Aston Villa vs. Fulham: How to Handicap A $373 Million Match
The stage is set for the most lucrative game in world soccer this Saturday — and no, I’m not referring to the final of the UEFA Champions League between Real Madrid and Liverpool.
While the winner of that clash will earn the game’s greatest accolade, it’s the English Championship playoff final that offers the biggest financial reward going by a huge margin.
In fact, the victor at Wembley between Fulham and Aston Villa this weekend will pocket a minimum of £160m ($213 million USD) in TV revenue by winning promotion to the Premier League, according to Deloitte.
That sum is spread over three years and could rise significantly still to roughly £280m ($373 million USD) should the promoted side avoid the drop in their first season back in the top flight. While the Champions League trophy will go down in a club’s history, the financial disparity between winning and losing prize funds from UEFA is only around £4m. Lifting the Championship playoff trophy, meanwhile, would go a long way toward helping either Fulham or Villa build a better future.
So what of the game itself? Well, for all intents and purposes, this is the chance that both clubs have deserved this season, having disposed of sides below them in the table in the semifinals.
Setting the Stage
Fulham, who just missed out on an automatic promotion spot, are favored to win the match at +143. Villa are currently priced at +244. Keep in mind if you are betting on soccer that these lines are for regulation only. If the game is tied after 90 minutes, the draw (+210) cashes.
Fulham finished third and eventually sawed off sixth-placed Derby after a first-leg defeat, while Aston Villa ended fourth and dumped out the team directly below them in the form of Middlesbrough courtesy of just one Mile Jedinak goal across their two meetings.
It’s the nature of those two semifinal doubleheaders that has fed into the understandable narrative ahead of the finale and made the teams so difficult to separate in the odds.
Fulham unquestionably play the more attractive football, but questions linger about their ability to cope with such a big occasion. The opposite is the general feeling toward Villa, who at times adopt a relatively pragmatic and defensive approach in matches such as these but have a coach — veteran manager Steve Bruce — and squad packed with experience when it comes to getting the result they need.
Six players in Bruce’s likely starting 11 have not only played in a playoff final at one level or another, but all six have playoff wins under their belt. Two more players have been promoted from the Championship, while two of the three remaining players are billed as the side’s most important if they are to secure the victory.
John Terry, the captain, has played out World Cups and won both Premier League and Champions League titles, while academy graduate Jack Grealish is the reformed character who has pulled the strings and been instrumental in helping his boyhood club book their place at Wembley.
Fulham, by contrast, don’t have a single playoff winner on their squad but do have star quality and a very definitive style of play that made them unbeatable for half of the regular Championship season, embarking on a 23-game run without defeat before losing at Birmingham on the final day. That loss will concern the Cottagers’ fans, however, given that when Fulham needed the victory that would have sealed automatic promotion, they ultimately crumbled against a side that was equally desperate for a win — with the Blues fighting a relegation battle.
Nevertheless, the circumstances in which Fulham came back to dispose of Derby in the last round will have given them a huge and much-needed boost. The Cottagers were just 45 minutes away from playoff heartache once again, but Slavisa Jokanovic’s men scored the two second-half goals required in their second leg to ensure that they would not miss out on this opportunity.
Finding the Right Angle
With all of that in mind, it makes finding the right bet more difficult in many ways. However, it also helps to narrow any search for a top tip and focus in on the right markets.
With little to separate the teams anyway, the intensity of the situation and what’s at stake will almost certainly lead to a cagey start to the match. Fulham will no doubt see the lion’s share of possession, but early on they are unlikely to take too many risks with their passing that would allow Villa to counter. The latter, meanwhile, will look to keep things tight, and as is usually the case in games of such magnitude — played at a neutral venue — getting to grips with the opposition and playing surface takes some time.
While it may seem irrelevant to look back at games that neither of these sides were involved in, the significance of the occasion on such matches is important to take into account. Therefore, the fact that excluding a three-year spell between 2010 and 2012, 15 of the last 18 Championship playoff finals have ended with one or other of the sides failing to score is worth considering.
The odds vary significantly amongst UK bookies on the “Both teams to score = No” bet, with Bet Victor offering the best price at a tempting 1.90 (-111). My tip for this one, however, would be on the scoreline staying at 0-0 come halftime, with Sky Bet posting odds of 2.62 (+162) on such an eventuality.
The games have been goalless in four of the last five playoff finals, and while this is an occasion not to be missed given the incredibly high stakes, it may well be a match that doesn’t really ignite until the latter stages.