derby’s back two. We could look at Villa’s back two and how they hope to contain Jack Marriott (or Martyn Waghorn). We could even focus on the careers of Frank Lampard and Dean Smith on the dugouts
However, I feel that the most interesting match-up will be Villa’s midfield against Derby’s midfield. The reason? Well - both sides can field three creative midfield runners against each other. That could breed a certain type of chaos. Hopefully it’ll be the type of chaos that leads to a Villa victory.
Potentially, Tom Bradshaw, Harry Wilson, Mason Mount, Conor Hourihane, John McGinn and Jack Grealish could all be running at one another. While Frank Lampard could opt to stifle Villa with two defensive midfielders, he could just as equally choose to ‘go for it’. Villa don’t have as much choice, while Derby have proven to be versatile and adaptable across the midfield.
Villa’s main choice in midfield will lie in the decision to partner Grealish and McGinn with either Glenn Whelan or Conor Hourihane. Both have their advantages, but whomever is chosen will still have many important roles to fulfill.
Both teams will rely on their midfield to not only open up the play, but also to stop the midfield runners in the other team. While Jack Grealish and John McGinn will be allowed to wreak havoc, they will also need to pay mind to Derby’s midfield movement - as it’ll only take one sly slice of magic from Mason Mount to undo Villa - and likewise for Jack Grealish as he runs at Derby. All midfielders on the pitch for both teams will need to be at their A game for their offensive and defensive functions if they want their side to be victorious.
Villa’s midfield has been capable of genius this season. Controlling the play, winning and delivering set pieces - scoring goals, making them. The midfield trio - whomever they have been, have largely excelled.And they will need to continue doing so, or even slightly step up their performances of Villa are to earn promotion by beating Derby on Monday.