Huddersfield Town and Reading will do battle on Monday at Wembley Stadium for the right to take their place in the Premier League next season.
The Championship Playoff Final has come to be known as the most lucrative game in football, with the latest estimates suggesting a success under the iconic arch could be worth as much as £200 million to the victors. But the supporters who make their way to this one won’t be too concerned about that.
Indeed, Reading and Huddersfield fans will be dreaming of rubbing shoulders with some of the elite in world football in 2017-18. There’ll be a nervousness too, as losing at Wembley on this stage can be a bodyblow.
That’s because these two sides have worked so hard to make it this far. Reading performed brilliantly over two legs to tame an excellent Fulham outfit; Huddersfield, meanwhile, edged past last year’s finalists Sheffield Wednesday on penalties.
So while there would have been a sense from Town boss David Wagner and Reading manager Jaap Stam that there was nothing to lose for either side heading in to this post-season tournament, suddenly there is so much to gain. And for the loser, next season feels a long way away.
These connotations not only make the match one of the most important in world football, but also one of the most fascinating to watch for neutrals around the globe. Those who follow Huddersfield and Reading will be watching through their fingers on Monday afternoon.
Where to find Championship playoff final on US TV
Date: Monday, May 29, 2017
Time: 10am ET / 7am PT
US TV: beIN SPORTS and beIN SPORTS en Español
US Streaming: fuboTV (7-day free trial)
When David Wagner took over at Huddersfield in 2015, few anticipated they would be in the promotion hunt this season. But the coach has pushed the Yorkshire club on to incredible heights.
For much of the 2016-17 term, the Terriers were in contention for an automatic promotion spot alongside Newcastle United and Brighton. They did eventually fall short in accomplishing that lofty ambition and there were a few concerns on their part as momentum was lost in the final weeks of the season.
But they recaptured it brilliantly at Hillsborough in the second leg of their semi-final playoff. After being held on home soil and falling behind to Steven Fletcher’s headed, Town could have easily crumbled in the away leg. Yet they equalized through Nakhi Wells and eventually came through in a nerve-shredding penalty shootout.
It’s tough to argue against Huddersfield deserving to have made it so far, as they’ve surpassed expectations like no other club in the second tier. And they’ve been enthralling to watch at times too, with the Terriers seeking to win possession high up the pitch and exploit their opponents.
They’re a team that have relished some big stages this season and their no-fear football will surely be an advantage in what can so often be a nervy game. If Huddersfield can rattle the Royals early on, Stam’s side may find it difficult to settle in to their possession-based style of football.
Wagner will want his side smothering the opposition and will be desperate see his creator-in-chief Aaron Mooy—on loan from Manchester City—on the ball in the final third. The worry for the manager will be that a canny and composed side like Reading may pick them off.
Reading, like Huddersfield, are a side who like to play attacking football, although they go about their business with a little more care than Monday’s opponents.
Only Fulham averaged more possession per game in the league than the Royals, who have switched from a diamond system to a 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 setup in recent weeks. Finishing in third place by a four-point margin, it’s fair to say Stam has got his message across in his debut season as manager.
They acquitted themselves superbly against Fulham too. Going in to the playoffs the London club were the side so many fancied to push on and reach the Premier League, as they were playing such an exciting style of football. However, Reading were superb, limiting them to one goal over the two legs and eventually coming through thanks to a Yann Kermogant penalty.
If they can maintain similar standards here, then Stam’s men will be tough to beat. Throughout his tenure Reading have been so effective going forward and versatile in the way they approach matches. In Kermogant, they have a player with the natural ability to decide games too.
What’ll also be encouraging to Reading fans will be the improvement in the team’s defending in the two games against Fulham. At times this term their willingness to play expansive football has left Reading a little exposed; they showed they can adapt when the situation requires.
Heading into this encounter Reading feel like the sturdier of the two sides having come through two breathless clashes with Fulham. If their experienced players stand up on the day, they should have too much.