Villa 1 City 4
Report by Colin Hall
Leicester City extended their winning streak in all competitions to NINE games with an emphatic 4-1 victory at Aston Villa.
The result strengthened the Foxes’ grip on second place in the Premier League, extending the gap between them and nearest challengers Manchester City to six points. It also gave notice to runaway leaders Liverpool that their coronation as champions is still some way from being confirmed.
Brendan Rodgers decided on a change of both personnel and formation for his side’s shortest trip of the league campaign. Ben Chilwell, restored to fitness, was recalled in place of Christian Fuchs, while Dennis Praet and Kelechi Iheanacho replaced Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes as Rodgers switched to a diamond-formation 4-4-2.
Before the game, both sides joined in a minute’s applause in remembrance of Ron Saunders, who had passed away the previous afternoon at the age of 87.
Saunders was the last manager, prior to Claudio Ranieri, to bring a top-flight title to the Midlands and the tributes paid to him from all sides of Villa Park showed the respect he commanded within his former club.
In contrast to recent games, City moved quickly through the gears in the opening minutes with both Jamie Vardy and Caglar Söyüncü coming close to opening the scoring. The hosts, though, almost landed a blow of their own when El Ghazi hit the bar from close range.
The key moment of the game came in the 19th minute when home defender Mings collapsed on the touchline with what appeared to be a muscle injury, Although he attempted to continue after treatment, City wasted no time in exploiting his immobility.
Iheanacho, given time and space in midfield, sent a perfectly-weighted through ball to Vardy, who rounded Villa keeper Heaton. The City marksman miscued his initial effort, but recovered his composure to find the net with his second attempt and subdue his critics on the Holte End.
Sources later said Villa’s fanbase had been the latest to taunt Vardy about his wife’s alleged online activities, and as with previous ones, they were duly repaid with interest. The message should have been learned by now: nothing fires him up more.
City were dominant for the rest of the half, with James Maddison particularly impressive at the head of the diamond. They had several chances to extend their lead before Iheanacho marked his first league start for a year with the goal his display had threatened, swooping at the near post to finish off an excellent left-wing move involving Söyüncü, Chilwell, Youri Tielemans and Maddison.
But the visitors were rocked by a Villa goal on the stroke of half-time, as Grealish punished some indefensive defending following a corner. Although it was noted that several home players had strayed offside in the move leading up to the goal, referee Oliver and his assistant decided that as the ball had not reached them, they had no influence, To the the surprise and disappointment of the travelling contingent, a VAR review upheld the ruling.
Villa’s momentum continued after the interval, with Kasper Schmeichel turning away a fierce El Ghazi drive. However a Chilwell break forced a corner from which Jonny Evans headed home to restore City’s two-goal cushion.
The visitors were rarely troubled for the remainder of the game. Indeed, only more wayward finishing stopped them from inflicting a Southampton-style humiliation on their hosts, with Maddison, Tielemans and sub Harvey Barnes all missing sitters before Vardy, racing on to a pass from Dennis Praet, again took the opportunity to remind his team-mates how to hit the target.
Villa’s frustrations boiled over in the closing stages, with Grealish somewhat fortunate to see out the game after several attempts to goad Wilfred Ndidi into a running battle. If the home captain wants to follow Maddison – his close pal – into the England side, he would be well-advised to cut out the petulance from his game.
At the final whistle, home manager Dean Smith made a point of shaking each City player by the hand as they left the field – a touch of class not always in evidence from members of his profession, and an acknowledgement that his players had been taught a tough footballing lesson.
The result also marked City’s eighth successive victory in front of live TV cameras – a drastic and welcome contrast to the horror shows regularly witnessed under previous regimes in recent seasons.
With the next two televised fixtures against last season’s top two, it is hoped this run can be maintained for some time to come.
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Heaton; Elmohamady, Konsa, Mings (Engels 23), Targett (Guilbert 78); Nakamba (Trézéguet 59), McGinn, Douglas Luiz; El Ghazi, Wesley, Grealish. Subs not used: Nyland, Lansbury, Hourihane, Kodjia.
Goal: Grealish (45 + 2).
Bookings: Mings, Targett, Nakamba, McGinn, Wesley, Grealish.
City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Ricardo, Evans, Söyüncü, Chilwell (Justin 80); Ndidi, Praet (Albrighton 76), Tielemans, Maddison; Iheanacho (Barnes 64), Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Morgan, Perez, Gray.
Goals: Vardy (20, 75), Iheanacho (41), Evans (49).
Bookings: Ricardo, Iheanacho.
Referee: Michael Oliver Attendance: 41 908.
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation