Leicester City and Aston Villa drew 1-1 in their League Cup quarterfinal on a rainy Wednesday evening at the King Power. Villa scored with their only shot on target, a first half effort by Frédéric Guilbert. The Foxes equalized late through Kelechi Iheancho, but were unable to find a winner despite dominating the match.
Incredible matchday image. Unfortunately, one of the better things Youri did today.
An injury to Wilfred Ndidi forced manager Brendan Rodgers to mix things up, but the welcome return of Jamie Vardy took a little of the sting out of losing Europe’s top ball-winner. Kasper Schmeichel returned in goal behind a back three of Çağlar Söyüncü, Jonny Evans, and Christian Fuchs. Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell lined up as wing backs, flanking a midfield of Dennis Praet, James Maddison, and Youri Tielemans. The Foxes played two at the top, with Ayoze Perez partnering with Vardy.
The opening exchanges were full of intensity but lacking in product. The hosts bossed possession but struggled to make an impact in the final third while Villa sat back and tried, without any success, to hit Leicester on the break.
The first chance of the match came after the 10’ mark. A sustained spell of pressure saw poor Villa clearance fall to Söyüncü deep in the Villains half. He worked the ball back into the box and, after no small amount of pinball action, it fell to Ayoze. He worked just enough space to get a shot off, but it caromed off of a defender’s heel and out for a corner.
The Foxes had a good opportunity to take the lead just after the quarter-hour mark. A disastrous header from Marvelous Nakamba let Vardy in one-on-one with Ørjan Nyland, but the keeper did well to block the close-range shot from a tight angle. I would say that this action set off “warning bells”, but if those bells aren’t pealing when Vardy is on the pitch, you’re in for a long night.
The former Fleetwood Town striker had another, similar opportunity moments later, this time on the left instead of the right. Again, Nyland did well to turn the shot away for a corner, but the screws were tightening on a very nervous looking Villa defense.
Or perhaps they weren’t. Leicester were looking extremely comfortable coming forward, but were perhaps a little casual at the back. The visitors broke in numbers just before the half hour and the Foxes defense were caught too far forward. Söyüncü did incredibly well to stretch and deny a pass that would have been a certain goal for Anwar El-Ghazi. Villa retained possession, and El-Ghazi was able to whip in a cross to the back post. Frédéric Guilbert managed to get across Chilwell and toe the ball into the back of the net with Villa’s first shot of the match.
The Foxes were shaken by the setback and were fortunate not to go down another goal before the half. Villa won a free kick on the left wing that also saw Ricardo forced to receive treatment for a cut on his head. Jack Grealish fired in a peach of a cross that was met by the forehead of Ezri Konsa. His header beat Schmeichel but cannoned back off the crossbar to safety.
I know it annoys the shit out of Villa fans every time someone says this and rightfully so but Jack Grealish should be making a lot of money to play for a top 6 club— Kim McCauley (@lgbtqfc) January 8, 2020
Not with that haircut, Kim. Well, perhaps Spurs...
Madders came close to restoring parity near the end of the half. He did well to create space on the edge of the area and his left-footed curler was bound for the top corner, but Tyrone Mings did will to head it away. The ensuing corner came to nothing and Leicester were left with some work to do in the second half.
Rodgers made one change at the half, withdrawing Praet for Hamza Choudhury. The energy level was noticeably better from the Foxes, but it was tough sledding against what appeared to be a six-man Villa back line. On the rare occasions when Villa had the ball, they broke in the sort of way that made you glad we have Söyüncü in the side as he was the one to break up the attack time after time.
Leicester continued to pile on the pressure, with fully 70% of the possession and all the shots. Rodgers sent Kelechi Iheanacho on for Ayoze to try to up the pressure. Maddison got in behind the defense through good work by Ricardo no less than 3 times, but each time fired his shot directly into Nyland’s chest. The Foxes had 10 corners to Villa’s none and 15 shots to the visitor’s 3, but the breakthrough proved elusive.
And then, out of nowhere, the Foxes were level. The Villains won a free kick in their own half and played a short ball forward. Choudhury anticipated it and got a foot to it, flicking it to Vardy in space. He played it first time to Iheahancho, who beat both central defenders and fired the ball into the back of the net.
Sensing a winner with ten minutes to go, Rodgers made his final throw of the dice, introducing Marc Albrighton for Tielemans. He almost had an immediate impact, nicking the ball to Vardy, who tapped it Maddison on the edge of the area. The former Norwich man got to pick his shot, but he picked horribly wrong, launching it high into the east Midlands night.
There was a vintage Leicester moment just seconds later. Ricardo won the ball in the Leicester half and played a one-two with Madders. The Porturgal man took the ball the length of the pitch and found Vardy’s diagonal run at the edge of the area. The former England striker shot first time and rippled the net, but it was the side netting when you’d have bet the house on it going in.
There was very nearly a late winner for the Foxes. A long Fuchs throw deep in the Villa half found Söyüncü, who made terrific contact but, like the vast majority of Leicester shots, it was directly into the chest of Nyland and easily saved. The match ended a 1-1 draw that leaves it all to play for at Villa Park in three weeks.
I expect Dean Smith will be the happier of the two managers, although he will certainly be displeased with the fashion in which Villa conceded the equalizer. After taking the lead against the run of play, the visitors defended well and might feel hard done to leave with only a draw. They shouldn’t, because other than defending and scoring with their only shot on frame, they did very little. The Foxes had their chances, but they looked anxious when they took them and went for power when a little placement would have been the better choice.
Vardy, as always, looked lively and was a little unfortunate not to score. Söyüncü was an absolute rock at the back and Madders was a constant menace. A special shout-out to Ricardo, who sported a Paul Ince-esque bit of headgear in the second half and turned in a performance worthy of the name. For my money, though, it was the introduction of Choudhury and Iheanacho that changed the match and really put Villa on the back foot. If Ndidi isn’t ready to go in three weeks, do not be surprised if these two make the starting XI.
There’s no away goal rule in the League Cup semifinals, so the result at Villa Park will be The Result. The Foxes host Southampton this coming Saturday before travelling to Burnley the following weekend.