On Monday evening, Swansea City and Reading will play what is well documented as the richest game in football. Unlike the UEFA Champions League final, in which both finalists take home an absurd amount of money, the financial differences between the winner and loser of the English Football League nPower Championship final are vast.
No one has pinned down the exact number, but the difference in income between the winner and loser of the game could be as much as £100m even if the winner is instantly relegated the next season. Even if the team who goes up is run by poor businessmen and completely unable to take advantage of potential new sponsorship deals, the prize money, television money, and parachute payments alone equal an estimated £60m.
Reading have been to the Premier League before. Though many of their stars have departed, their strike partnership of Noel Hunt and leading scorer Shane Long is made up of two players who were on the team during their Premiership stint, though they were up and coming youngsters and not stars at that point. Two years of Premier League money and a parachute payment, along with some transfer income has allowed Reading to reload, and they're just one step away from a return to the promised land.
Swansea City appeared to be close to going up to the Premier League a couple years ago when Roberto Martinez was the manager, but he set the team back a bit when he departed to Wigan. The Swans have survived that departure, along with the departure of Jason Scotland and the chronic health problems of one time star Ferrie Bodde. Their re-tooled team finished third in the Championship this year, and their firepower and tactics make them a favorite for Monday's playoff final.
Reading play with a 4-4-2 formation, while Swansea play a 4-2-3-1 formation with Stephen Dobbie playing behind Fabio Borini. Dobbie's presence, along with the work rate and intelligence of central midfielders Joe Allen and Leon Britton should give Swansea a significant advantage in the center of the park. Swansea showed in the first leg of their semifinal tie that they can play a possession game even with ten men, and then they showed their skill with 11 men in the second leg, as they won 3-1 to advance.
With Cardiff City missing Craig Bellamy for the second leg of their semifinal tie against Reading, the Royals completely out-classed their opponents, winning 3-0 as Shane Long put in a stellar performance. However, they did not have to deal with the problems that they will have to deal with on Monday in the center of midfield. Cardiff matched Reading with a 4-4-2, Long was great, and their midfield out-worked Cardiff's. On Monday, they might work harder than Swansea and still struggle to get the ball.
Swansea won both regular season meetings between the two teams, they finished higher in the table, they have more Premier League talent, and they will have an inherent advantage in midfield? Why believe that Reading can win? There are a few reasons, though they may be minor stretches.
First of all, Shane Long has 26 goals in all competitions for a good reason. He's an excellent player and he's particularly lethal on the counter attack. Second, Swansea got a bit of luck against Nottingham Forest, despite being the better team. Ashley Williams is generally regarded as one of the better defenders in the Championship, but he committed three penalty kick worthy offenses in the semifinal that were not called. Swansea's luck has to run out eventually in that department. Finally, they're playing this game in Wembley Stadium the same place where the Champions League final took place on Saturday. The pitch might not be in perfect condition, and it may make it difficult for Swansea to play a passing game.
All things considered, it should be a fantastic final. Swansea and Reading kick things off at 10 am ET, 3 pm local time from Wembley Stadium, and the winner gets a place in the Premier League, along with a whole lot of cash.