Leicester City vs Aston Villa
Midlands football has largely been in the doldrums in recent decades with the exception of THAT unforgettable story of 2016.
Now the EFL Cup provides a great opportunity for one of the area’s finest to reach Wembley and contest a major showpiece.
With a place against one of the big guns from Manchester awaiting either Leicester City or Aston Villa, this 180 minutes(or possibly more) should be as compelling as it is tense.
Both sides have two managers who are impressing at the top level and would love to guide their beloved teams to a Wembley final and, potentially,silverware.
Dean Smith has guided Villa from mid-table in the Championship little over a year ago to aside which has upset a few of the top flight establishment this term and, injuries permitting, should have enough to survive.
Under Brendan Rodgers, Leicester City have been terrific and, while the transition/decline of a number of the usual leading lights has no doubt helped their cause, you cannot argue against the Foxes record in the first half of the campaign. Even if they tend to be found out against the big boys, they deserve nothing but praise for holding second place at the halfway stage of the league season.
In fact, you would back them to qualify for next season’s Champions League at this rate and they will start as favourites in what will be second of four meetings between the two clubs in as many months.
When they met at Villa Park in the league just a month ago, Leicester ran out convincing 4-1 winners.
The Foxes haven’t reached a domestic cup final since winning the League Cup in 2000, under Martin O’Neill, and will be desperate to mark this excellent season with silverware.
Villa have failed to progress beyond the third round in either the FA or League cup since 2016 and last lifted silverware in 1996 at Leeds United’s expense, most recently losing the 2010 final to Manchester United.
Sharp-shooter Jamie Vardy is a doubt after sustaining a calf strain but Rodgers is confident his leading marksman will be available for selection.
In contrast, Smith received bad news when it was confirmed goalkeeper Tom Heaton and record signing Wesley had been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign after picking up serious knee injuries.
Örjan Nyland and Jonathan Kodjia are expected to continue in their absence, with the ever influential Jack Grealish also returning after sitting out of the FA Cup defeat to Fulham at the weekend.
League Cup highlights await but who will have more to smile about after the first leg?
When they last met (until last month) in January 2016, Villa were fighting a relegation battle they would lose and the Foxes were outsiders in a title bid no-one ever thought possible.
The game itself finished 1-1 with Rudy Gestede cancelling out Shinji Okazaki’s opener.
Surprisingly to this SBOTOP observer, Leicester actually have the upper hand historically in their meetings. They have 42 victories to Villa’s 33 with a further 24 clashes ending all square.
Their most recent meeting at the King Power Stadium was a thriller in September 2015.
Grealish and Carles Gill had put Villa in the ascendancy and they led 2-0 with less than 20 minutes remaining,
Then Ritchie De Laet, Vardy and Nathan Dyer capped a remarkable turnaround and sparked the first genuine belief that the side managed by Claudio Ranieri had more about them than met the eye.
The last time they met in the League Cup was in 2007 when a Matt Fryatt goal gave Leicester a 1-0 success at Villa Park in a third round tie.
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