Aston Villa vs Derby County: Picking a Combined XI Ahead of Monday’s Championship Playoff Final

​The Championship playoff final is just around the corner and with it comes the prize of being promoted to the Premier League.

It’s a second appearance in as many years for Aston Villa, but they’ll be looking to go one step further following last year’s defeat to Fulham. But for Derby County, they’ll be looking to get back into the top flight and right some wrongs from their last appearance in the Premier League.

It’s set to be an outstanding encounter between two of the Championship’s most exciting teams, with all eyes on who will join Norwich City and Sheffield United in the Premier League next season.

Here’s a combined XI if available players from both of the finalists.

GK – Kelle Roos

Kelle Roos

Issues in between the sticks have been a major issue for both clubs, but Kelle Roos’ record of losing just three of his 16 starts – as well as conceding less than a goal a game – sees him get the nod in this combined XI.

RB – Jayden Bogle

Bristol City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship

While all the focus this season has been on Derby County’s youngsters who are in on loan, 18-year-old right-back Jayden Bogle has been a shining light for the club.

Signed from Swindon in 2016, Bogle has made 49 appearances across all competitions this season and was directly involved in 11 goals in the Championship.

CB – Fikayo Tomori

Fikayo Tomori,Luke Ayling

Having only ever played senior football in spurts during his various loan spells away from parent club Chelsea, centre back Fikayo Tomori has featured in all but two Championship games this season – the first being on matchday one before the England Under-21 international joined.

CB – Tyrone Mings

Tyrone Mings

Bournemouth loanee Tyrone Mings only arrived at Aston Villa during the January transfer window, but his impact has been immeasurable for Dean Smith’s side.

Villa were sitting in 10th place in the league when Mings arrived in Birmingham, but they’ve finished the campaign three points inside the playoff places in fifth place.

LB – Neil Taylor

Tyrone Mings,Neil Taylor

Scott Malone’s suspension makes Neil Taylor’s inclusion not much more than a formality, although it’s worth pointing out that the Wales international has actually been in fine form since returning to the first-team setup.

CM – Conor Hourihane

Conor Hourihane

Although Dean Smith might favour starting Glenn Whelan in the play-off final to add a little bit more defensive stability, there can be little argument that Conor Hourihane walks into a hypothetical combined XI.

He’s scored nine goals and claimed 12 assists across all competitions, including the vital equalising goal in the first leg of their play-off semi-final against West Brom.

CM – Mason Mount

Mason Mount

Fikayo Tomori isn’t the only Chelsea loanee who will be on show in the playoff final, and even though midfielder Mason Mount won’t be the last, he’s arguably been their most improved export this campaign.

The 20-year-old has been involved in 17 goals for the Rams across all competitions and has been one of manager Frank Lampard’s individual success stories this season.

CM – John McGinn

John McGinn,Chris Brunt

Not even the most optimistic of fans would have predicted that former Hibernian midfielder John McGinn would go on to win the Players’ and Fans’ Player of the Season at Aston Villa following his £2.7m arrival last summer.

But the 24-year-old has not only gone on to establish himself as one of the club’s most important players, as he’s also widely regarded as one of (if not the overall) signing of the season in the Championship.

RW – Harry Wilson

Derby County v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship

At 22, Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson isn’t what many would consider to be an up and coming talent in any division, let alone in the Championship.

But after failing to break through at Anfield, while only offering glimpses of his quality on loan at Hull and Crewe, Wilson has become one of the most in-demand players ahead of the summer transfer window.

He’s been involved in 24 goals for Derby County this season, making a name for himself as a set piece specialist and an expert from long range.

LW – Jack Grealish

Jack Grealish

Despite losing last year’s playoff final, Aston Villa playmaker Jack Grealish was voted as the Man of the Match against Fulham at Wembley.

He snubbed moves to the Premier League after Aston Villa’s promotion heartbreak, and now the 23-year-old finds himself in the same position once again, with a return to the Premier League within his grasp.

The England Under-21 international missed a large chunk of the season due to a shoulder injury, but his return has been the spark to help Dean Smith’s side into another playoff final.

