What defines a successful performance? Are the points obtained more important than how well the team played? Depending on how you answer that is the answer to which Aston Villa vs Leicester City clash was the better performance from a Villa perspective this season.
Again, this is not about looking at the possibility of relegation, but rather a look at Villa's performances, relative to how well they fared in 2015. A redemption run if you will, and I think that run continued against Leicester City this weekend.
Leicester City 3-2 Aston Villa
Usually when a team goes into a spiral of decline, you can sometimes pinpoint the exact moment where the free fall began. In the case of Aston Villa's season, that moment was the 66th minute of their clash with Leicester back in September. Tim Sherwood made the decision to replace Carles Gil with Jordan Ayew, and Villa, who were 2-0 up at the time fell apart. The game ended 3-2 Leicester.
Of course, the blame doesn't lie on Ayew's shoulders, but that was the moment when Villa lost control. See, up until that point, Villa's season had been solid, if not spectacular, but heads dropped after this game and good performances dried up. In fact, it would be seven games before Villa picked up their next point, so this game kickstarted the worst run of a pretty bad Aston Villa season.
Interestingly, this game was also the turning point for Leicester too. Coming back from 2-0 down clearly gave their players the belief and fight to continue playing well as the season's progressed. In fact, they've come back from being 2-0 down twice more this season, against Stoke and Southampton, so credit where it's due.
The first hour of the game was textbook by Villa. Jack Grealish and Carles Gil were menacing in attacking midfield, and both scored their first Premier League goals this day, both netting from long range. It should've been an occasion for the duo to savour, but Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri's tactics, and Tim Sherwood's failings changed the day, and ultimately the season.
After they went 2-0 down, Leicester brought on N'Golo Kante and Leonardo Ulloa for Albrighton and Inler. Ayew coming on gave Villa a second attacker, but removed a midfielder, giving Villa a one man disadvantage in the middle. The change gave Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez extra space to run into, and he delivered, providing the assist for Leicester's first and third goals. This would not have happened had Kieran Richardson or Jordan Veretout been brought on instead of Ayew. A tactical blunter by Tactics Tim.
Aston Villa 1-1 Leicester City
Since the two sides last met, their seasons couldn't be more contrasting. Leicester have been on a tear, and are currently top of the Premier League. In contrast, and in case you hadn't noticed, Villa are last. So while we were all calling out for a better performance this time around, it was always realistically going to be a struggle.
With that in mind, a draw is a great result.
Remi Garde knew that changes needed to be made from the reverse fixture, and changes were made. Brad Guzan, who was at fault for Leicester's winner last time was out, replaced by Mark Bunn, who validated his selection with a penalty save. The ineffectual Gabby and Sinclair were replaced by Ayew and Kozak, and whilst neither got on the score sheet, both looked dangerous. Oh, and Kozak probably should've been awarded a penalty when Robert Huth smashed him in the face. I digress.
It wasn't just the lineup changes that are responsible for the improvement over the reverse fixture, but rather the tactical adaptation that Remi Garde made in the second half. Back in September, Leicester were chasing the game and made changes accordingly, whilst Tim Sherwood failed to react. This time, it was Villa on the back foot, albeit controlling possession. Remi Garde made the crucial change, bringing Rudy Gestede on for Gil, which gave Villa a more direct approach against the physical defence. This paid off, with Gestede getting the equaliser less than ten minutes after coming on.
Just like the second Crystal Palace game, Villa created more and got more from the game as a result. True, it wasn't a win, but it sure as hell feels like a good result. Compared to 2015, this is progress.