We've joined forces with the Not The Top 20 Podcast ahead of the upcoming EFL Play-offs, and their insight, recommended bets, and boosted Sportsbook acca is below...
"Ismael often makes all five substitutions on the hour given the physical demands of the press, so the nine day break up to the first-leg might be an added bonus."
Few early goals as Bournemouth look to take the sting out of the Bees
Bournemouth v Brentford
Championship play-off first leg
Monday 17 May, 18:00
Live on Sky Sports
Brentford come into this as the form side, unbeaten in their last 12 games and having won their last four. This run of wins started with a 1-0 victory at the Vitality Stadium, in a game that Thomas Frank's side dominated, with even Pontus Jansson's red card after 50 minutes at 0-0 doing nothing to affect the game's destiny.
Despite having a man advantage for the majority of the 2nd half, Bournemouth's glittering array of in-form attacking players couldn't find a way to even fashion a decent chance. Arnaut Danjuma is the star of the show, with a hefty supporting cast of Philip Billing, Dominic Solanke, David Brooks and Junior Stanislas, yet they only managed four shots in the game, all of which were taken from range.
Jonathan Woodgate's side then lost their next two games, failing to score against either Wycombe or Stoke, and given Brentford's defensive efficiency, it's hard to have any confidence in Bournemouth getting back amongst the goals against a side who have conceded just twice in their last eight.
Stopping short of opposing Bournemouth given the undoubted creative and scoring quality that they do have, a goalless first half at 8/5 looks the way to go here. The prize couldn't be bigger, with both sides knowing that should they win they will be overwhelming favourites at Wembley.
The league game will be fresh in the memory, so expect Bournemouth to be set up to stifle early on against a side who would happily head back to west London on level terms.
Freshened-up Tykes a great price to qualify
Barnsley v Swansea
Championship play-off first leg
Monday 17 May, 20:15
Live on Sky Sports
Football fans who only get involved in the EFL at this time of the season may well be surprised that Barnsley, who only avoided relegation from the Championship on final day last season, are marginal favourites to progress to Wembley ahead of a Swansea side who fell at this hurdle back in July.
Daniel Farke may have won the official Championship Manager of the Year gong, but it arguably should have gone to Barnsley boss Valerian Ismael. Since he was brought in to replace Gerhard Struber in October, they have amassed 75 points in 40 games, with only Norwich, Watford and Brentford getting more.
The football is both attritional and enthralling; a mash between the gegenpress we associate with Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, and an urgency to get the ball forward that provides an aesthetic more akin to English football's so-called dinosaurs. Ismael often makes all five substitutions on the hour given the physical demands of the press, so the nine day break up to the first-leg might be an added bonus.
This all-action style alongside a set-piece proficiency that has directly led to 17 goals makes them an incredibly awkward opponent. Just ask Thomas Tuchel, who would likely say that the Tykes provided his Chelsea side with one of their toughest tasks, and were somewhat fortunate to come away 1-0 winners in their FA Cup tie back in February.
Swansea fans may feel like they have struck gold in avoiding both Brentford and Bournemouth at this stage, but in truth it is Barnsley who find themselves up against the weakest side in the mix. Swansea's early season form was built upon an incredible defensive record that proved unsustainable. Form of three wins and two draws in their last seven games may not set the alarm bells off, but the performance levels have been poor for a while.
Many Swansea fans have been disillusioned by their team's performances for most of the calendar year, and a look at the xG ratio tables for their last four, eight, 12 and 16 matches pegs Swansea as a mid-table side at best, whilst over the last 24 games an xG ratio of 46% has them six off bottom.
Steve Cooper will be hoping that Andre Ayew is fit for these games, and that would certainly make them stronger, but whichever way you look at it Barnsley come into these ties as by far the stronger side, and should be a good deal shorter than 5/6 to qualify.
Don't expect this first leg to be shy on goals
Oxford v Blackpool
League One play-off first leg
Tuesday 18 May, 18:00
Live on Sky Sports
Play-off semi-finals can often be cagey affairs given what is at stake, but expect Oxford vs Blackpool to buck that trend on Tuesday. Free-scoring Oxford have seen 6-0, 4-0, 4-1 and a couple of 3-2 wins, meaning Oxford crept into the final play-off berth at Portsmouth's expense, all while providing value as the league's entertainers.
This makes sense when looking at the team Karl Robinson has settled upon, with Mark Sykes, and James Henry in withdrawn midfield roles and Elliott Lee, Olomide Shodipo and Matty Taylor making up the front three, so we are likely to see a side containing five players who would consider their natural position to be in the final third of the pitch. Box-to-box midfielder Cameron Brannagan is the most defensive of the trio, with the defensive minded Alex Gorrin unable to make the side.
This attacking constitution coupled with the return of fans at the Kassam Stadium makes a semi stalemate wholly unlikely, even if Blackpool's defensive record on the road is exemplary. Seven clean sheets in their last nine away games, all of which resulted in three points, demonstrate how well drilled Neil Critchley's side is.
But it's this record that gives us the attractive 6/5 on Over 2.5 goals for the first leg. There is little chance of the Oxford boss switching up his winning formula and they will be desperate to take a lead back to Blackpool on Friday.
Blackpool are efficient going forward and the likes of Jerry Yates and Ellis Simms will look to exploit the home side's attacking mentality. They look fair value to win the game in 90 minutes, but the safer bet here looks to side with goals in a game where the home fans will expect to see their side put on another show in this unexpected chance to get back to Wembley.
Go with the best and most in-form team
Tranmere v Morecambe
League Two play-off first leg
Thursday 20 May, 18:00
Live on Sky Sports
These sides couldn't have endured more different campaigns. Tranmere come into the first leg having just sacked Keith Hill, an unprecedented move at this stage of the season and a sign of just how stagnant things have become in recent weeks.
An incredible run of nine wins in 12 league games under Hill quickly turned after losing the Papa John's Trophy Final to Sunderland at Wembley, and just three in the next 13 put paid to any chances of a top three finish.
The dip in form coincided with an injury to 18-goal striker James Vaughan, the severity of which is still unknown given a brief return to first team football in April. Tranmere fans are buoyed by Hills' departure and the return of Caretaker duo Ian Dawes and Andy Parkinson but, unless Vaughan makes a return to the side, they will have their work cut out improving a side who have scored just five goals in their last eight games.
Normally a side who come as close as Morecambe to automatic promotion might find it hard to bounce back from the disappointment, but so unexpected was their promotion push that you feel Derek Adams' side will go into this full of confidence that they can cement their position as the fourth best team in the division.
Five wins in their last six shows that Morecambe are not just the best side in the play-offs, but the form team too; a counter-attacking winning machine so skillfully built by Adams, with the mercurial Carlos Mendes Gomes the player to watch.
They are rightful favourites for the tie at 8/11 and are maybe a touch of value at 15/8 to win the first leg, but given that Tranmere's home record has held up in the midst of this latest identity crisis, with just one defeat in their last nine, the smart play is to take the draw insurance out and back the away side draw no bet at 5/4, though for the acca we're playing it a little safer and going with Morecambe in the double chance market at 4/7.
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