ST – Tammy Abraham

Tammy Abraham

The last of Chelsea’s loanees to make the combined XI is unsurprisingly Tammy Abraham, who finished as the Championship’s second top goalscorer, with his 26-goal haul bettered only by Teemu Pukki.

The England Under-21 international’s tally is more than Derby County’s three strikers combined (20), also equalling his incredible haul that Abraham achieved on loan at Bristol City during the 2016/17 season.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Should Build His Man Utd Team Around Romelu Lukaku Rather Than Replace Him

​Manchester United are set for another major inquest after falling well short of the Premier League title race in 2018/19. One of the biggest names linked with a move away is 26-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku. 

The Belgian has absorbed a lot of the blame for a poor campaign but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and it’s easy to criticise the flaws in his game. However, Solskjaer will have a better chance at success next season if he builds a team around his forward, rather than cutting him loose. 

Romelu Lukaku

The constant chopping and changing has significantly contributed to United’s downfall and selling Lukaku would just be perpetuating that cycle.

A lot of criticism directed at ​Lukaku has come from comparisons drawn to the likes of ​Sergio Aguero, ​Mohamed Salah and ​Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. All three significantly outscored the Red Devils’ striker last season which has only fueled the flames of contempt.

Those comparisons are mute though because Lukaku isn’t the same type of player and trying to make him play like them is only hindering his game. When he has to come deeper or drift wide to offer avenues of attack he frequently runs into trouble. 

Yet looking at his heat maps from games like the 4-0 defeat to ​Everton, reveal that Lukaku never went near the penalty spot in 90 minutes of football. Inside the penalty area is where he operates best and the primary focus of the summer rebuild should be to get Lukaku into those positions more.


Despite being reduced to the bench to accommodate ​Marcus Rashford under Solskjaer last season, Lukaku still finished at ​Manchester United’s joint top scorer in all competitions. Rashford might look better on the ball but Lukaku is the bigger goal threat and he has to take priority over the 21-year-old in the coming campaign.   

The only current players with more Premier League goals than Lukaku are ​Harry Kane and Aguero. He also has significantly more goals than any other United player in his two years at the club, so the stats support the fact that he is their best forward. 

He is guaranteed to get goals for United next season and better service will allow Lukaku to focus on what he does best, attacking the goal area. What Solskjaer should be targeting are some proper wingers and a new number 10.

They too frequently play with inside forwards in the wide areas who are drawn narrow in search of goals themselves. They need some out and out wide options who will stretch the game and whip low balls into the danger zone for Lukaku to attack. 

​Juan Mata is not as influential as he once was and ​Paul Pogba is too hot and cold to be a reliable supporting attacker. That’s where they should be looking to splash the big money this summer on an intelligent, hardworking, creative playmaker. 

Angel di Maria

Just slightly adapting their style to a model that’s closer to ​Tottenham, one that will benefit the players they already have. Re-writing the style every couple of seasons and producing a quick turnover on landmark signings like Lukaku or Angel Di Maria, will only breed more inconsistency.

And no matter the calibre of replacement they get, there’s no guarantee he’ll be a success as the club attempts to integrate yet another style. The safer bet is to build around a striker they know will score, who has already proven to be one of the best of this Premier League generation.


Newport 0-1 Tranmere: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Rovers Snatch Late Victory to Clinch Promotion

Tranmere Rovers sealed promotion to League One courtesy of a last-gasp 1-0 win over Newport County in the League Two playoff final at Wembley on Saturday.

James Norwood produced the first noteworthy contribution for Tranmere in a first half in which both sides struggled to hit their stride, as the striker connected fiercely with a volley inside the Newport area, with Joe Day showing fine reflexes to stop the powerful drive.

The second half was similarly short on cutting edge and telling quality in the final third from either side, but it was Newport who carved out the next big chance in the game, as Scott Davies was forced into a point-blank save to deny a close-range header from Jamille Matt.

Newport were denied a strong penalty appeal late on, with Matt involved once again. The Exiles forward appeared to be brought down in the area, but the referee instead gave offside. The drama continued just moments later as Newport’s Mark O’Brien was sent off for a second yellow card, as the game headed into extra time.

