Aston Villa vs Leicester
A close loss against Chelsea in midweek left Villa 17th in the league, level on points with 18th placed Southampton, preparing to face high-flying Leicester, who currently sit in second place with 35 points.
The Foxes have had Villa’s number in recent decades, in fact, it took Villa 15 attempts to first beat Leicester, after the Premier League rebrand happened in English football.
Villa have struggled to stay in games against the teams higher up the league so far this season. While this will not likely define their season, it will prevent them from rising the table into a comfortable spot, unless they can find a winning formula.
Can they turn their fortunes around against a resurging Leicester team?
Villa First XI
Heaton, Elmohamady, Konsa, Mings, Targett, Nakamba, Luiz, McGinn, El Ghazi, Grealish, Wesley.
Aston Villa – L L W D L
Leicester – W W W W W
Dean Smith on stopping Leicester
“We’ll certainly try (to end their run). They are on a fantastic run of form but we are at Villa Park, there aren’t many teams who will come away from Villa Park and think they’ve had an easy game.
“We’ll be up for it, our supporters will be up for it. We’re ready and prepared to stop their run.”
On Grealish getting fouled often
“I think he gets targeted, there were five or six fouls against him at Chelsea. It shows there’s a target on him.
“It’ll frustrate him if they continually do it and not get cautioned but he takes pleasure in the fact they want to kick him. He gets up and gets on with it.
“I knew he could do it in the Premier League. He made his debut in the Premier League, unfortunately Villa went down to the Championship and he had to spend a few years there.
“He excelled when he came back from injury last season, started scoring goals, assisting but also became the captain and leader. He has matured as a person and player. He is getting better and better.”
Brendan Rodgers on injuries
“Ben was out [on the training pitch] and he will hopefully be fine. We’ll know more by the end of training [on Saturday].”
“Demarai is back in, he’s been in the training the last couple of days, so he rejoined the squad this morning and he was fine. He looks back to being himself.”
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Leicester are not the same team that won the title against all the odds in 2016. Under Brendan Rodgers, they set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Jamie Vardy up front, James Maddison in the number 10 role, Wilfred Ndidi shielding the back and Jonny Evans and Çaglar Söyüncü partnering up in defence.
This team sets up to keep hold of the ball rather than absorb pressure and counter. While they still utilise the pace of Vardy off the shoulder of the opposition’s defenders, he is ably supported this time around by Maddison, who is so often compared to Grealish, and Youri Tielemens who sits further back, looking for that killer lay-off.
Leicester’s haul of 35 goals this season comes from a total xG of 23.80 for the whole team. This means that while they generate a good amount of scoring chances, they can depend on the high skill of their attacking players, especially Vardy, to make the most of any chance that comes their way.
A quick look at their 9-0 demolition of Southampton earlier in the season shows how devastating they can be when they smell a weakness. In that match they worked 25 shots, 15 of which were on target, generating an xG of 4.38. They shoot at every sniff of goal regardless of the chance’s quality, and if the opposition cannot cope with the pressure, they will crumble.
This devastating attacking quality is backed up by the best defence in the league, which has conceded only nine goals in 15 games. They limit their opponents to only 9.3 shots per game with Ndidi playing the vacated Kante role very well – 4.8 tackles and 2.9 interceptions per game shows he is not easy to play through.
While goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel is left with little to do, when he is needed he is effective. He makes 2.3 saves per game, distributing the ball reasonably well with 75% passing accuracy.
Leicester are a difficult team to break down, and one that will punish every single mistake their opponents make while being very adept at creating chances through skill.
One to Watch
Jamie Vardy is currently the league’s top scorer with 14 goals. Along with three assists, he is the best in the league for total goal contributions, and only Harvey Barnes assists more within his own team. He is not expected to offer anything at all defensively – his only job is to terrorize defenders, beat them with pace and put the ball in the back of the net.
The most threatening thing about Vardy is his sharpness and ability to read the game. A similarly fast and alert defensive duo is required to stop him.
Aston Villa 2-1 Leicester – 07-12-2014
Almost exactly five years before the next match, Villa overturned Leonardo Ulloa’s early goal with strikes from Ciaran Clark and the Scottish Cafu himself to secure Villa’s latest home league win over Leicester.
How it could play out
It is hard to believe Leicester’s current resurgence since winning the league so unexpectedly back in 2016. Three finishes of 12th, 9th and 9th suggested their good season was nothing more than a flash in the pan.
It would seem that they have learned how to adapt in the league over those three seasons, with the classic 4-4-2 tactic that served them so well having been found out. Brendan Rodgers has come up with a new way to use his squad to its full potential, and it can be argued that this team is better than the one that won the league.
Looking at their massive overperformance in terms of xG though, it raises the question of whether they are performing far above their capabilities? Scoring more goals than the quality of your chances suggests is usually unsustainable over a long period. Leicester have scored 11 more goals than their xG would predict. For how long can that continue?
Their defensive prowess is also against the usual story for them. In the last three seasons, their goal difference has been -15, -4 and +3 respectively. This shows a steady improvement, but their current goal difference of +26 is a huge step up.
At any rate, it is doubtless than Rodgers has improved the side. Villa’s current shots-per-game rate of 12.9 exceeds Leicester’s current shots conceded rate of 9.3, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that Villa can cause them some trouble. However Villa’s defence has been guilty of complacency and mistakes lately, so they will need arguably the best performance of the season to get a positive result here.
Aston Villa 1-2 Leciester
Leicester are in the form of their lives at the moment. Villa’s solid home form should galvanize the squad enough to see them bring the fight, but the way Leicester are playing at them moment, them leaving with all three points is the likely outcome.
With Villa currently teetering on the edge of the relegation spots, it should be said that games against an opponent of such high quality will not define the season. Keep behind the team and show them maximum support regardless of the outcome.