If prestige and glory in football are measured in monetary terms (and that's increasingly the case in the modern game) then there is no bigger prize in football than winning the Championship playoff final. When you add together TV money, winnings dished out by the Premier League, ticket sales, and commercial revenue, one season in the top flight of English football is worth at least £100 million.
And so the stakes could not be higher for Leeds United, West Brom, Aston Villa, and Derby County, four clubs who each have a rich history of participation at the top table. All will feel more than capable of lifting the trophy and returning to the Premier League, and history does suggest it could be any one of them; over the last ten seasons of the Championship, the play-off winner's league position was third four times, fourth once, fifth four times, and sixth once.
Here we take a look at the contenders and predict that Aston Villa are the best bet to join Norwich and Sheffield United in the Premier League next season.
Marco Bielsa's record at Leeds has followed a very predictable pattern. His extremely demanding methods - both physically and mentally - tend to begin with a bang but lead to exhaustion and capitulation towards the end of a season. This explains why Leeds, who have already massively overachieved by finishing third, have failed to win any of their last four matches of the campaign.
If that wasn't enough to suggest the momentum is against them, Leeds have actually won only 32 points from their final 21 league games, form which over the course of a whole season would give them 70 points - the same number as Bristol City in eighth.
Leeds might have beaten Derby 2-0 and 4-1 in the league this year, but a lot has changed since the sides last met in January. This time around, Leeds are hoping to recover from a disastrous defeat to bottom club Ipswich Town, who capitalised on a dreadful goalkeeping error and caused big problems throughout the game on Leeds's left, where Stuart Dallas is covering for two injured left-backs.
The chances of Leeds emerging from Derby, and then a final, with victories feel remote.
It is rare the club that sneak into sixth manage to go up, but Frank Lampard's side may be peaking at just the right moment. They are on a six match unbeaten run in the Championship, and their confident possession football is just what's needed to force more errors from that tired Leeds defence. Mason Mount and Harry Wilson are worrying players for Bielsa to have to deal with.
A total of 25 goals in their last nine matches, of which only one ended in defeat, is further proof that Derby may be the very last team Leeds wanted to face. The pressure is off Lampard's side, too, although they will probably struggle if drawn against Villa in the final; Dean Smith's side beat them by an aggregate score of 7-0 in the league this season.
They are technically the form team in the playoffs, and boasting a better defensive record than Villa and West Brom it could be argued Derby's recent flurry of goals shows they are in a fantastic position. Should the Baggies' beat Villa in the other semi-final, then back Derby.
When Jack Grealish plays, Villa look unbeatable. The 23-year-old was supposed to be playing for Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League semi-finals right now, and it shows: he is far too good for Championship level and, while Smith's side have been playing attractive football from back to front, Grealish does appear to be capable of winning games single-handed.
Elsewhere Tyrone Mings and Alex Tanzuebe have formed a rock-solid partnership at the back, John McGinn has excelled in a box-to-box midfield role, and Tammy Abraham may be given a chance in the Chelsea first team after netting 25 league goals at Villa. These four, plus Grealish, are undoubtedly Premier League quality. Now that Smith's proactive tactics have finally taken off, Villa look a cut above the competition.
Their record of one point from the final two matches ended a sequence of 11 consecutive wins, but Villa fans won't be too worried by that. After all, Grealish was absent for the defeat against Norwich and the Leeds game was a hard-fought, impressive draw. It does appear as though the stars are aligning for Villa to win the playoff final one year after losing to Fulham at the same stage.
The Baggies' form has picked up again since Darren Moore's departure, although despite scoring freely they are also leaking goals. In the last ten they've averaged nearly two goals a match - but conceded 14. Given that Villa are also prone to being too porous, their semi-final should be an end-to-end contest with lots of goalmouth action. That will probably favour the more technically proficient side, Villa.
Dwight Gayle and Jay Rodriguez have 45 league goals between them this year, and at the front of a 3-5-2 manager James Shan will expect to seriously test Mings and Tanzuebe. However, their 3-1 defeat to Derby County on the final day was another indication that, when travelling to the bigger clubs, West Brom cannot quite compete.
They have won only one of their last five away matches, losing 4-0 at Leeds during that sequence; if Villa play well at Villa Park on Saturday, they can put the tie beyond West Brom before the return leg. This is no doubt a good side, but those recent heavy losses to Derby and Leeds suggest West Brom won't go up even if they do get past Villa in the semis.