The game appeared to be drifting towards penalties as both sides looked weary in extra time, but Tranmere finally found another gear in the final minute as Jake Caprice delivered a fine ball into the box, which was headed home by Connor Jennings to finally break the deadlock and deliver back-to-back promotions for Tranmere.


Key Talking Point

Tranmere were the superior side in terms of possession and passing the ball with precision, but Newport posed a clear threat with good crossing of the ball and an aerial threat in the penalty area key strong points for Michael Flynn’s side.

The Exiles looked like troubling Tranmere every time they managed to get a delivery into the box, though they struggled to find the finishing touch to capitalise on their clear physical advantage over the opposition.

Ross Joyce,Mark O'Brien

Newport’s physical threat continued to pose problems for Tranmere throughout the game, with Jamille Matt, in particular, giving Rovers’ defence plenty to think about in the second half. 

Flynn’s side were unlucky to see some big decisions go against them after the interval, but Newport lacked the required quality to make their clear attacking threat in the game really count.

Player Ratings

Starting XI: Day (7); Poole (6), O’Brien (5), Demetriou (6), Butler (7); Willmott (6), Bennett (6), Sheehan (5); Labadie (6); Matt (6), Amond (5)

Substitutes: Dolan (6), Bakinson (5), Azeez (5), Marsh-Brown (N/A)

STAR MAN – In a clear sign of the evolution of modern football throughout the EFL, it was left back Dan Butler who provided the most consistently effective attacking outlet for Newport, with a flurry of driving runs down the left flank which were generally rounded off with fine deliveries.

Jamille Matt

Newport are a side which clearly thrives off deliveries into the box and attacking the opposition in the air, and Butler’s work in the wide areas is as much a key part of that approach as any in the attacking ranks of the Exiles. The defender worked tirelessly and had the quality to match his application levels.


Key Talking Point

Whereas Newport’s biggest offensive asset is their threat in the air, the link-up play and movement between Connor Jennings and James Norwood is the key attacking weapon for Micky Mellon’s side.

Norwood in particular looked to have the beating of Newport’s defence every time Rovers broke forward, with Michael Flynn’s team often appearing static at the back and slow to read the danger, but Tranmere struggled to capitalise on the clear threat they posed to the opposition.

Scott Davies,Adebayo Azeez,Stephen McNulty

Despite some swift moves on the counter attack, Norwood cut a frustrated figure all too often as his teammates were often too slow in transition in failing to pick out his darting runs. That generally enabled Newport too much time to get back and defend the open spaces, nullifying the threat of Tranmere’s danger man.

Tranmere continued to struggle to carve out any clear-cut chances as energy levels dropped in both sides and a lack of quality in the final third became an increasingly defining trait of a close-fought game at Wembley, though Rovers finally produced a big moment at the death.

Player Ratings

Starting XI: Davies (7); Caprice (7), Nelson (6), Monthe (7), Ridehalgh (6); Banks (7); Morris (6), Harris (5), Perkins (6), Jennings (7); Norwood (7*)

Substitutes: Pringle (6), McNulty (5), Buxton (N/A)

STAR MAN –​ Tranmere struggled to find any real fluidity in their passing game on Saturday, but James Norwood was the focal point of everything that Micky Mellon’s side did well going forward, as his tireless running and effective movement gave Newport’s defence a real problem.

James Norwood,Padraig Amond

The forward was often let down by a lack of consistent service from his teammates, but Norwood never gave up the cause and carried the fight to the opposition for his side throughout the game with tremendous work rate.


Transfer Rumours: Moraes to Newcastle, Llorente Latest, Villa Demand Huge Fee for Grealish & More

​With summer just around the corner, it can mean only one thing in football: Transfer rumours, and an absolute boatload of them.

So without further ado, here are the latest rumours being churned out to satisfy our cravings for transfer speculation. 

Agent of Wesley Moraes Confirms Interest From Newcastle But Decision Depends on Rafael Benitez’s Future


We begin our roundup with ​Newcastle United, who have registered an interest in Club Brugge striker Wesley Moraes, if his agent is to be believed.

