Jamie Vardy

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What we love about Leicester City

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be detailing what we love about each Premier League club competing in the 2019-20 season and next up it is Leicester City.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release details on why who adore each team in particular as we remind ourselves just how awesome the PL is as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Time to focus on the Foxes.


That 2015-16 Premier League title win: How could we not start with this? The 5000-1 shots and favorites for relegation stunned the entire world with possibly the greatest upset in the history of sports. Claudio Ranieri‘s unfancied side won the Premier League by staying tight defensively and allowing N’Golo Kante to run the show in midfield and the duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to rip teams apart on the counter attack. With plenty of heavyweights having a down year, Leicester timed their push for the title to perfection and the glorious scenes on the final home game against Everton saw Andrea Bocelli sing on the pitch as Ranieri and his unlikely heroes hoisted the trophy into the air. Leicester’s title win from 2015-16 will be talked about 100 years from now, and probably longer than that. The entire city of Leicester and the soccer world will never, ever forget it.

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Jamie Vardy: His part in Leicester’s incredible 2015-16 season will see him go down in folklore and his incredible rise to stardom is one of the great rags to riches stories in recent years. Playing in local leagues in England in his early 20s, Vardy made his way up through the leagues and arrived at Leicester from the non-league game in 2012. A few years later he was leading them to the Premier League title, scoring important goals for England and starring in the UEFA Champions League as the Foxes reached the quarterfinals in 2016-17. This season, at the age of 33, Vardy has regained his form and is the leading goalscorer in the Premier League after retiring from the international game. His pace, grit and finishing ability is incredible and Vardy is the kind of player you love to have on your team, even if opponents hate his attitude of never giving up.

Jamie Vardy
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Their current crop of extremely talented youngsters: With the Foxes currently in third place in the Premier League table after an early-season title push, there is a lot to be excited about this young team assembled by Brendan Rodgers and thanks to some very smart planning by those in charge behind-the-scenes at Leicester. Thanks to the building blocks put in place by their late owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and carried on by his son Aiyawatt, affectionately known as Top, Leicester are one of the best run clubs in the Premier League and continue to buy talented youngsters from across Europe and plan for departures and a seamless transition within their squads. After selling Harry Maguire to Man United last summer for $100 million, they already had Caglar Soyuncu waiting in the wings and he’s been one of the stars of 2019-20 at center back. Many would argue this Leicester side are better to watch than the team which won the title in 2015-16 with James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez buzzing around underneath Vardy, Wilfried Ndidi and Youri Tielemans holding down midfield and full backs Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell bombing on from full back. The future is bright.

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Brendan Rodgers’ playing philosophy: Given the points above about Leicester’s youngsters starring, there is plenty more to come from them under Rodgers in the coming years. Despite his critics, you can never doubt that Rodgers’ teams play flowing, attractive soccer and we’ve seen that at Swansea, Liverpool, Celtic and now Leicester over the years. Rodgers is a leader who has a clear playing philosophy and that has been taken on very quickly by these Leicester players. The Northern Irishman will no doubt be linked with plenty more Premier League giants and some of Europe’s biggest teams but right now he’s in a great spot at Leicester as he looks certain to lead them to the Champions League. He’s doing all that on top of making Leicester an exciting team to watch.

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PST Roundtable: PL at the 3/4 mark

Premier League
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The Premier League season is paused at just more than the three-quarter mark — 76.05 percent, to be a bit more formal — and we’ve got a good handle on who’s good and who isn’t.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

That said, the number also gives an idea of why there’s plenty of possibilities remaining for the table and award winners once the season presumably resumes for the stretch run.

It would be natural to speculate on the front-runners and Championship-bound sides if there were matches this weekend, so why not do it now?

We’ve quizzed our PST staff on a handful of questions in roundtable form, though there was no table and my desk is decidedly rectangular.


Liverpool players have won Player of the Year for the past two seasons despite not winning the league. Are the tables flipped this year? Who is on track for PL Player of the Year?

Joe Prince-WrightKevin De Bruyne should probably win it but I expect Jordan Henderson or Sadio Mane to win it. Liverpool will win the league by a mile and both have been influential. When they’ve been out injured Liverpool have missed them and I’d probably say Mane should win it.

Andy Edwards: This is a weird one, because Liverpool have been so thoroughly outstanding in every way, on every level, that it would be difficult to pick just one of them for Player of the Year. Is Sadio Mane deserving? Sure is. What about Mohamed Salah? Also yes. Virgil Van Dijk? Yet again, yes. Trent Alexander-Arnold? You can make a strong case that he’s perhaps done the most to lift Liverpool another level higher from a “non-traditional” award-winning position. All of that is to say, simply deliver the award to Melwood Training Ground and let the players decide amongst themselves.

Daniel Karell: Remember when the U.S. women’s national team won the 1999 SI Sportsperson of the Year award? I think we’re going to have to do that for Liverpool. While Virgil Van Dijk, Mo Salah, and Sadio Mane would all be worthy of the trophy individually, it’s truly been a team effort this season and the culmination of 5 years of growth, smart transfer dealings, and hard work. Trent Alexander-Arnold has been immense at times, as has Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and Allison Becker. Ultimately, it’s a bit of a cop-out answer but I think it’s just hard this year to pick just one who has been better. Jamie Vardy currently leads the Premier League in goals, and while he’s been terrific, he hasn’t also been playing in the Champions League like Salah, Mane, and Van Dijk have, for example. 

Kyle Bonn: It has to be Kevin de Bruyne, right? Yea, it does.

