The three moments that defined Aston Villa’s defeat to Leicester City at Villa Park...
#3: An early double whammy
Villa didn’t start the game against Leicester City in a particularly positive fashion.
The visitors dominated possession from the off and created a couple of decent chances before finally breaking the deadlock.
After 19 minutes, James Maddison, who has been in great recent form for the Foxes, was afforded far too much time and space to neatly finish into the bottom corner, with Villa’s midfield nowhere to be seen.
Whilst not ideal, being 1-0 down with much of the game still to play wasn’t the end of the world.
Unfortunately, Villa made the task much more difficult just four minutes later as Jamie Vardy’s well struck effort was saved by Emi Martinez, but winger Harvey Barnes – another Leicester play in fine form – react quicker than the Villa back-line to slam home the rebound to make it 2-0 with just a quarter of the game gone.
Last season, Villa seemed to develop an ugly habit of conceding goals in quick succession and having done the same against West Ham recently, it’s a habit they need to get out of quickly in order to give themselves a fighting chance in games.
#2: Midfield problems
Over the last few weeks there has been debate within the fan base regarding Villa’s midfield trio of Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, and in particular, Ross Barkley.
They were over-ran in the previous fixture against Brighton and there were suggestions that changes could and should be made for the visit of Leicester.
Dean Smith went with the same three in the middle; no doubt keen to see a reaction from his players – he didn’t get one.
As previously mentioned, Maddison had so much space for his goal; space which one of Luiz or McGinn should have been denying.
That wasn’t an isolated incident in the first half, as time and time again Leicester’s midfield picked up pockets of space in front of the Villa defense, who received virtually no protection in the opening 45 minutes.
Going forward, Barkley once again provided very little and was replaced after 75 minutes by Jacob Ramsey, who seemed to provide a lot more energy than his teammate; as did fellow substitute, Morgan Sanson, who was only on the pitch for the final 10 minutes.
Whilst Villa did improve in the second half, playing higher up the pitch, it still wasn’t anywhere near good enough a performance for what these players are capable of producing and there can be little complaints if Ramsey, Sanson, and Marvelous Nakamba find themselves in the starting 11 at Leeds on the weekend.
#1: Key players missing
One of the worst kept secrets in football over the weekend was confirmed when the team news was released that Villa were to be without their talisman, Jack Grealish.
If you take the best player out of any team they will suffer and Villa are no different.
Not only is Grealish vital for Villa when it comes to creating chances and scoring goals, his ability to carry the ball is an important weapon in getting the team higher up the pitch.
Bertrand Traore’s goal just three minutes into the second half gave Villa a route back into the game and an opportunity to possibly gain an undeserved point.
When Maddison went off injured with 25 minutes left, Leicester sat back a little deeper in order to protect their lead and whilst Villa huffed and puffed towards the end of the game, they couldn’t break them down.
Essentially, that’s where not having Grealish available was a real problem, as only someone with his talents was going to be capable of breaking down a well organised Leicester defense.
Another big miss was Matty Cash at right-back.
Villa’s back four has been an extremely solid unit for the vast majority of the season and it was difficult for Ahmed Elmohamady to slot into that unit.
Barnes is a very good winger with raw pace and ‘Elmo’ struggled to keep pace with a player 10 years his junior, whereas Cash has the pace to have dealt with Barnes – as he did in the reverse fixture at The King Power Stadium back in October.
Having not played for a while, this was always going to be a tough afternoon for Elmo and it won’t get much easier for him this weekend against a fast paced, energetic Leeds team.
There’s no hiding away from it, Villa are not in the best run of form at the moment, but perhaps a little perspective is needed for some of the fans who are in meltdown on social media.
Since the turn of the year Villa have lost five games, but four of those defeats have been to the current top four.
After 23 games, Villa are 8th in the table, just four points off Liverpool who are 6th, and with two games in hand on the current champions.
The upcoming game against Leeds will be tough, but it’s a more than winnable game and a great opportunity to get back on track.