After the news broke that talisman Jack Grealish would be missing for at least a week, Aston Villa looked to produce a statement result to dispel any speculation that they are a one-man team. Instead, the lethargic and unorganised home side gifted Leicester a two goal cushion in the early stages and struggled to get a foot back in the game.
Injured Matty Cash was replaced by Elmohamady, while El Ghazi came in for the absent Grealish, with Mings picking up the captaincy. Leicester were without Justin, Fofana and Perez, but put out a strong starting eleven despite travelling to Czech Republic midweek. A week of preparation and training for Dean Smith’s men didn’t seem to provide an advantage, as Villa were on the backfoot from the initial whistle. It took until the fifth minute for Villa to leave their own half as the visitors piled on the pressure through the midfield. One of few chances for the home side came through an El Ghazi ball to Traorè, but this was crucially blocked by Luke Thomas.
What followed was one-way traffic in the first-half, with Leicester dominating possession and chances in front of goal. Maddison opened the scoring after 19 minutes with a tidy strike into the bottom corner, bypassing Mings and the arms of Martinez. The long ball from Tielemans seemed to startle Villa’s defence as Elmohamady was caught out of position. Leicester’s number 10 was then able to get a shot off quite easily given the amount of space he was awarded, only establishing more confidence in the high-flying away side.
A quick second goal in the 23rd minute came from bright spark Harvey Barnes, who slammed in a rebounded ball that Martinez was unable to collect. The initial strike from Vardy came from a total lack of aggression and strength between the midfield and the defense, as Leicester’s attacking players were able to pass through the lines without much contest. Villa were struggling to string together a decent run of possession, with sloppy passing becoming a recurring theme in recent form. Barkley was seen dropping deeper to get the ball, but uninterested in fighting to regain possession. A brighter spell came for the home side in the dying minutes of the first-half, however the attacks amounted to very little in terms of shots or promising chances.
Half-time saw no changes for either side – unsurprisingly from a Villa perspective. A Dean Smith earful in the changing room seemed to wake up the sleeping Villans as Traoré hit home early in the second-half. A great cross from Targett was tapped on by McGinn and met by the winger, offering a lifeline for Villa against a fluid and attacking Leicester side. Performance levels certainly increased from there with longer spells of possession and more attacks, but none of these chances were clear cut and there was not much in the way of work to do for Schmeichel.
Very little else happened in the final 30 minutes, with the visitors looking more tame and Villa lacking the quality and cutting edge to change the game. El Ghazi made way for Trezeguet, who certainly looked brighter on the flank, while Barkley was once again subbed after a rather abject display, allowing youngster Jacob Ramsey to get some more match minutes. The Chelsea loanee sulked off along the sidelines, removing his boots and shin pads as he travelled. His lack of intensity and urgency in the midfield was even more frustrating in this fixture, given the opportunity for him to step-up as the creative mastermind in the absence of his companion Grealish in the final third. Instead, he seemed uninterested and failed to make an impact. Fans will accept poor performances if the desire is there to be witnessed, but unfortunately Barkley was unable to convey the passion needed to justify or counteract his errors.
Morgan Sanson only gained around 15 minutes of match time, but he, Ramsey and Trezeguet certainly injected some much-needed energy into the Villa side. Calls for adjustments to the midfield are justified after this performance, as Smith’s substitutes seemed to have an extra yard of energy in their back pocket to drive the team forward. Unfortunately, this was not enough to earn any points for Villa, despite some stoppage time pressure in Leicester’s penalty area. Opportunities seemed to fizzle away before a genuine chance on goal could be created, and Villa struggled to convert their limited possession into anything impactful.
With a couple of crucial players injured, and recent form suggesting some serious tiredness or lack of intensity, next week’s trip up to Leeds appears to be a daunting one. With Bamford’s hat trick still in recent memory, Smith will hopefully look to rejuvenate his side with some necessary squad adjustments. A few favourable fixtures are on the horizon, and Villa cannot afford to continue dropping points at the hands of sloppy, tired and uninspired individual performances and errors.
Looking at the positives, it is clear that Aston Villa are a team on the up, and can defend and attack in abundance when the fitness levels and mindsets of all players are in the right place. There are fine margins between brilliant Villa performances and lacklustre ones, and the key seems to lie in the midfield. If Dean and his men can get the middle of the park back to its fluid but compact ways, then there is no reason that they cannot continue to fly in their second season back in the Premier League.
Up The Villa.
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