Fresh off of their first win in what seems like forever -- in reality, it was 157 days -- Aston Villa will try to make it two within a week Saturday when they host Leicester City. Still at the basement of the league, Villa trail their East Midlands enemies by a staggering 32 points.
Credit Claudio Ranieri and the Foxes for keeping the momentum they found in the second half of last season going for the duration of 2015. They'll be looking to carry it into the New Year as well -- and recover from a slight bump in the road -- having slipped from the top of the table to second (on goal differential) since Christmas.
Jamie Vardy returned to the Leicester lineup, playing 71 scoreless minutes on Wednesday against Tottenham Hotspur. The Foxes eked out a victory courtesy of a late Robert Huth header. Holding a dangerous Spurs team scoreless is impressive, and the Leicester midfield and defence deserve the plaudits they received.
On the Holtecast we joked that Rémi Garde should wear his same clothes without washing them on matchday out of superstition. Even if he changes his outfit, he shouldn't change his team. The players genuinely looked like winners against Crystal Palace on Tuesday, absolutely bossing the match at times. If I was Garde, I'd use this line that I always pick in Football Manager:
Villa were still lacking threats in the final third of the pitch, and it showed on the scoresheet. With a bit more end product, it could easily have been a three-goal victory. Jordan Ayew probably only did one thing wrong against Palace, and it was missing the target completely with a shot late on. He's the best player Villa have, and another match with Libor Kozák surely should result in the pair having more chemistry.
The midfield, while a little bit light on legs and reinforcements, was also excellent. Ashley Westwood, while mostly anonymous deeper on the pitch, helped dictate play. Villa played out from the back much more than we're used to seeing. Idrissa Gana and Jordan Veretout are becoming very reliable, and Carles Gil completed a tidy 94 percent of his passes.
Even though it may have been a fluky goal that secured the result, Villa deserved the points earned off the forehead of Joleon Lescott and the slick gloves of Wayne Henessey. Lescott was solid in defence also, and his partnership with fellow central defender Jores Okore is surely the best that Garde has available to him. Micah Richards offers an interesting dilemma. He may be captain of the club, but Leandro Bacuna put in a great performance against the Eagles. Aly Cissokho is definitely better than Kieran Richardson.
Mark Bunn will have a tougher task ahead of him with the always-potent Leicester attack that features Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Marc Albrighton and Shinji Okazaki. His distribution was better than Brad Guzan's, and outside of a near-disaster in the opening minute of the match, he organised the backline quite well. Hopefully the clean sheet gives him a confidence boost.
Aston Villa (4<4>2):
Mark Bunn; Leandro Bacuna, Jores Okore, Joleon Lescott, Aly Cissokho; Ashley Westwood, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Jordan Veretout, Carles Gil; Jordan Ayew, Libor Kozák.
Leicester City (4-4-2):
Kasper Schmeichel; Danny Simpson, Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs; Riyad Mahrez, N'Golo Kanté, Danny Drinkwater, Marc Albrighton; Shinji Okazaki, Jamie Vardy.
Would you stick with this team if you were Rémi Garde? Let us know in the comments!