Premier League: Watford, Palace, Brighton, Leicester in £120m Playoff Chase

Ian Rodgers@irodgers66World Football Staff WriterMay 8, 2013

Watford players were left deflated after the defeat to Leeds on the final day of the season.
Watford players were left deflated after the defeat to Leeds on the final day of the season.Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The Championship season has closed, but the race for the Premier League is still very much on with the playoffs beginning this week.

Cardiff City and Hull City have already booked their place in the top flight after finishing first and second respectively.

But now the chase is on to join them among the English elite next season.

The playoff final at Wembley is billed as the richest one-off match in football (The Mirror) with the winners previously earning in the region of £90 million for their place in the Premier League.

This year, however, the stakes are even higher with a new £3 billion television deal starting in the 2013-14 Premier League campaign (The Guardian).

And promoted clubs could earn as much as £120 million, according to sports business group Deloitte.

Watford, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Leicester City will now vie for the coveted Wembley playoff final on May 27, two days after the Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Watford are arguably the most unfortunate team in the playoffs. Gianfranco Zola's team saw first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Almunia suffer a hamstring injury in the warm-up before the final game of the season against Leeds United.

And reserve keeper Jonathan Bond was then carried off following a bad collision during the match following a sickening collision with teammate Ikechi Anya.

Consequently, Jack Bonham was handed his debut, and the 19-year-old was at fault as Leeds opened the scoring and when Ross McCormack struck a late winner, which ensured Hull went up instead of the Vicarage Road side.

Now Zola must lift his team for the semifinal first leg at Leicester on Thursday, but the Hornets hold the psychological edge over the Foxes after guiding the team to two 2-1 victories over Nigel Pearson's team this season.

Bond has been in Milan to have a mask fitted to protect his broken nose in a bid to be fit for the semifinal first leg (Daily Mail), but Zola is hopeful that both injured goalkeepers will be ready for the game at the King Power Stadium (Watford Observer).

Watford will be looking to striker Matej Vydra to rediscover his scoring form with Troy Deeney ruled out following his dismissal in the defeat to Leeds.

When Watford defeated Derby County on February 23, Vydra scored his 20th goal of the season, but the 20-year-old Czech Republic international has not scored for his club since then.

Leicester, meanwhile, are the surprise entrants in the playoff semifinals. Two wins from their last three matches, notably the 3-2 victory at Nottingham Forest on the final day of the season, propelled the Foxes above Bolton and Forest into the top six of the Championship.

Before those two wins, manager Pearson had been under pressure after a run of one win in 13 league matches.

But Anthony Knockaert's 90th-minute winner at the City Ground on Saturday has boosted Leicester's confidence at the just the right time.

In the other semifinal, one of the fiercest rivalries in English football takes another twist when Crystal Palace play host to Brighton on Friday.

Bleacher Report world football lead writer Will Tidey recently outlined the genesis and history of the intense rivalry of both sets of supporters and supporters are facing disappointment if they attempt to attend the game without a form of identity (Daily Mail).

On the pitch, however, there is nothing to separate the teams' head-to-head record with each club recording a 3-0 win in their home matches.

But Gus Poyet's Brighton have the momentum with four wins from their last five league matches, while Palace manager Ian Holloway saw his side win for the first time since Mar. 5 when they defeated Peterborough on Saturday.

Manchester United winger Wilfried Zaha, who has been loaned back to Palace until the end of the season, will be looking for a winning end to his time at the club.

However, Brighton will be strong favourites to reach the playoff final later this month.


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