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The winner takes it all

Pin Sessegnon has 16 league goals this season. AFP
Sessegnon has 16 league goals this season. AFP

The winner takes it all

Saturday is set to be a momentous day for football fans. Whilst the world prepares for the Champions League showdown between Liverpool and Real Madrid, Wembley will set its stage for the Championship play-off final between Fulham and Aston Villa.

Next season, the Premier League will welcome back one of its previously established sides. In a game valued to be worth £170m for the winner, Fulham and Aston Villa will duel in one of football’s most lucrative battles.

- Fulham’s fight for glory -

Between 2001 and 2014, Fulham were a Premier League side. After flirting with relegation in 2008, they cemented their place as a top-10 team before a series of ownership and economic troubles saw them drop down the table and cut off from the top flight. Now, they’re just 90 minutes away from an emphatic return.

Fulham were disappointingly pipped to the automatic promotion spots on the final day by Cardiff, but that doesn’t distract from their success this season, which has been down to a handful of key protagonists. Top scorer Ryan Sessegnon has been a sensation at Craven Cottage since the arrival of loanee Matt Targett saw him move into a more offensive position. Maverick Aleksandr Mitrovic managed to find his groove in West London and midfielder Tom Cairney has been a reliable cog in the Cottagers’ engine room.

Fulham are no strangers to a big final. Interestingly, in 2010, under Roy Hodgson’s tenure, the Cottagers contested the Europa League final with Atletico Madrid. A 116th minute Diego Forlan winner devastated their hopes of glory and they had to settle for runners-up - a finish they won’t settle for on Saturday.

- Villa vying for promotion -

Villa had spent an astonishing 27 years in England’s top flight before they were axed in 2016. This season, guided by the leadership skills of veteran centre-back John Terry, they have the chance to restore their Premier League status.

Across two rather drab legs, Villa managed to edge Middlesbrough in the semi-finals, running out 1-0 aggregate winners thanks to a glancing Mile Jedinak header. With a team that boats superb technical talent in the likes of Robert Snodgrass and Jack Grealish, Villans fans will be hoping for a more exhilarating display at Wembley.

When you look at the history of the club, you get a taste of their impressive feats. The trophy cabinet at Villa Park boasts seven English First Division titles and a European Cup trophy that they claimed in 1982. In fact, Villa are one of just five English sides to lift the most coveted prize in club football - now referred to as the Champions League.

There will be sleepless nights in both the Fulham and Villa camps on the eve of the biggest game in their recent histories. Only one club can join Wolves and Cardiff en route to the Premier League, whilst the other will be condemned to another season in the Championship.

In the words of Cottagers head coach Slavisa Jokanovic: “People only remember winners, no one remembers the team that lost the final. It is one of the most important games in our careers.”

Thomas Davidson

Thomas Davidson

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