Nineteen teams have booked a place in the 2016-2017 Premier League, and the 20th and final member of that exclusive club will be sorted out at Wembley Stadium on Saturday (11:55 a.m. ET, Bein Sports).
Sheffield Wednesday will try to deny Hull City’s attempt to bounce right back up to the top flight after its relegation last season. Should the Owls defeat Hull City, they would return to the top tier for the first time since 2000.
Man in the middle: Bobby Madley, one of the youngest referees in English football at 30 years old, draws this assignment.
How they got here: Hull City qualified for the playoffs by virtue of its fourth-place finish. The Tigers then clipped Derby County, 3-2, on aggregate. Sheffield Wednesday took the final playoff spot by finishing sixth and then swatted Brighton, 3-1, on aggregate.
Recent history: Head-to-head matchups won’t help us pick a winner as the teams battled to a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough before a scoreless draw at Hull in February.
Team news: Wednesday’s Ross Wallace limped off against Derby County in the second leg, but should be available for manager Carlos Carvalhal. Aiden McGeady, who hasn’t really been in the Owls’ plans of late anyway, is training with Ireland in advance of Euro 2016. Starting keeper Allan McGregor is dealing with a back injury and is doubtful for the final. Eldin Jakupovic, who played both legs against Derby, would fill in again for the Scottish international. Steve Bruce has no other significant injury concerns.
They said it, part one: “I have to be honest and say I wasn’t aware of (Carlos Carvalhal when he arrived) but if you look at his (resume) he’s been around the block a bit. He’s obviously experienced different countries but he’s made a big impression in his first season. He couldn’t have wished for better. It’s up to us to make sure he only gets in the playoffs and doesn’t get to the Premier League.” — Steve Bruce, earlier this week
They said it, part two: “We don’t feel pressure because we know what to expect. Pressure is going on holiday, maybe to Iraq. You don’t know what to expect. Holiday in Algarve and you know.” — Carlos Carvalhal, on Thursday
Analysis: The Championship final is known as the richest game in football, worth at least $250 million to the winner and $425 million total if the winner avoids relegation next season. With that much cash — and a spot in next year’s EPL on the line — nerves will be at an all-time high. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that this is the biggest match that many of these players will have ever taken part in.
With all that said, caution will be the word of the day. The two sides are pretty evenly matched, so if both teams decide to bunker in, room on the counter won’t exactly be abundant. An early goal would make this match much for fun for neutrals, but we’re more likely to see a match where one goal might be decisive.
I’m lean slightly towards Hull City, just because the Tigers have recent Premier League experience — both on the field and in the technical area.
Prediction: Hull City 1, Sheffield Wednesday 0