During an interview with ​The Laziali, Paulo Nehm confirmed the Magpies have enquired about the 22-year-old, who has 17 goals in 48 games this season, but stated his decision is dependent on the future of manager Rafael Benitez.

Nehm said: “Yes, it’s true too, we already had a conversation. But, Rafa Benitez needs to renew his contract (first).”

The Spaniard is yet to renew his contract at St. James’ Park after guiding Newcastle to successive stays in the Premier League. Wesley meanwhile has also attracted the interest of both SS Lazio and West Ham United. 

Tottenham’s Fernando Llorente Being Monitored by West Ham & Leicester 

Fernando Llorente

From north of the country to the capital now, as Harry Kane’s understudy at ​Tottenham, Fernando Llorente, is attracting interest from fellow ​Premier League sides.

The 34-year-old, who has eight goals in 34 games this season, is out of contract with Spurs at the end of this season. However, per a report from ​The Sun, he is being chased by both ​West Ham and ​Leicester as the pair look to extend the Spaniard’s stay in England’s top tier by at least one more season. 

It’s said that Llorente, who could sign off his Tottenham with a Champions League trophy in a week’s time, is keen to feature more regularly, which could be the case at either the London Stadium or the King Power Stadium. 

Liverpool Target Move for €25m-Rated Defender Despite Reports of Quiet Summer

Diego Llorente,Lucas Vazquez

From one Llorente to another!

Despite suggestions from Jurgen Klopp that it would be a quiet summer for Liverpool, it hasn’t stopped the Reds being linked with a move for Real Sociedad’s Diego Llorente.

Reported first by the International Business Times’ Oier Fano Dadebat (via a tweet that has since been deleted), AS have picked up the story which claims the Champions League finalists are close to agreeing on a €25m deal for the centre-back.

It must be said that the Spanish side are unaware of any interest in the 25-year-old, who impressed in his 21 league appearances in 2018/19. 

Everton Lead Pack in Pursuit of Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck

Danny Welbeck

Moving on to Europa League finalists ​Arsenal now and their soon-to-be free agent striker Danny Welbeck, who is being monitored by a host of Premier League sides ahead of his release.

According to ​​The Standard though, ​Everton appear to be the front-runners for his signature in a Premier League heavy race that includes West Ham, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Wolves.

The 28-year-old, who hasn’t featured since sustaining an ankle injury in the Europa League in November, could even see his £100,000-a-week wages increase further should he decide to move to Goodison Park this summer. 

Atletico Madrid Interested in Reunion With Striker Radamel Falcao


Few stories can tug on the proverbial heartstrings like a player making a return to a club they starred for earlier in their career, so be prepared for Radmel Falcao to become the latest player to do so this summer. 

The Colombian international has been linked with a return to ​Atletico Madrid this summer, as reported by ​L’Equipe, despite having one more year on his current contract at AS Monaco.

It’s reported that Champions League football is the reason for the 33-year-old’s desire to leave, something that the principality cannot offer after finishing 17th in Ligue 1. 

Falcao was prolific in his two seasons for Los Rojiblancos, with him netting 70 goals in 91 games between 2011-2013. 

Aston Villa Boss Dean Smith Insists it Will Take a ‘Hell of a Lot of Money’ to Sell Jack Grealish

Jack Grealish,Dean Smith

​Aston Villa fought tough and nail to keep Jack Grealish at the club last summer, as Tottenham were repeatedly linked with a move for the 23-year-old.

One year on however, and manager Dean Smith has warned that any potential suitors this summer, with Spurs set to reignite their interest, will require a lot of money to sign the midfielder regardless of whether Villa win their upcoming playoff final against Derby County.

As quoted by ​talkSPORT, he said: “He loves Aston Villa and he’ll want nothing more than to get promoted. If we don’t go up he’ll cost someone a hell of a lot of money if they want to buy him. For me he is committed to Aston Villa and we’ve not even spoken about it otherwise.”

Grealish – who has six goals and seven assists this season – is contracted at Villa Park until 2023, although being told by England manager Gareth Southgate that he needs to play Premier League football to earn a call-up could end his stay there.