Only 32 miles separate Villa Park and the King Power Stadium; a casual drive for the travelling Leicester following. On the pitch, however, the gulf in class this season separates these two Midlands adversaries even more.
Lowly Aston Villa are hovering only one point above the relegation zone after their valiant effort at Stamford Bridge produced no rewards, whilst the Foxes have cemented themselves firmly in the upper echelons of the table – winning their last seven games on the bounce and forcing a three-point wedge between themselves and third-place Manchester City.
The league standings don’t mean you should completely write off the Villains in this fixture, though, with Dean Smith’s side offering a deceivingly tough challenge for the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool this season. If Leicester want to class themselves as one of the ‘big boys’, they could be facing an Aston Villa up for a fight across all areas of the pitch.
Tyrone Mings vs James Maddison
James Maddison showed his underlying quality in midweek against a competitively-waning Watford side – sealing the fate of the game late on by running onto Ricardo Pereira’s flicked header and bobbing past twisted defenders before slotting the ball past Ben Foster.
The one-cap England international has been supreme for Leicester as an attacking threat sat behind the spearhead of Jamie Vardy – acting as the link between the midfield and the striker – and has proven on numerous occasions his ability to stroke home from distance; averaging the second-most shots from outside the box in the league with 1.6 attempts a game.
Mings has been somewhat of a revelation since joining Villa; using his momentum to break into the England squad, and he will need to stay tight and not give Leicester’s number 10 any room to manoeuvre as it could prove costly.
Jack Grealish vs Ricardo Pereira
With the piercing attacking threat posed by Villa’s captain, Pereira may have to rein in his overlapping wing-back duties to cover Grealish.
The 24-year-old attacking-midfielder regularly plays to Wesley’s left and, as shown by his goal against Manchester United, can be dangerous even when given a small window of opportunity by cutting inside. Grealish could potentially exploit gaps left by Pereira moving forward and would have to be covered by the mobile Çağlar Söyüncü; perhaps opening up Leicester’s defence.
Tom Heaton vs Jamie Vardy
Since arriving in the summer transfer window, former Burnley keeper Tom Heaton has been in fine form for Villa, making an exquisite save for Willian’s free-kick to sum up his recent performances, and could be a tough nut to crack for Vardy – who is on to score in his eighth consecutive league game and is looking to better his own record of 11 set in 2015.
Vardy’s knack for drilling the ball as hard as he possibly can could put him at an advantage over the former England stopper – the unpredictable and unstoppable finishing style that the Premier League has become accustomed to – although Heaton’s ability to make close-quarter reflex saves in the penalty area is a hurdle Vardy has to overcome; with Heaton averaging 2.2 penalty area saves a game.
A lot of emphasis will be put on Villa’s backline, who Heaton will hope can stop close-quarter situations arising and stop Jamie Vardy from being a danger; although that might just be a Christmas miracle.