The Championship play-off final is often hyped up as the most expensive game in the football world.
A win could mean the riches of the Premier League reaching the coffers of a team, which is expected to be up to £170m, and the losing side ponder on a missed opportunity and prepare for another season in one of the toughest leagues in the world – the Championship.
In gambling terms, the Wembley showdown on Tuesday night is a high-stakes, winner-take-all scenario.
The two sides finished third and fourth in the standings respectively and managed to see off Welsh sides Swansea and Cardiff City in the playoff semi-finals.
The stakes are high and therefore, the pressure on the players to produce on the day has also been jacked-up.
And with the pandemic taking a toll on football finances, a ticket to the riches of the Premier League has become even more important for both the Championship teams.
One game, two teams and a whole lot of pressure
Brentford and Fulham are separated by six miles in London but both sides will be looking to make sure that the difference is six miles and a league division next season.
While the Bees have not featured in the top flight since 1947, Fulham are looking to get back into the Premier League after getting relegated just a year back.
Brentford’s ‘Money ball’ methods have garnered widespread attention. The club’s increased used of analytics, at unprecedented levels for a team in the lower divisions, to find value in the market has gained much traction.
They have also been possibly the most entertaining side to watch in the Championship beside champions Leeds United this season.
However, Thomas Frank’s side also showed nerves towards the end of the regular season. A win from their last two games would have seen them get promoted automatically but they lost both the fixtures and West Brom joined Leeds in the Premier League.
Brentford redeemed themselves in the semi-final tie against Swansea, but question marks remain whether the players can perform when the spotlight is on them and the pressure is immense.
On the other hand, Scott Parker has done a remarkable job in his first full season as Fulham manager in getting them into the promotion spots. Parker’s side have also been easy on the eye this season and deserve to get a shot at the Premier League.
The Cottagers also showed resilience in the playoff semi-final tie against Cardiff City and managed to see off a late rally from the Welsh side to make it to the final at Wembley.
Scott Parker has been bullish about the quality of his side and has been insistent that they are one of the best teams in the Championship. It is time for his players to back their manager’s words with a performance on the pitch on Tuesday night.
Brentford have gotten the better of Fulham twice this season, winning 1-0 at Griffin Park in December and 2-0 at Craven Cottage in June.
The two wins for the Bees also helped them to edge ahead of Fulham in the head-to-head results as well with 22 wins compared to the Cottagers’ 21 win and 17 draws shared.
Prediction – Brentford 2 Fulham 1
Given that Brentford have beaten Fulham twice this season already, they start out as favourites. Their performance in the semi-finals suggested that they have managed to address some of the muddled thinking they displayed towards the end of the regular season.
In Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma, they have two of the most potent attacking threats in the Championship and some of their football has been breathtaking to watch. An early goal for the Bees will calm their nerves down, would allow them to settle down and play their brand of football.
For Scott Parker and his Fulham side, the key will be to keep Brentford quiet for as long as possible and strike at an opportune moment. While they would want to impose their style on the opposition, the smart option for the Cottagers would be to try and soak up the pressure early on and wait for the opportunity to strike back.
The longer the game wears on, the more chance Fulham could have to exploit the mental frailties Brentford showed towards the end of their regular season.