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TONY CASCARINO: Ex-Chelsea & Aston Villa striker Tony Cascarino speaks highly of Jack Grealish ahead of the Championship Play-Off Final, whilst also making his pick for The BETDAQ Derby and shares his thoughts on Baku as a venue for the Europa League Final.


Grealish & co can see Villa return to Premier

I think there is just a bit more about Aston Villa in the Championship Play-Off final. There’s a lot of experience in the side as well as behind the scenes and I feel they’ve had a terrific end to the season.

They’ve timed their run to the play-offs perfectly and are playing with plenty of confidence which is always so important at this stage of the season.

I actually thought Derby were the weakest of the four sides, but Frank Lampard did a real job on Leeds in the semi-finals. They’d lost all three times they’d played them and I think he realised that at Elland Road he had to make sure his players were really aggressive. They got in their faces and made it really difficult for Leeds.

However, I do think that it’s one thing beating Leeds and it’s another beating Villa. They are so well-drilled and with the likes of John McGinn and Jack Grealish in midfield, I think they’ll boss possession and have a bit too much for Derby.

While Villa have some good players in the side, if they make it through their squad will still need plenty of investment, the same as every other promoted team.

You can’t go into the Premier League with little money spent and expect to survive. The league is so strong now that it’s simply impossible to compete with a Championship-like squad as shown by Cardiff this season.

I was lucky enough to play for Villa and I know what a great club it is. When Villa Park gets rocking, it’s a fantastic place to play, so they need to use that support to get them through.

Grealish could easily be the difference. I’ve always felt he’s a Premier League player and I don’t think he’d be out of place at a top-six club. You look at the likes of Mesut Ozil at Arsenal and in all honesty, I’d rather have Jack in my team! You might think I’m crazy, but he affects game much more than Ozil does.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves as he’s still only playing in the Championship, but I have no doubt that he has the ability to make a serious impact in England’s top-tier.

If Villa don’t get past Derby, I’m sure Jack will want to move on as he needs to be playing in the Premier League. Plenty of clubs will have their eyes on him and Villa will surely struggle to keep hold of him.


The ‘BETDAQ Derby’ Play-Off Final

Lee Bowyer has done an amazing job at Charlton. There have been quite a lot of changes at the club with players leaving as well as a number of loanees coming in, so he’s done so well to get them to where they are.

I’m told this game has sold more than tickets than the FA Cup final, so it’s going to be a fantastic atmosphere and I’m lucky enough to be going. The history of the 4-4 draw from 1998 will play its part, but it’s a very hard one to call.

They are two sides who both have plenty of attacking threat, though I just favour Charlton as they are a bit stronger defensively. I think that could just turn it their way.


Little logic in Baku decision

I totally understand that football’s governing bodies have a duty to expand the game by having matches in countries such as Azerbaijan.

However, the fact that it’s ended up in Baku where, not only is it incredibly difficult for English fans to get to, but there are so few tickets on sale that it makes it a ludicrous decision in my eyes.

UEFA and FIFA have a duty to the fans as well and if you look at the finals in recent years and who they are played between, it’s the same clubs over and over again.

They have to consider that for those clubs, the location of the final has to work for them.

If you want to promote the game of football you can’t put these big games in places like they are this year. From a player’s perspective, you don’t want to see a half-empty stand. It just isn’t the same feeling as when playing in front of a packed stadium. It doesn’t stop you putting in a good performance, but it definitely takes the edge off.

There has been quite a gap since the last game of the Premier League, so Arsenal and Chelsea’s players will have done their best to switch off from football leading up to the game. It’s only on Monday or Tuesday that they’ll want to start focusing on it, as they’ll want to conserve as much energy as possible.

Being mentally as well as physically ready is so key in these games and I’m sure both Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri will be telling their players to switch off throughout this week.



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