Keeping it interesting for the second leg

Leicester City 1 v 1 Aston Villa – Carabao Cup semi-final first leg

A surprisingly well-organised Aston Villa side arrived at the King Power Stadium, clearly briefed to blunt Leicester’s usual creative play.  To a large extent, they achieved that objective and the second leg of the tie will be a competitive one as a result.

There was a decent crowd at a wet and windy King Power Stadium.  The pre-match entertainment included a repeat of the light-and-sound display used before the match against Liverpool, but without the fireworks.  I can understand why the club want to experiment with new formats, but so far I am not a fan. 

In particular, on both occasions the ‘show’ has finished a full three minutes before the teams emerge from the tunnel so an event that, presumably, is meant to build excitement has precisely the opposite effect.  Everyone is watching and waiting for something, anything, to happen for what seems like a very, very long time.  If it was up to me – which obviously it isn’t – I would drop it all together, as the often-changing montage of clips and rousing music works well.  If light shows are to be maintained then, at the very least, their choreography and timing needs to be improved.

Anyway, on to the match …

… Rodgers went for a 5-3-2 formation with Fuchs joining Evans and Söyüncü at the back.  Whether that was to compensate for the unfortunate lack of Ndidi due to injury, or whether it was an attempt to stifle Villa’s main creative threat, Grealish, is not clear.  By and large, it achieved the latter – Grealish had a decent match but made no game-changing interventions.  However, a number of City players were below-par for the evening, and the formation did not really work as an attacking threat.

City had the vast majority of the play, but their use of it was often patchy.  Tielemans, in particular, gave the ball away a lot, three times in the first ten minutes and more later.  Despite this, City created three decent chances in the first twenty minutes with Perez shooting narrowly wide and Vardy having a couple of shots well saved.

Villa then broke, for only the third time, El Ghazi played the best cross of the evening, from the left wing, and Guilbert got a toe end in advance of all of City’s defenders to stab the ball into the goal from short range, giving Villa a lead totally against the run of play.

The shape of the match changed little, if at all.  City created more half-chances, but nothing that was likely to result in a goal.  Then Villa got a rare corner, Konsa’s beat a mis-placed Schmeichel to head the ball solidly against the bar.  It could (and probably should) have been a second goal for the visitors.

Pereira picked up a cut to his head and played much of the match with a bandaged forehead.  This made him stand out even more than usual, and he was arguably City’s most impressive player going forwards.  City seemed particularly uninspiring on the left wing, with Chilwell looking slower than usual and never once trying to get around his defender to cross, nor did any City player try to make an overlap down that flank.

At half-time, Rodgers replaced Praet with Choudhury.  Most people around me were querying why Praet was removed, as he had looked as tidy as ever, rather than Tielemans who had looked off-the-pace and wayward in his passing.  Choudhury, though, did make a positive difference which continued for the rest of the match.  Indeed, City looked far livelier from the start of the half.

They won corner after corner, but almost all of them were played as in-swingers into a Villa box crowded with tall players clad in Claret shirts who dealt with them easily – it did not seem a very good tactic.

Substitutions were made by both sides, with Iheanacho replacing Perez, who had made any number of runs to try to find a way through Villa’s stubborn defence but was rarely found by passes from midfield.

For all Leicester’s increasing grip on the game, it was not clear where an equalizer might come from.  Then came a moment of divine retribution.  Konsa took an age to take a free kick in his own half.  Referee Chris Kavanagh rightly booked him.  Konsa then rushed a very weak pass and Vardy managed to pounce onto the ball, he played a neat pass to Iheanacho, but there was still a lot of work for the Nigerian striker to do.  He did it all, cutting inside two defenders and beating the keeper with a high-class finish to make it one-one.  In a seemingly short space of time, Iheanacho has gone from someone who had not scored in a year, to someone who – like Vardy – looks as though he might score each time he gets a chance; it is a most welcome transformation for Leicester.

Villa continued to waste time as often and as much as possible, clearly happy with a draw, whilst City looked increasingly positive, helped by substitute Albrighton who was clearly motivated against his former club after he came on to replace Tielemans.  Half of the stadium thought that Vardy had equalized when he got behind the Villa defence for the third time in the match, but his shot has hit the side netting.  A winner looked like it might possibly come, but it was not to be.

I’m sure City would have preferred a score more in keeping with the balance of play and chances – Villa recorded their fewest shots on goal of any match for over three years – but there is some consolation in the thought that City are capable of playing much better than this, whilst I doubt Villa are capable of defending much better than they did.  Villa will have to change their approach, and that should suit City.

And finally, two totally random and unrelated comments on the match.  The Villa fans chanted about Vardy’s wife, yet Vardy did not score; I think that is a first.  And, I can only blame the fact that at times the match was not that interesting for the two women I attend matches with having an earnest conversation to the effect that, yes, the Villa players’ shorts really are quite a bit tighter than those of the City’s players.

Roll on an exciting second leg and, we hope, a trip to Wem-ber-ley.

Leicester – Schmeichel, Söyüncü, Evans, Fuchs, Ricardo Pereira, Praet, Tielemans, Maddison, Chilwell, Pérez, Vardy

Substitutes – Justin, Albrighton, Ward, Iheanacho, Barnes, Benkovic, Choudhury

Aston Villa – Nyland, Konsa, Mings, Hause, Guilbert, Douglas Luiz, Nakamba, Taylor, Trézéguet, El Ghazi, Grealish

Substitutes – Chester, Lansbury, Hourihane, Jota, El Mohamady, Kalinic, Vassilev

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