It may be the world’s most valuable club football game but do not expect either Watford or Crystal Palace to stand on ceremony in the English Championship play-off final.
Bookmakers are taking massive chances with their total goals markets on the multi-million-pound match, offering odds of better than even money that Watford and Crystal Palace combine for more than two goals at Wembley Stadium.
Each of the last three English Championship play-off finals have featured more than two goals and, even though there is so much at stake, more than half of the sudden-death ties in which a place in the English Premier League was up for grabs have had at least three goals during the normal-time period.
Both Watford and Crystal Palace know only one way to play and that is attack. The Hornets smashed in 85 goals during the English Championship regular season, 12 more than the Eagles and they were the second highest scorers. The Hornets had a decent defensive record, conceding 58 goals, but the Eagles leaked 62 to rank on the bottom half of the ladder.
Watford games during the English Championship regular season averaged 3.11 goals, with 31 out of 46 going over the total of 2.5. Crystal Palace games during the English Championship regular season averaged 2.93 goals, with 30 out of 46 going over the total of 2.5. And then there were the two meetings.
In the opening round of the English Championship season, the Wembley Stadium finalists met at Selhurst Park, with Watford coming from 0-1 and 1-2 down to win 3-2 thanks to two late goals, including one four minutes into stoppage time. The reverse fixture was equally entertaining, with the Hornets racing to a 2-0 lead inside the first 15 minutes only for the Eagles to fight back and escape with a 2-2 draw.
Punters expecting Watford and Crystal Palace to play cagey, defensive football because the prize on offer is so big do not know anything about either the players or the managers involved in the English Championship play-off final.
First, there are the players. One thing that Watford and Crystal Palace have in common is that their squads are on the youthful side. Young players have considerably less fear than their old counterparts, which is something that is a blessing rather than a curse on the big occasion. Both the Hornets and the Eagles will be more comfortable attacking than defending, irrespective of the state of the match.
Second, there are the managers. Watford boss Gianfranco Zola believes that football is the beautiful game and all of the teams that he has coached, both in England and Italy, have been entertaining to watch. Crystal Palace chief Ian Holloway is cut from the same cloth as anyone who can remember his Blackpool sides will attest. Both Zola and Holloway would rather win 5-4 than 1-0 and that is why the Hornets and the Eagles are likely to produce a goalfest.
With regards to betting on the result of the English Championship play-off final, bookmakers are favouring Watford even though there is a strong case for Crystal Palace, particularly because of its experienced manager.
Holloway knows what it takes to win this special match having been in charge of Blackpool when the Tangerines defeated Cardiff in the 2010 winner-takes-all game.
With its confidence sky high after beating deadly rival Brighton 2-0 on aggregate to reach Wembley Stadium and buoyed by what will be a typically inspirational Holloway team talk just before kick off, Crystal Palace is the promotion value at odds of around 5-4. The media-friendly boss will have the Eagles players feeling 10-feet tall when they walk out on to the hallowed turf and their number include a genuine match winner in Wilfred Zaha.
Zaha, who is on loan from Manchester United after joining the Red Devils from Crystal Palace in January 2013, stepped up to the plate versus Brighton, scoring twice in the second half to send the Eagles to the English Championship play-off final at the expense of the side that they love to hate.
One should have their main bet on Watford and Crystal Palace combining for more than two goals and their secondary bet on the Eagles returning to the English Premier League from which they were relegated in 2005. Both bets are trading at odds against when they should be no bigger than even money.