By Dean Gregory
Leicester City vs Aston Villa
After essentially throwing the FA Cup away against Fulham, Aston Villa’s only shot at silverware this season will be the League Cup. After playing a string of youthful second strings throughout the earlier round, Villa have a step up in class against high-flying Leicester.
With a predictably tough season in the Premier League being the main priority, Villa have made use of their second string so far throughout the tournament and treated it almost as an afterthought. However with potential glory in sight, Villa will have to step it up a gear to overcome their next opponents.
Can Villa beat the odds and gain the advantage?
Leicester – D L L W W
Aston Villa – L L W L W
Brendan Rodgers on creating history
“I’m aware the club hasn’t been to a final for 20 years so let’s get there then.
“Let’s not be worried too much about the past. Let’s create this new history but we know we’re going to have to play well to get there. It’s always nice when you have something tangible to show for your progress.
“The players have been amazing so if you can do that it would be great. You can still do some great work as a team and as a club and not win but our ambition is to win.
“Any team that wins anything you have to move onto the next focus and target.”
Dean Smith on the challenge ahead
“We’ve got to learn our lessons. We were very open in our defending and they counter attacked very well.
“It’s easy to forget that we had the best chance after 12 minutes and hit the crossbar. All in all, they were better than us at Villa Park and we’ve got to make sure we learn our lessons.
“I prefer to play away first, but the key thing is making sure we’re still in the tie. We’ve got to strike the balance between being cautious and trying to win. If you sit back and defend against Leicester, they’ve got players who can hurt you.”
On the significance of the occasion
“The players are all ready. We don’t have a lot of choice with the numbers we have, but everyone is looking forward to the game.
“Some of my best memories of watching this football club came in this competition – my dad taking me to the 1977 cup final. I know my history about this football club in this competition and I’m excited about leading them in the semi-final.
“There’s a real good work ethic and a drive about the players that I want to continue. We’re all looking forward to two really good games against Leicester.”
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In their last League Cup game, Leicester mostly stuck to formula with the 4-1-4-1 which has served them so well this season. They fielded a strong team with a lot of first team regulars, along with the lesser used Dennis Praet, Marc Albrighton and former captain Wes Morgan.
In this match they were consistent with their league play, controlling possession with 56.2%. They fashioned 13 shots, five of which were on target. This resulted in two early goals, but they were pegged back in the 70th minute and finally conceded a late equaliser in injury-time to take it to penalties.
Fullbacks Chilwell and Pereira pushed up high to join the attack, with the centre-backs Evans and Morgan staying deep. Cover from Ndidi saw the defence resemble a back three at times, with Maddison and Praet working in tandem to try and supply Vardy. This is very close to how they usually play – they seem to have no intention of letting a chance at the cup slip in favour of chasing down Liverpool in the league.
They weren’t playing to their full potential, however – a 77% pass success rate is way below their average for the season, suggesting that while they were a force, they were at times sloppy. Perhaps if Everton managed more than 68% accuracy, they might not have had such a solid foothold in the game.
Leicester are also typically very adept at protecting a lead, a trait which was vital to them winning the league a few seasons ago. This time out, they conceded two late goals, one of which was a real sucker-punch.
Judging by the fact they have not been shy about fielding a strong team so far in this tournament, it is fair to assume they will play in the same way against Villa as they did against Everton. They could even put out a full strength side, depending on how much they want the silverware. Whatever the case, they will be as tough as they always are.
One to Watch
Wilfred Ndidi was brought into the club to play the crucial Ngolo Kante role, and so far he’s doing an admirable job. 4.3 tackles and 2.8 interceptions per game, along with 2.2 clearances shows he is difficult to get past. If he plays, playing through the middle of Leicester will prove to be a difficult task.
Leicester 2-3 Aston Villa – 24-10-2006
Gabby Agbonlahor scored in extra-time to seal victory in the last League Cup encounter with Leicester. Juan Pablo Angel and Gareth Barry scored the other two goals.
How it could play out
After their title-winning season looked to be a crazy fluke, Leicester are once again looking like the real deal this season. Second place in the league looks like the absolute best they can achieve this season, so they will certainly believe that a trophy of some kind is their due. As a result, they will undoubtedly go all out for the League Cup.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, still have their goal firmly set at surviving what is turning out to be a turbulent return to the top. A good cup run has been a welcome distraction for fans and surely a morale booster for the players – it would only be a good thing if it could continue all the way to the final.
The signing of Danny Drinkwater has been finalised, in a bid to cover for the injured McGinn at least until he returns. Fans are divided on this, but as his old club will attest, there is a solid player in him, and if he can produce then Villa will have landed a gem. While Drinkwater is cup-tied, he will be at the King Power to watch his old and new teams.
The main question to ask right now is whether or not going all out for the cup is the best thing for Villa’s season at the moment. On one hand, football is all about winning things so passing up the opportunity to do so would be ludicrous. On the other, risking injury to crucial players when everybody has a part to play in survival remains a lingering thought.
Surely, going for it is the only cause of action though – if the sleeping giant that is Aston Villa is going to stir, the best way to do it is to claim some long-overdue silverware.
Besides, who would really prefer seeing their team roll over and surrender, no matter what the reason may be? Watching them all but throw away the FA Cup last weekend was no fun at all.
Villa should throw the kitchen sink at this. It is a shot at glory, and these opportunities don’t come around a lot in both player’s and supporter’s lifetimes.
Leicester 2-0 Aston Villa
Villa will come out swinging, and will put up a valiant effort. However, with a currently dwindling squad and reinforcements still coming in, expecting anything other than a loss to a team like Leicester would be optimistic. The aim will be to stay in the tie at the half-way point.