The pre-match hype has focused on Frank Lampard and John Terry but there’s extensive African interest in the £170 million showdown
The prematch attention ahead of Monday’s EFL Championship playoff final between Derby County and Aston Villa has been firmly fixed on the eye-watering estimated £170 million financial windfall for the winners, and for two legends in the dugout, Frank Lampard and John Terry.
Since Derby saw off Leeds United 4-3 on aggregate and Villa defeated West Bromwich Albion 4-3 on penalties after being tied 2-2 in the semi-final, the former Chelsea teammates facing off for a place in the Premier League next season has generated column inches, even though Terry is only assistant to Villans manager Dean Smith.
Even though this narrative has overshadowed the meeting between these two sides for what’s tagged ‘the most valuable match in world football’, the direct competition between Nigerian duo Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham has been slightly swept under the rug, regardless of the fact it is one of the game’s fascinating subplots.
Both graduates of the Chelsea academy, the pair thrived in the 2018/19 season away from their parent club. Abraham netted a staggering 25 goals in 37 appearances – the first Villain to do so since Andy Gray in 1977 – which saw him end joint-second (with Brentford’s Neal Maupay) on the scorers chart, and four behind top scorer Teemu Pukki.
For a bit of perspective, Maupay and Pukki achieved their tally having played six more games than the towering Abraham, whose performances during the campaign deservedly saw him named in the PFA Team of the Year.
While Tomori, on the other hand, wasn’t included in the XI of the season, the centre-back’s defensive astuteness resulted in him claiming the Rams’ Player of the Year award.
The 21-year old was beaten to the PFA TOTY by Leeds’ central defensive pairing of Liam Cooper and Pontus Jansson, but how did he fare statistically when compared to the duo?
Cooper and Jansson bettered the Blues loanee in interceptions per game, tackles won per game and clearances per game, while Tomori, who equaled Cooper, beat Jansson for percentage of duels won over the campaign.
For the Anglo-Nigerian central defender, the improvement during his Derby adventure is palpable after last year’s inconsistent outings at Hull City, where he was in and out of the side as the Tigers battled for their lives.
This term, though, under Lampard, he has played a more prominent role over the season and has developed as a player.
Like Tomori, it’s also been a year of recovery for Abraham after his underwhelming performances in the top flight with Swansea City in 2017/18.
After thriving in his loan spell with Bristol City a year earlier – he scored 23 times in 41 appearances – the gigantic frontman could only hit the back of the net on five occasions in 31 games for the Swans who suffered the ignominy of relegation at the end of the season.
However, he’s bounced back this year under the guidance of Smith and Terry, to show performances from a couple of years back were no fluke, and he’ll have sights on proving himself in the Premier League after displaying deficiencies the first time around.
While success for either Derby or Villa gives one of the pair a chance to prove himself in the big time, failure to gain promotion shouldn’t be seen as fatal either.
Their impressive campaigns have come at the right time in that teams in England’s top division may be willing to give them a shot in the league if Chelsea put them on the loan market again.
Conversely, when the West London club’s potential transfer ban is put into consideration; the aforementioned may be shelved as they may be retained by their parent club.
In truth, Abraham’s prospects of gaining a place in the Blues’ setup, even if in a rotational role, are higher than Tomori’s. With Gonzalo Higuain’s loan spell unlikely to be renewed or made permanent and Alvaro Morata revealing his intentions to remain at Atletico Madrid, Olivier Giroud and a returning Michy Batshuayi might be the only recognized strikers in the side next season.
Contrast that to Tomori who will have to slug it out with David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and a returning Kurt Zouma, who impressed at Everton, for a central defensive role.
Consequently, triumph for their sides on Monday gives either player the added security of returning to Villa or Derby if they’re not retained by Chelsea or wanted by any other team in the top flight.
When both sides met in the regular season, Villa recorded resounding 3-0 and 4-0 victories in November and March respectively.
However, as Derby have proved in the semi-final by defeating Leeds – a side that recorded a 6-1 aggregate win over them during the season – they’re a different proposition in the playoffs.
Lampard and Terry may take most of the limelight before a ball is kicked, but the fate of their sides will be, to an extent, determined by their dazzling 21-year-olds in Tomori and Abraham.
Other Africans in the playoff final
Tomori and Abraham aren’t the only African All-Stars set to feature in Monday’s final.
For Derby, experienced defender Curtis Davies is eligible for Sierra Leone, but has had his playing time reduced by Tomori this season.
Albert Adomah has extensive experience of playing in the Championship, while Axel Tuanzebe is eligible for the Democratic Republic of Congo.