Match Preview: Aston Villa vs Leicester City

This week’s match preview features Mail on Sunday reporter James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd):

1) You’ve been incredible so far this season and currently find yourselves in 2nd place. What do you think has been the key to your success?

Leicester are doing phenomenally well and there’s a real belief that this team do something special. It is a better team, certainly in terms of the quality of football, than the one that won the title.

It’s a culmination of a lot of factors, really. Leicester have a group of young, skilful players who are gelling as a team and will only getting better and better.

A bit like when they won the title, all of the players know their role. They are functioning as a complete team.

They have the best defence in the league – so much for missing Harry Maguire – and are banging in the goals at a phenomenal rate. Sounds obvious, I guess, but if you don’t concede any goals, you don’t need to score that many to win games. But they are doing that as well. They are banging them in. That’s a potent combination.

And, crucially, Jamie Vardy is firing again.

Much of this comes down to the manager. Brendan Rodgers has been superb since he arrived and it’s great news for Leicester fans to see him sign a new contract amid all this talk of interest from Arsenal.

2) There seems to be a totally different feel to the club and a huge sense of positivity since Brendan Rodgers took over from Claude Puel. What has Rodgers done in order to make such a difference?

He’s been able to communicate his ideas, both to the players and the fans. Puel and Rodgers share a similar philosophy but Rodgers has the charisma, man-management skills and force of personality to enthuse people to follow him. A bit like the Pied Piper. There’s a huge sense of togetherness now, while the club felt divided under Puel.

His training sessions are more intense, he’s also a superior tactician. There’s also more of a willingness — and ability now — to play the early ball to Vardy, a better balance to their play.

I still maintain that Puel, for all his faults, did an important job in starting the necessary change from an ageing title winning side, over-reliant on the counter attack, to a younger team who could also keep hold of the ball. He did much of the unpopular dirty work so that Rodgers could take the squad to the next level and beyond.

3) Vardy has been on fire again this year and has scored in each of his last 7 games. Can he break his own record of scoring in consecutive fixtures? And what has his form this year been down to?

Rodgers takes a lot of credit here again. Puel, in his focus on promoting youth for the future, almost forgot the fact he had one of Europe’s best strikers in his side and tried to phase him out.

Rodgers walked straight into the dressing room and said to Vardy “I’m glad you’re here”. He’s made him feel like the main man again. He’s given him so much confidence. In Leicester’s play, Vardy is encouraged to stay in advanced positions, it’s the team’s job to get the ball to him.

Vardy also been helped by his international retirement. He could rest over the summer, look after his body, come back fully fit and refreshed.

His record is seriously in danger. Leicester are creating so many chances and he’s the one designed to get on the end of them. And he’s more accurate than ever.

4) This Sunday will see a return to Villa Park for former academy graduate Marc Albrighton, a player we deemed not good enough for a new contract. Were we foolish to let him go? And what qualities does he bring – albeit mostly from the bench – to the Leicester team?

I mean, seriously, how on earth was he allowed to leave?! Albrighton is without doubt one of the best free transfers in Premier League history.

What you get with him is relentless hard-work for the team and sheer quality when it comes to his delivery into the box. He is one of the best crossers of the ball I’ve ever seen.

No messing around, either. Usually one touch to get the ball out of his feet and another to whip it into the box.

He’s used more off the bench now, as the younger players like Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez develop but you know he can always make an impact when he comes on.

A bona fide Leicester legend and a top, top guy to boot.

5) Who do you think Leicester should be wary of from the Villa team? And who do you consider to be Leicester’s most dangerous player?

Jack Grealish has been supremely impressive. From what I’ve seen of Villa, it looks like he’s finally producing the talent everyone has always known he’s had on the top stage. He’s great to watch.

Leicester have been interested in signing him in the past, especially the summer they signed James Maddison – both hugely creative players who can dictate games with their ability on the ball.

On the Leicester front, we’ve spoken about Vardy, but Youri Tielemans is so key to how well they gel.

He is a magnificent footballer. Before he joined, Leicester didn’t really have a traditional central midfielder with the ability to spot, and pull off, those defence-splitting balls. Tielemans can and that helped turn Leicester from a team who just went sideways to one that can pick apart deep defences.

6) Finally, how do you think Leicester will set up against us? And what is your score prediction for the match?

For the first time in a long time, Leicester frequently pick the same side. It’s likely to be a 4-1-4-1, with Wilfred Ndidi in front of the back four. His screening of the defence is key to allowing Leicester’s attacking players, including their full-backs, to bomb forward in attack.

Ben Chilwell missed the last game with a slight injury but should be back at left-back.

Leicester are on a roll, so is Vardy, and there is such a belief now that even if the opposition is frustrating them, they know they will find a goal somehow.

I’m predicting a 2-0 win for Leicester.

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