In 2019, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers won the NBA G League playoffs to no fanfare or acclaim. Maybe some players would get an extra look from an NBA scout, maybe some would get contracts in Europe, but overall, there wasn’t too much benefit for the team and players. Imagine instead the championship came with a promotion to the NBA and $215 million given to the organization. Players would receive bonuses, star players could potentially be brought in and the dream of a top-tier championship would be alive. Essentially, this is the fate the teams playing in European football’s richest game: the EFL Championship Playoff final.
On May 27 of last year, Aston Villa beat Derby County 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in this game on goals from Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn. Thanks to the estimated £170 million bonus the club received from winning promotion, they were able to bring in over £100 million worth of players in the summer transfer market. By avoiding the bottom three of the Premier League table in their first year back, they make another £130 million. All this for the team who came in fifth in the 2019 EFL Championship table.
That’s the beauty of the EFL Championship Playoff, though. While the top two teams in the league table automatically get promoted (this year Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion had the honor), third through sixth place battle it out for the final spot. This year, third place Brentford and fourth place Fulham defeated sixth place Swansea and fifth place Cardiff, respectively. Now, on August 4 at England’s most famous stadium, Brentford and Fulham will match-up for a spot in the pinnacle of English football (and a massive check): the Premier League.
The 2018 EFL Championship Playoff final winners are back again only two years later. After an immediate relegation in 2019, Fulham look to return after a year in the Championship. Gone is former star Ryan Sessegnon, but Aleksandar Mitrovic remains. He’s the club’s top goalscorer this season with 26 goals and has earned the club’s highest rating on WhoScored.com. His 26 regular-season goals were good for the league’s Golden Boot award, given to the highest scorer. The club’s second highest-rated player, Joe Bryan, plays fullback for the squad and has the joint highest assists this year. He is tied with Portuguese midfielder Ivan Cavaleiro with seven.
The squad also features a couple of Americans: Luca De La Torre, who rarely plays, and center back Tim Ream. Ream, a former member of New York Red Bulls and native of St. Louis, Missouri, has the most appearances for Fulham this season with 46. He has also featured for the national team eight times this season, including thrice in the 2019 Gold Cup.
A familiar name to Premier League fans is winger Anthony Knockaert, who has played 72 Premier League matches with Brighton and Leicester, starting 48 times. In over 3,000 minutes over the course of 44 matches this season, he has a pass success rate of 84 percent, a career high for him. Scottish midfielder Tom Cairney leads the club at 90 percent, with Ream behind him at 89 percent.
Brentford seemed like a shoo-in for promotion until their last two games, which they lost to Stoke City and a Barnsley team that barely avoided relegation. After the restart to the season, they are second only to league champions Leeds United in points. Despite this, they finished two points behind West Brom for automatic promotion and only finished above Fulham because of goal differential. Brentford are looking for their first season in the top flight of English football since 1947. They have never played in the Premier League since its formation in 1992.
Brentford are led by two 24-year-olds, Algerian winger Saïd Benrahma and English striker Ollie Watkins. Benrahma leads the team in assists with nine and has 17 goals on the season. This led to a team-leading rating of 7.51 on WhoScored. Watkins is the leading goal scorer on the team with 26, including one in the second leg of the semi-final. He also added three assists, giving him a WhoScored rating of 7.28 for the season. Twenty-year-old Frenchman Bryan Mbeumo also put in 16 goals with seven assists, rounding out Brentford’s young front three.
On defense, Brentford features Englishman Ethan Pinnock, Swedish international Pontus Jansson, and Danish international Henrik Dalsgaard. These men, along with left-back Rico Henry, helped contribute to goalkeeper David Raya’s Golden Glove award. He won this along with Millwall goalkeeper Bartosz Białkowski, as both had 16 clean sheets.
So both teams just need to win the final of EFL Championship Playoff and all of their financial worries will be gone. Who will it be: the Premier League regular or the first time Cinderella story? Find out Tuesday at 2:45 ET on ESPN+.
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