LEICESTER host Aston Villa in Wednesday night's EFL Cup semi-final first leg. Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) analyses the encounter.
Leicester v Aston Villa | Wednesday 8th January 2020, 20:00 | Sky Sports
Leicester must negotiate their way past fellow Midlands club Aston Villa over two legs to earn a place in what would be their first cup final for 20 years.
It’s been a phenomenal season for Brendan Rodgers’ men, sitting second in the Premier League and with their slim title hopes all but over after back-to-back defeats over Christmas, the priority now will turn to ensuring Champions League football for next season is secured.
That’s not to say that the Foxes will take these semi-final ties lightly and should play a strong team here having rested the majority of their first XI during the weekend FA Cup victory over Wigan. It’s likely that, from those that started against the Latics, only Ben Chilwell and Harvey Barnes will start from the off again here and that means Leicester will be fresh and a fresh Leicester are a dangerous team.
The Foxes' talisman Jamie Vardy, who has 26 goals in his manager’s 31 Premier League games in charge, should return having missed a few games because of the birth of his daughter and then a calf injury. Odds on Vardy to score however, repeating his brace at Villa Park exactly a month on from this EFL Cup game, are very short so we’ll have to look elsewhere for value.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, will come into Wednesday’s semi-final in rather different mood having lost two key players to season-ending injuries in the past week – both Tom Heaton and Wesley suffering ACL problems and replacing them will be a tough ask on top of already missing Matt Targett and John McGinn.
Despite spending big in the summer, the extent of which seemed unnecessary given how well some of their now second choice players played during the promotion winning campaign, Dean Smith may have to delve into the transfer market again to help his team stay in the top-flight.
In the short term however, Smith will want to ensure that his side keep this competitive and take a respectable result back to Villa Park for the second leg so could well switch to the five-man backline that excelled at Burnley on New Year’s Day, especially with Tyrone Mings now back from the treatment room.
Grealish expected to lead the Villa fight
A man who has been relied upon consistently to deliver for his boyhood club is Jack Grealish and although I expect Leicester to come out on top here, I do want to get the Villa man on side to make some form of an impact in this game. With McGinn and Wesley unavailable, the emphasis on Grealish to perform intensifies but the 24-year-old has shown time and time again that he’s willing to lead the charge to keep Villa up this season or certainly put up a good fight trying.
The Villans captain isn’t afraid of getting shots away, averaging 2.00 per-game domestically this season and he will have good memories of playing at the King Power having scored his first ever goal for Villa on this ground back in 2015. Grealish scored another against the Foxes in the match one month ago and even if Villa’s top scorer doesn’t find the net here, I’m happy to get him on side to register a shot on target at 6/5 with Coral.
Pereira to be prominent in the tackles market
Should Grealish start in his best position of wide left of an attacking three he will be up against Ricardo Pereira, a man who has certainly left his mark on Leicester's season both defensively and going forward. In Leicester's 4-1 win at Villa Park, Pereira registered eight tackles, which certainly boosted his season's average of 4.00 per-game.
The Portuguese was also booked in that match for a tackle on Villa's number 10, one of six challenges warranting a foul on the forward that day. Using Coral's BuildYourBet feature, combing three or more Pereira tackles with James Maddison to attempt 60+ passes gives a price of 11/8 which I'm willing to back as my second selection.
Maddison the link man
Maddison is likely be the most advanced of Leicester's midfield options and will crucial in linking up with the one or two man forward line that Brendan Rodgers deploys in trying to break down a deep Villa defensive line. Maddison completed more successful passes in that Villa Park mauling than any other player on the pitch in a superb all-round performance and with Leicester having 60% possession on that day, it's not far fetched to suggest that his number of 55 completed that day could be even higher.
Coral pay out on attempted passes rather than completed so backing 60 attempted passes is in fact a relatively conservative selection with Leicester at home and Villa sitting 16th in the Premier League for possession away from home.
Foxes to fire
My final selection is the double of Leicester to score over 1 goal and Aston Villa to receive more than 1 card at 11/10 with Bet365's BetBuilder. The Claret and Blues have conceded 23 goals on the road so far in 2019/20, more than any other top-flight side and with some crucial players missing, I can't see them having the quality to restrict Leicester for long enough periods, especially if the Foxes play anywhere near as well as they did in the last meeting.
Villa and Tottenham are the only Premier League sides without a clean sheet in 11 league games on their travels which does not bode well for the short trip along the M69.
Villa racked up six bookings in that aforementioned 4-1 defeat to the Foxes in December. Being without the ball for long periods could lead to frustration and Chris Kavanagh, who seems to officiate the Villans quite often, could lose his patience if the foul count rises.
It's clear that both these teams have bigger priorities for this season than success in the EFL Cup but the chance of rare glory at Wembley should not be sniffed at and it's a great opportunity for both to earn a big day out in the capital.
Leicester v Aston Villa – Jack Grealish to have 1+ Shot On Target (6/5 Coral)
Leicester v Aston Villa -James Maddison to make 60+ Passes and Ricardo Pereira to make 3+ Tackles (11/8 Coral)
Leicester v Aston Villa -Leicester to score Over 1.5 Goals and Aston Villa to collect Over 1.5 Cards (11/10 Bet365)