Championship play-offs 2019: Aston Villa, Leeds United and the contenders in the race for the Premier League

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Ahead of the Championship play-offs, Goal takes a look at the teams involved and which players to keep a look out for...

The Championship play-offs kick off on Saturday as the teams who placed third to sixth in the regular campaign battle it out to secure their place in the Premier League next season.

This year’s contenders are Aston Villa (placed fourth in the league), Derby County (placed sixth in the league), Leeds United (placed third in the league) and West Brom  (placed fifth in the league).

It’s not just a spot in the top flight of English football that is on the line, but a massive amount of money too, with last season’s Championship play-off winners Fulham securing £94.7 million ($123.5m) in central distribution payments from the Premier League.

Goal takes a look at the teams involved in the 2019 Championship play-offs, the players to watch and who the favourites are.


Aston Villa


Jack Grealish Aston Villa 2018-19

Villa come into the play-offs as the bookmakers' second favourites , with odds of 15/8 , and for good reason.

The Villans have won four, drawn one and lost one in their last six games, with that loss being at the hands of league winners Norwich, who were pushed all the way by the West Midlands side.

In their play-off semi-final, Dean Smith ’s side take on their local rivals West Brom, and the key man to look out for in those fixtures will be Jack Grealish .

In 31 league appearances, Grealish has been a menace to opposition defences with his ability to not only play in a number 10 role, but also out on the wings as well, using his pace and ball control to get around defenders and put the ball into the box.

This versatility has allowed the 23-year-old to rack up six goals and six assists, and this attacking ability will mean it is likely Grealish who will direct Villa when they go forward.

Villa’s other key man will be their top scorer Tammy Abraham .

The 21-year-old, who is on loan from Chelsea, has scored 25 and assisted three in the league this season, landing him third in the Championship golden boot standings.

If Villa were to win the play-offs, it would see them return to the Premier League for the first time since the end of the 2015-2016 season, when they finished bottom of the table.


Leeds United


Marcelo Bielsa Leeds United 2018-19

Leeds come into the play-offs as the highest-ranked side, having finished third in the league, three points clear of fourth-placed West Brom.

While the Whites are favourites with the bookies, with odds of them winning the play-offs standing at 7/4 , their form does little to deserve it, having lost three of their last four matches, including a 3-2 loss to bottom side Ipswich on the final day of the season.

Marcelo Bielsa ’s side were in command of the league up until just after the January transfer window, where mistakes eventually allowed Norwich and Sheffield United to catch up and overtake them, forcing the Whites out of the automatic promotion spots.

Leeds’ key man will be Kiko Casilla , their goalkeeper, who has kept five clean sheets since making the move to West Yorkshire in January.

Casilla’s form has been called into question recently after letting in eight goals in his last four matches, but when he is in form, the Spanish keeper is a brick wall in net.

Pablo Hernandez will be the other man to look out for, after scoring 12 goals and assisting the same number this season, making him the biggest threat to Derby’s goal.

If Leeds win the play-offs it will mark the end of a 15-year absence from the top flight, and see the Whites take on old rivals Manchester United next season.


Derby County


Frank Lampard Derby

The Rams hold the unenviable title as the Premier League’s worst ever side, with the club only scoring 11 points in the 2007-08 season.

Frank Lampard and his boys will therefore be desperate to get back into the top flight and make amends for Derby’s past, and at odds of 9/2 , there will be a few punters hoping they can too.

They come into the play-offs on a run of good form, having won four and drawn two of their last six matches, including a 3-1 win over play-off contenders West Brom on the final day of the season.

The key man for the East Midlands side will be Harry Wilson , who has racked up 17 goals and five assists from the wing. Look for the left-footed winger to cut in from the right flank, and shift the ball on to his preferred side before getting a shot off.

Wilson is also a threat from free-kicks, so don’t be surprised if he smashes one in.

Tom Lawrence is another Derby player to keep an eye on, with the 25-year-old scoring seven and assisting three, meaning that Leeds’ defence is going to have its hands full when the Rams come forward.

Derby have already been beaten twice by Leeds this season, including at Elland Road in January in the aftermath of the infamous 'Spygate' scandal.


West Brom


Kieran Gibbs West Brom

West Brom will be looking to bounce straight back up into the Premier League, after being relegated last season, and are priced at 100/30 to do so.

The West Midlands side did well over the summer to retain key players like Jay Rodriguez , Chris Brunt and Jake Livermore , whilst using the loan system to bolster their ranks, bringing in Dwight Gayle and Mason Holgate.

The recruitment and retention, allied to a string of consistent performances, earned West Brom fourth in the league, nine points off the automatic promotion places, although a 3-1 loss to Derby on the final day of the season may have slowed their momentum.

The player to watch out for in West Brom’s line-up will undoubtedly be  Rodriguez , who has netted 22 goals and provided six assists in the league.

Gayle , Rodriguez’s strike partner, will also be a player to keep an eye on after he netted 23 league goals in this season’s campaign.

A return to the top flight at the first attempt will be a feat that West Brom will be desperate to achieve.

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The Championship is such a difficult league to get out of, and failure to get out quick can leave a side sinking down the table.

Just look at the likes of Leeds, Sheffield United and Sunderland; since they were relegated from the top flight, each team has got stuck in the Championship, and slipped to League One for at least one season as well.

West Brom will be anxious to avoid the same fate and take the final spot in next season's Premier League at the end of what should be an exciting play-offs between four evenly-matched teams.

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