Underdog Dean Smith Armed With Strikers and Grealish, Seeks to Outwit Favourites

By Dean Gregory

Aston Villa vs Leicester City

Another trip to Wembley is on the horizon for Villa. Their only obstacle: Leicester City.

Given the undeniable gulf in quality this season, securing a draw away at Leicester was a solid achievement. They now go into the second leg with the backing of the home crowd on level terms.

Dean Smith will have the novelty of strikers in his arsenal, thus taking the emphasis off his captain Jack Grealish a little bit. But will Samatta or Davis be sharp enough for the occasion.

Can Villa make it to Wembley again, despite the visitors being the favourites in the tie?

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League Form

Aston Villa – L W L D W

Leicester – W W L L W

Manager Quotes

Dean Smith on Villa Park atmosphere

“Home advantage is very important. I’ve been a spectator at a number of semi-final games at Villa Park and the atmosphere is vibrant.

“It can certainly help our players and draw the ball towards the goal, especially from the Holte End.

“We’ve given ourselves a great chance by getting a draw at Leicester. Home advantage can certainly help us.”

Brendan Rodgers on Villa

“It’s a semi-final and it’s a huge opportunity for us. We played well there so we will have confidence.

“We know it’s going to be tight. They’ve had a couple of good results that will give them confidence.

“You’ve got to stay calm. There’s lots of emotions around these games.

“I don’t really see it as someone as favourite. It’s well balanced, at 1-1 with no away goals.

We’re now relaxing and concentrating on the game.”

Tactical Analysis

In the three weeks or so since the first leg, Leicester haven’t changed the way they approach games aside from switching up formations and squads. In this instance, it would perhaps be better to talk about how they approached the first leg.

Leicester opted for a pretty unorthodox 3-5-2 formation, one they have used in the league for only 22 minutes this season. Jamie Vardy was deployed alongside Ayoze Perez, with James Maddison, Youri Tielemens and Dennis Praet behind them in midfield.

With a possession stat of 69.8% and a passing accuracy of 89%, Leicester were in full control of this game. They used this control to fashion 21 shots – however, they only managed to put six of those on target, showing they had trouble breaking down Villa’s low block. The fact that their goal was directly the result of an error from Luiz, further proves the frustrating night they had.

Their five-man midfield pushed high and at times overwhelmed Villa’s two deep-lying midfielders, who were forced to play under pressure and starved of options going forward for much of the game. This level of pressure limited Villa to only three shots all game – however when those opportunities came, they seemed to catch Leicester off guard.

Of Villa’s three shots, one resulted in a well-taken goal, one was blocked, and one was only denied by the woodwork. However, it is worth noting that none of these attempts were made by any of the front three, showing that Leicester did an admirable job of keeping Villa’s threat quiet.

Only 49 (6%) of Leicester’s passes were long, with 640 (89%) being short passes, showing they were able to create space at will and play with patience. Villa were placed firmly on the backfoot, playing 64 (20%) long passes in an attempt to reach the front three. Leicester effectively shut them out of the game, and without a proper striker Villa had no way forward.

Leicester are a strong outfit with great forward momentum. Villa did well to shut them out last time – can they do it again?

One to Watch

Embed from Getty Images

James Maddison was the driving force for Leicester in the first leg, and he likely will be again. He made 95 passes with a 95% success rate, took eight shots and had an impressive 7.8% of the ball. He gets on the ball often and uses it extremely well. If he is allowed, he will cause Villa no end of problems.

Memory Match

Aston Villa 1-0 Leicester – 29-10-2003

Thomas Hitzlsperger scored the only goal in Villa’s last home League Cup win over Leicester.

Previous Result

Leicester 1-1 Aston Villa – 8th January 2020

Frederic Guilbert did very well to bag a goal in the first half. The pressure Leicester applied proved to be too much, however, when Luiz gave the ball away and let Kelechi Iheanacho score a cheap equalizer.

How it Could Play Out

All things considered, Villa’s performance in the last match was admirable and there was plenty to be pleased about. They had been woeful at the back for some time, so for them to almost shut out a rampant, full-strength Leicester on their own stomping ground was some achievement.

However, individual mistakes and bowing under pressure has been a consistent feature of their season so far, so to see it happen again was disappointing to say the least. It is encouraging to see Villa as a unit playing better overall, but it means little if things like this are allowed to continue.

This time Villa will be boosted by the arrival of new striker Mbwana Samatta, who will very likely make his debut in this match. With the news that Keinan Davis is back in training again, the striker situation looks much better – how either of these players will cope with the intensity of the league remains to be seen.

Either way, the chance to see the new guy in action will be refreshing. To do so with the backing of the home crowd, knowing a third Wembley day out in one and a half years is within grabbing distance, will be brilliant.

Villa have proven they have it in them to win this game. Now they just have to do it.


Aston Villa 1-0 Leicester

Perhaps a little optimistic, but why not believe? It’s a cup semi-final, anything can happen.


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