Championship Play-off Final - Preview
Ollie Jones - 27/5/23
The game dubbed as the 'richest game in football' is set to have its 37th instalment on the 27th of May. Coventry City and Luton Town will battle it out to cement themself in football history, with the prize of Premier League football next season and at least £170 million pounds! This fixture was a League Two fixture as recently as the 2017/18 season, therefore ensuring that whoever wins, will be one of the underdog stories of the century.
The fixture is set to kick off at 16:45 BST and will take place in front of a mammoth crowd of over 75,000, as fans of the Hatters and Sky Blues descend on the capital to rally their team to victory. Both teams will be confident going into the game, but let's review who might have the edge:
The Sky Blues have experienced a meteoric rise under Mark Robins, after taking the reins in 2017, in a turbulent season, where they went through 3 other managers before eventually appointing Robins and were relegated to League Two. Since then, Robins immediately sent them back to League One in 2018 and then guided them to the League One title in the 19/20 season, to send them back to the Championship for the first time since 2012. Coventry has improved their final league standing every season for 6 years under Robins, and this season's 5th place finish is their highest rank in the 92 since their spell in the Premier League in 2001, where they finished 19th and were relegated to the then 'First Division'. A possible return to the top flight can largely be credited to the outstanding work by Mark Robins. However, this success hasn't been without tribulations, concerns over their stadium, after legal battles with the stadium's owners forcing them to ground-share in the 20/21 season with Birmingham and when they returned last year, having to postpone 3 games due to the poor state of their pitch, resulting in a 5 point deduction. Even this season they were given an eviction notice after Mike Ashley bought the stadium, however, thankfully new terms have been agreed that'll see Coventry continue to play in the CBS arena for at least 5 years. Despite this adversity and ownership troubles, Robins hasn't been fazed and has led them to the brink of the Premier League.
How will they line up?
The side will likely stay largely unchanged from that game. However, the one headscratcher Robins may face is in midfield, as he opted for a second-striker role for Godden in the first leg, but opted to stack the midfield instead in the second, by rotating him for a deeper positioned Jamie Allen. It will be up to Robins whether he sticks with the winning formula against Middlesborough or the partnership of Gyökeres and Godden that has reaped the rewards in the last few months.
The standout performer for Coventry this season has been, without question, Gyökeres. Across all competitions this season, he has played 49 times, scoring 22 and assisting 11. He's ranked first for goal involvements in the Championship, 31 in total, 1 more than the prolific Chuba Akpom and averages 0.69 goals or assists every 90 minutes. Only 3 of his goals have been from the spot. His fast burst of pace allows him to break past defenders in a 'Haaland-esque' style before often unleashing a powerful shot. His ability to hold up the ball and an eye for a pass has been instrumental in creating chances, as this season, he's completed 121 passes that led to a shot attempt, 191 shot-creating actions (such as a pass, take-on or foul) and completed 12 passes that led to a goal. He is a proven match-winner that no matter the result, will almost definitely be playing Premier League football next season. Gustavo Hamer could also have been picked and will be key in this game so keep an eye on him.
Luton has similarly had a fairytale story to reach this final. From the heartbreak of successive relegations from the Championship in 2007 to the Conference League in 2009 after financial difficulties. A 30-point deduction when in League Two solidified their status as a non-league club. They stayed there for 5 years before making a return to the football league in 2014, under John Still. In January 2016, Nathan Jones was appointed manager and Luton never looked back. Jones led Luton to promotion to the third tier in the 2017/18 season before leaving for a short-stint at Stoke City. He then returned to Luton, where they went from strength to strength, as they've consistently improved their league standing every season under Jones, even reaching the play-offs last season, but losing out in the semi-finals to Huddersfield. After Jones departed for Southampton, Luton appointed Rob Edwards after his dismissal from rivals Watford, where he only lasted 11 matches. He's had previous promotion experience with Forest Green in League Two last season but it's been a shock that he's led Luton to 3rd in the standings and the play-off final. Luton and one player in particular could be making history in this final, as Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, who's been with the club since 2014, could be the first ever player to get promoted from every division from non-league to the Premier League with the same club! The running theme of this final seems to be stadiums, as not only has Luton's away-end entrance become famous but also as it stands, Kenilworth Road will need approximately £10 million spent in improvements to make it suitable for the Premier League requirements if they are successful in the final.
How will the line up?
Luton will likely match Coventry for formation, setting-up in Edwards favoured 3-5-2. Likely an unchanged XI from the two legs against Sunderland which I think is unlikely to change, as this provided good balance in those games. Great height for set pieces from the defensive trio, as well as versatility and pace from Adebayo and Morris. The midfield is strong and will be able to match Coventry man for man, which could be an interesting battle to watch and could be where the game is won or lost.
Luton's key player is hard to call with, while I believe Morris's scoring record of 20 goals shouldn't be overlooked, as he has had a terrific performance since his move from Barnsley, and he will be key in the game, with their goalscoring threat most likely to be through him. However, I've opted for Tom Lockyer. He was chosen in the Championship team of the year and has been pivotal to Luton's success. Lockyer's made 39 appearances this season, keeping 18 clean sheets as well as chipping in with 3 goals. He has consistently performed, making 111 tackles and interceptions and 196 clearances. He's dominant in the air, winning 63.3% of his aerial duels, which will be key in keeping Gyökeres at bay. I believe that he has the capability to win Luton the game by nullifying Coventry and possibly scoring via a set piece. I think he's one to watch.
Head to Head
So, the million-pound question is, who will win? I believe the game will be very tight, as the two previous meetings this season finished 2-2 and 1-1. As well as both their semi-finals being narrow victories, 1-0 and 3-2 on aggregate, to Coventry and Luton respectively. Both teams also come into this match in great form. Therefore I wouldn't be surprised to see this match go all the way to penalties. However, I predict that Coventry will win 2-1 in extra-time, with Gyökeres the man to win it.
What's your score prediction, let us know in the comments. We hope you enjoyed reading! All our articles are free, so if you did enjoy, a share or recommendation would be greatly appreciated, thanks for reading.
All data was sourced from FBref and Transfermarkt