Leicester City 1-1 Aston Villa
This EFL Cup semi-final tie between Leicester and Aston Villa was billed as massive in the midlands and it certainly was.
This mattered greatly to both clubs and the chance to reach Wembley with silverware at stake hasn’t come along too often in these parts.
And after the first leg, it’s still all to play for following a typical English cup tie where no quarter was given and where the atmosphere was electric from the moment the pre-match band got going outside the King Power Stadium.
Both sides produced their own EFL Cup 2020 highlights to leave the tie delicately poised to determine who will most likely face Manchester City after their convincing semi-final success 24 hours earlier.
Highlights of the game
The EFL Cup 2020 had fancied Leicester City, who welcomed back influential striker Jamie Vardy (17 goals this season) after missing the last three matches with a minor calf problem.
Yet Aston Villa, managed by boyhood fan Dean Smith, were equally well-aware of the importance of this competition as five-time winners (the last time in 1996).
It began as expected with the home side on top.
The lively Ayoze Perez saw a shot take a slight deflection and zip just wide of the post. Meanwhile, the impressive Orjan Nyland – playing after the luckless Tom Heaton was ruled out for the remainder of the campaign – twice denied Vardy.
Of course, the visitors were not just here to make up the numbers. They took the lead when their own inspirational figure, captain Jack Grealish, carried the ball from deep and eventually found Anwar El Ghazi. His cross caught Ben Chilwell napping and allowed wing-back Frederic Guilbert to stab home a volley at the far post.
In fact, but for the width of the woodwork, Villa would have taken a two-goal lead into the interval as home goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel failed to collect a testing Grealish free-kick and Ezri Konsa headed it onto the top of the bar.
The hosts were clearly frustrated but made sure they had something to show for their efforts after a largely dominant second-half display.
Nyland twice kept out midfielder James Maddison, ever-increasing in influence, while centre-back Tyrone Mings was on top form.
However, the pressure was telling and an equaliser was coming, so few could deny Leicester didn’t deserve their leveller 16 minutes from time.
Konsa played free-kick short, Hamza Choudhury nicked the ball off Douglas Luiz and suddenly the home side were three-on-three.
It is on occasions like that where Vardy revels. He played in the recently introduced Kelechi Iheanacho, who confidently slammed a shot into the roof of the net.
The home fans erupted, but Villa, who had equally magnificent support, were defiant and held on with a defensive tightness and incisiveness which never wavered.
It’s back to Villa Park we go to decide this one!
No player has assisted more goals for Villa in all competitions this season than El Ghazi (six, level with Grealish). The Dutchman has matched his assist tally from 36 games last season in just 22 appearances this term.
Iheanacho has been directly involved in seven goals in his five competitive appearances against Villa (five goals, two assists), more than any other opponent in his professional club career.
This is the first time since 2007 (Tottenham and Wycombe) when the home side have failed to win the first leg of both semi-final ties in the League Cup.
Leicester and Aston Villa met in the League Cup semi-final the last time the Foxes reached this stage in 2000 – when they went onto lift the trophy.
Leicester have gone on to reach the final of the League Cup on each of the five occasions they’ve played in the semi-finals (1964, 1965, 1997, 1999 and 2000).
This is Aston Villa’s 15th League Cup semi-final tie and their first since 2013 when they were shocked by Bradford City. They’ve only won the first leg of those occasions (won two, drawn eight, lost five).
It’s nearly three weeks before the second leg of this tie.
In that time, Leicester play four times, hosting Southampton and West Ham in the Premier League, along with a top-flight trip to Burnley and an FA Cup fourth round tie at Brentford.
Villa have three league games, welcoming champions Manchester City to town on Sunday (January 12), travelling to Brighton the following weekend and then entertaining Watford before the second leg on February 28.
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