By Dean Gregory
Leicester vs Aston Villa
After last weekend’s League Cup defeat to Man City, Villa returns to league action with a trip to Leicester City.
Leicester are sitting pretty in 3rd place on 50 points, while Villa have dropped back into the relegation zone and are two points from safety with two games in hand.
Villa’s next five games are all against the Top Six teams, so it’ll be a tough task to get out the bottom three again this season.
An unlikely away win at the Foxes would be a great way to boost survival chances and revert Villa’s terrible record against the Top Six this season.
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Leicester – W D D L L
Aston Villa – D W L L L
Brendan Rodgers on League Cup tie
“We played well in the league game there but in the semi-final Villa played very well and deserved to go through.
“In general in the games, we dominated. But they defended very well. We didn’t take our opportunities in the first leg and in the second leg, their keeper made three fantastic saves.
“We set six targets at the beginning of the season and one was to get to the final of the League Cup, we didn’t quite make it. Now, we are entering the last 10 games of the season and our other targets remain very much on track.”
Dean Smith on Leicester and run-in
“We know each other very well. We’ve played each other three times. They beat us 4-1 in the league at Villa Park and we’d had a couple of chances to take the lead before Tyrone got injured and they exposed us when Tyrone had the hamstring injury.
“Then, we went there to put in a good defensive display coming away with a 1-1 draw then we beat them at the death in the semi-final.
“We know on our day we can more than match them but they’re third for a reason. Brendan’s done a fantastic job.
“We’ve got great belief in ourselves to go out and beat the remaining 11 teams we’ve got to play.
You only have to look at the results last week in the Premier League to know that all teams are beatable.”
Leicester are a possession-based team who usually set up in a 4-1-4-1 with Jamie Vardy up front, James Maddison and Youri Tielemens sitting behind him and Jonny Evans and Çaglar Söyüncü in defense. Wilfred Ndidi sits in the defensive midfield position, linking the defense and the attack.
They look to control their games, averaging 54.3% possession and 82.5% passing accuracy across the season so far. 86% of the passes they attempt are short with 10% being played long – they are capable of trying that tactic if necessary, but it does not suit their playing style.
54 goals scored and 28 conceded gives them a goal difference of +26, bettered only by Man City and Liverpool. They share scoring amongst the team relatively well with 14 players scoring at least one goal this season, although the vast majority come from aging striker Jamie Vardy.
Their defence is hard to break down because they are very good at holding their shape. They are not broken down easily, and the players rarely make individual errors. They are also highly disciplined – 29 yellow cards and one red card is the second least tally behind Liverpool. They don’t often give fouls away.
Excluding penalties, the 50 goals they have scored have come from 45.35 xG, showing they don’t always need a clear cut chance to get goals. Additionally, the 28 goals they have conceded are from an xGA of 36.25 – statistically, they should have conceded 8.25 more goals than they actually have.
They have a lot of strengths, but they are notably weak in aerial duels and at dealing with through balls, according to Whoscored. Neither of their first choice centre backs are particularly tall, so crossing often could be the key to causing them problems.
One to Watch
Jamie Vardy might be one of the best when it comes to scoring goals, but that means little if there’s nobody setting them up. For Leicester the assist king is one Harvey Barnes, who has so far chalked up six assists, the most in the team, along with four goals to boot. His total goal contributions are third in the squad, behind only Vardy and Ayoze Perez.
He manages this despite playing just 1630 minutes this season, the 10th most in the squad, and with a passing accuracy of 78.7%, well below the team’s average.
Leicester 0-5 Aston Villa – 31-01-2004
A furious 18 minute spell in the second half saw both Darius Vassell and Peter Crouch score a brace each, with Dion Dublin chipping in for good measure. Another performance like that one, please.
Previous League Result
Aston Villa 1-4 Leicester – 08-12-2019
Jack Grealish’s goal just before half time was barely a consolation in this one-sided contest. Since this match, Villa have faced a practically full-strength Leicester twice with much better results.
How it Could Play Out
The season is in its third act now. In the first act, Villa started off fairly strong, if not somewhat unlucky or wasteful. The came the sharp downturn in act two, which has left Villa struggling, in the danger zone and bereft of ideas.
If this continues to play out like a typical feel-good straight-to-daytime-TV sports movie, act three could be Villa’s redemption. It won’t be easy – most of Villa’s remaining 11 matches are against teams in the top 10, a group they haven’t had much luck with so far.
Their fate is well and truly in their own hands, though – currently in 19th with two games in hand, and with all other teams around them having already played this weekend, they have a golden opportunity to burst ahead and leave their rivals in the dust.
What’s more, the imminent return of John “Meatball” “McGinniesta” McGinn is set to be a real boost. The team has notably missed his energy and ability in the middle, and his return will feel like a new signing. The return of a key player is so often the saving grace of a club, as we all know with Jack last season.
However, you can only play the team in front of you, which in this case is one of the most expansive, possessive, attack-minded sides in the league.
Villa have been bad in defence this season, there’s no question about it. Individual errors have abounded, and if that continues, they will have a long evening ahead of them.
They managed to buck the trend a little in the League Cup final, though. Everybody expected an absolute pasting from Man City in the region of a cricket score, but that was not the case. A team like them scoring twice was almost inevitable, but it shows an increase in fortunes for a Villa side who seem to concede goals for fun.
Perhaps that was a sign of things changing for the better. Also, Villa beat Leicester the last time they played, making the record this season 1W, 1D, 1L. It’s a record that has slowly turned in Villa’s favour, and is proof that the difference in quality between the sides is not insurmountable.
Leicester 1-2 Aston Villa
This was the last result Villa managed against their next opponents. It is not unreasonable to suggest they could do it again, especially considering the opportunity they have and the morale boost a win here would provide. The team all know what it means, perhaps more than anybody else.