We are just days away from the Championship playoff final, with both managers looking to complete their first season at their club on the biggest high possible, by winning at Wembley.
Aston Villa face Derby County in what promises to be a tightly contested game in the capital, with the match being dubbed as ever as ‘the richest game in football’, noting the money it will bring to the winner.
One decision we think Dean Smith should make is in midfield, by choosing Conor Hourihane over the veteran Glenn Whelan.
It was Hourihane who scored a double in an onslaught over Derby back in March at Villa Park, where the home side won 4-0 in a game that really set them on their way to a marvellous end to the season.
Hourihane was unplayable that day, as was Grealish, as they played Derby off the park.
This is one of a few reasons we think that Dean Smith should opt for Hourihane in midfield on Monday, with Glenn Whelan not having the legs to cope with Derby’s midfield.
Hourihane has featured more regularly than Whelan this season, but the latter has been preferred in a few big games this season.
It was Whelan who made a dreadful mistake at Villa Park as West Brom went into an early lead in the first leg of the playoff tie.
Hourihane, 28, has more energy than Whelan and provides a good balance between defence and attack. He has scored seven goals this season, and assisted a further twelve – Whelan has just three assists and a sole goal.
If Lampard opts for a similar system to what he used at Elland Road, it will be Hourihane that is best equipped to combat this.
Playoff finals are tight at the best of times, so these sorts of calls are crucial to the outcome of the match.
The game is one of the most even finals in recent memory – you could feasibly make a case for either side to win, so fine margins could well decide the fate again.
Whatever happens, choosing Hourihane – who tore apart Derby two months ago – over Whelan, is a justified decision that Smith should make.