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Key matchups to watch for: Leicester City vs Aston Villa

A great opportunity for the Foxes

Leicester City Training and Press Conference Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

Leicester City haven’t been to a final in any competition for 20 years, since their last League Cup win. They have a great chance ahead with a semifinal against Aston Villa. Here are some areas the game could be decided.

1. Ricardo Pereira vs Jack Grealish

Most discussions about Aston Villa give you the impression that they only have one player, but at the moment they aren’t entirely wrong; the polarising Villan leads the team in goals and assists. With McGinn and Wesley injured, they’ll lean on Grealish more than ever.

That was already their game plan in the teams’ previous meeting, when he racked up Villa’s most touches, passes and shots on target, while playing mostly out on the left. That put him in direct opposition with arguably Leicester’s best defender Ricardo Pereira.

The Portugal international was absolutely up to the task; he lead the game with 8 tackles, 5 more than any other player on that day. The RB has been hugely impressive at both ends, but has really stood out for his defending this season.

Grealish did get his goal the last time they met, but it was from a set piece. He’s mostly featured on the left so far, so his battle with Ricardo could be a key to Villa’s attack. If he does play through the middle, obviously this would fall to the equally capable Wilfred Ndidi.

2. Brendan Rodgers vs Dean Smith

One of the biggest takeaways from Leicester’s league win in December was a great tactical move by the Foxes’ boss, who switched his well established system to play two up front with Maddison behind, creating all kinds of trouble for the Villa back four.

Rodgers has sprung a few more surprises while rotating his squad over Christmas, going back to a 2-man front line against West Ham, and then again in the most recent league outing against Newcastle, with the latter game also featuring a back 3. Could we see more tactical changes for such a big game?

Villa boss Dean Smith has made his own successful changes lately; they switched to a back 3 in picking up a big away win at Burnley, which would certainly scupper any plans of simply outnumbering their CBs again.

With another key player struck down through injury, we might even see yet another new Villa formation. The battle between Rodgers and Smith will certainly be an interesting one and I look forward to seeing how each team will line up.

3. Get Vardy scoring

Leicester fans received the biggest boost they could ahead of such an important game - Jamie Vardy, missing for the last 3 games, is fit again and will surely lead the line again for the Foxes.

In our previous meeting, Villa struggled to deal with the former England man, who took nearly half his touches inside the opposition penalty area and had 4 good chances, scoring twice.

Jamie is fine. He unfortunately missed the game at the weekend, but he trained on Sunday and since that, so he’s absolutely fine - Rodgers has no doubts over his strikers fitness

If Vardy is able to run free inside the box again, it could be a long day for Villa. He doesn’t need many chances normally, and will be at an advantage with England international Tom Heaton out for the year.

Occasional Norway international Ørjan Nyland will probably take his place in goal. He’s a capable backup, keeping 6 clean sheets in 23 Championship games last year, but will have to be at his best to deal with Jamie Vardy.