Update 5:18 p.m.: Fulham are upset winners 2-1, mostly based on this extra time genius strike/goalkeeping nightmare from Joe Bryan from 40+ yards in the 105th minute:
OH MY GOD THIS IS HOW THEY'RE GOING TO GET PROMOTED pic.twitter.com/cF0VpJ7y63— Ryan Rosenblatt (@RyanRosenblatt) August 4, 2020
Bryan made it a brace in the 117th minute, and Henrik Dalsgaard of Brentford put in a clean sheet destroyer mere seconds from the final whistle in the 124th minute. The Premier League and the yo-yo returns to Craven Cottage, having now been promoted or relegated for four straight seasons.
You can make arguments about what the biggest football game in the world is, but the answer to which one has the most dollars (or Euros or pounds, etc) on the line is the English Football League Championship Playoff. Two teams, one game, winner plays in the Premier League next season. Membership in the best soccer consortium on the planet with worldwide media deals and revenue sharing that will guarantee the winner about £160 million is on the line. That’s about $208 million as of this morning.
And if the winner survives and manages not to get relegated next season? That jumps to £265 million. And it all depends on the outcome of one soccer game. One which for some insane reason won’t have VAR, or a video assistant referee, to help correct egregious errors made on the pitch.
There’s a way for a club to avoid all this drama, and that’s to finish in the top-two of the 24-team English Football League Championship. “The Championship” as it’s colloquially called is the second tier of football in England after the Premier League split off in 1992. But it is enshrined that every year the bottom three teams from the Premier League fall to The Championship, and three from the EFL make the leap: the top two in the standings, and the winner of a five-match playoff between the #3 through #6 teams.
The first four matches are home-and-home affairs, but the final is played at Wembley and is one of the most anticipated games on the continent every year. This year’s matchup is plucky Brentford FC, a small-club-makes-good story the likes of which England hasn’t seen in quite awhile, against the Fulham FC of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan. Fulham is also known for the long list of Americans that have played for them over the years, including USMNT legends Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey.
Let’s take a look at the odds on today’s match, broadcast on ESPN+ at 2:45 p.m.:
To win the trophy (and promotion):
Brentford finished just two points behind West Bromwich Albion after 46 matches for the second slot and a guaranteed spot in the Premier League. They had a goal differential that was actually +10 better than the team in front of them, and despite the size of the club they were consistently in the mix all season long for automatic promotion.
Ollie Watkins might be playing in the Premier League next season no matter the result today, as the striker put together 25 goals for the side in 46 league matches at just 24 years of age. Algerian Saïd Benrahma, France’s Bryan Mbeumo, and midfielder Josh Dasilva are all players to watch today for a club that plays an exciting, attacking style.
Fulham had been in the Premier League for most of its existence, but made the drop for four years between 2014-17. They went back to the Premier League in 2018, only to yo-yo right back down in 2019. The “parachute payments” they still receive from their previous appearance, plus being the bigger club of the two West London-based teams playing today, gives them a significant revenue advantage in general.
Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrović is the striker for The Cottagers (nicknamed for their home ground Craven Cottage right on the bank of the Thames River), who tallied 26 times this season in the EFL. The USA’s Tim Ream starts at center back today, and look for Scotsman Tom Cairney to be fearless in midfield.
The pick: Brentford +116 in regular time
The Bees have been a wonderful story in the year of Covid-19. The storybook writes itself as they shuttered Griffin Park, one of the oldest stadia in England, in their last match to advance to Wembley today. The new ground looks incredible, and they’ll be able to christen it with Premier League football for the first time.
Teams that attack downhill and play fearlessly have had the most success in these games generally, and that describes Brentford. Up The Bees.
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