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Championship playoff primer: Who’s coming up?

Fulham v Middlesbrough - EFL Cup

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24: Adam Forshaw of Middlesbrough is challenged by Tim Ream of Fulham during the EFL Cup second round match between Fulham and Middlesbrough at Craven Cottage on August 24, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

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The story lines for the 2017-18 Football League Championship playoffs are many.

Aston Villa is looking to return to the Premier League, where it was a mainstay for so long, while Fulham competed in the Europa League within the past decade.

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Derby County has been knocking on the door to return to the top flight on a near annual basis, while Middlesbrough is bidding to go one-and-done in the second tier.

So here’s a bit of a cheat sheet ahead of the weekend’s semifinal first legs, as only one of the quartet can joins Wolves and Cardiff City as promoted sides.


Derby County vs. Fulham -- 2:45 p.m. ET Friday

Middlesbrough vs. Aston Villa -- 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Fulham vs. Derby County -- 2:45 p.m. May 14

Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough -- 2:45 p.m. May 15

Top scorers

Derby County - Matej Vydra, 21 goals

Aston Villa - Lewis Grabban, 20

Fulham - Ryan Sessegnon, 15

Middlesbrough - Britt Assombalonga, 15


Last Premier League season
Middlesbrough 2016-17
Aston Villa 2015-16
Fulham 2013-14
Derby County 2007-08

American connections
Fulham has two Americans on its current roster: mainstay defender Tim Ream and young midfielder Luca de la Torre. Some of the U.S. most recognizable names have played for Fulham, including Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, and Kasey Keller. Eddie Johnson, Eddie Lewis, and Emerson Hyndman have also played for the team once nicknamed Fulhamerica.

Aston Villa was the long time home of USMNT backstop Brad Guzan, and Eric Lichaj also spent a good period of time in Birmingham. Michael Bradley and Brad Friedel also played for Villa.

Derby County‘s American alums include Benny Feilhaber, Eddie Lewis, and Ian Feuer.

Middlesbrough had Guzan on the squad for its 2016-17 relegation campaign.

Best top flight finish
Aston Villa - 7 top flight titles
Derby County - 2 top flight titles
Middlesbrough - 3rd place in 1913-14
Fulham - 7th place in 2008-09

Follow @NicholasMendola