Nick Mendola: Kevin De Bruyne and it’s not particularly close. He has a fine chance of setting the league assist record, and he’s two away becoming the only player in the Top Five twice. There are words to be said for Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mane, Wilfred Ndidi, and Raul Jimenez, but no true decent arguments outside of “it should come from the champion,” which we covered in the question.


Who’s on track for your Best XI?

Joe Prince-Wright: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Maguire, Saka; J. Henderson, Ndidi, De Bruyne; Mane, Firmino, Vardy

Andy Edwards: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Moutinho, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane

Daniel Karell: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; De Bruyne, Maddison, Jorginho; Vardy, Aubameyang, Salah

Kyle Bonn: D. Henderson; TAA, Van Dijk, Maguire, Robertson; Ndidi, De Bruyne, J. Henderson, Grealish; Mane, Vardy.

Nick Mendola: Leno; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Rodri, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane.


What’s the best goal you’ve seen this season?

Joe Prince-Wright: I think that has to be Heung-Min Son’s incredible solo goal. Clear winner for Goal of the Season.

Andy Edwards: Heung-min Son’s solo goal versus Burnley

Daniel Karell:  I mean…it’s got to be Heung-min Son against Burnley. Honorable mention though to Kevin de Bruyne vs. Newcastle and Moussa Djenepo vs. Sheffield United.

Kyle Bonn: Three goals so far stand out in my mind: Heung-Min Son’s dizzying run vs. Burnley, Jahanbakhsh’s bike against Chelsea, and Jordan Ayew’s little zig-zag against West Ham. The Spurs’ man’s goal wins for the sheer distance he covered.

Nick Mendola: Son. Solo. Next.


What are your Top 3 moments of the season so far?

Joe Prince-Wright: Woah. What a question. In no particular order: Christian Pulisic’s hat trick for Chelsea v Burnley. Leicester winning 9-0 at Southampton. Liverpool destroying everyone but I particularly enjoyed their 4-0 win at Leicester.

Daniel Karell: The season being postponed for the Coronavirus: Only a global pandemic could upstage the season Liverpool was having. Then Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Man City, which proved that the Reds have fully passed Man City in the pecking order. Finally, I’m biased, but for me it’s the malaise and slide that Arsenal is in. How the mighty have fallen.

Kyle Bonn: Lot to potentially go into the pot here, but the ones that stick out most in my mind are Leicester City demolishing Southampton 9-0, Newcastle ridiculous late 2-2 draw with Everton on Lejeune’s double, and Southampton exacting revenge on Leicester City for the aforementioned demolition with a 2-1 road win. I think Liverpool could potentially have three on here as well, one for the Sadio Mane header against Aston Villa, one for the late Lallana goal against Manchester United to draw, and one for the loss to Watford that ended the unbeaten league season.

Nick Mendola: Two of my three involve the soon-to-be champs, and the first took 24 seconds to reshape the season. It was the time that passed between Trent Alexander-Arnold’s would-be handball penalty for Man City and Fabinho’s rocket to beat Claudio Bravo. ‘Member? Insane. Maybe we should’ve called “Game: Blouses” on the whole season there, citing a season of fate.

The second is Watford’s beatdown of Liverpool to end the Reds’ unbeaten season is here because of its complete nature. The worn-down Reds capitulated to Ismaila Sarr in a way that lives very large.

Third could be anything: Liverpool coming back to beat West Ham. Leicester City hanging nine on Southampton. Hometown kid Matty Longstaff using all five-foot-nothing of his teenage body to piledrive Newcastle past Manchester United on his Premier League debut with his brother next to him in the midfield.

It’s been a season, team.


Grade VAR on a scale of 1-10 (1 being poor and 10 being perfect). What can be changed to make the VAR system more efficient and consistent?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’d give it a 6/10. People forget the small errors which still pop up but a lot of decisions which would have previously been wrong are now correct. I think letting referees use the pitch side monitors will improve the system and the respect for on-field officials. Too much of the control is sent to Stockley Park.

Andy Edwards: 5, dead center of the spectrum. My biggest gripe: it’s been used to micromanage and legislate the smallest of margins far too frequently. We all understand the Laws of the Game are the rules by which the game must be officiated, but what of the Spirit of the Laws of the Game? There must exist a gray area of sorts, as there is with everything in life, where intent and advantage are considered and weighed en route to the final decision. If a player is offside by 2 millimeters, is that an advantage which has a decisive impact in favor of the attacker? In most cases, it’s probably not.

Daniel Karell: 5. It’s decent, but the fact that refs refuse to use the monitors means that they’re just constantly second guessing themselves and it’s affecting how they call games in general. Make a call, and if the VAR says, hey, you might want to look at this, take a look at it to be sure. You can’t go wrong.

Kyle Bonn: VAR so far gets a 4 out of 10 for me. It gets a 3/5 on intent and ability, as the system for the most part has demonstrated the ability to serve as intended when used properly, with a few tweaks necessary such as pitchside monitors and rules like the handball rule needing amending. It gets a 1/5 on execution, with the Premier League struggling mightily to grasp the spirit of the technology. The offside line has done its job, despite the bad publicity, but the “clear & obvious error” has been grossly misinterpreted and calls have been changed or even investigated when not needed.

Nick Mendola: I’m going with five, and it’d be much higher if the PL learned from the NHL’s biggest mistake with replay: offside(s). At least in hockey there’s a blue line to help. The “moment the ball is struck” is such a poor reference point. Let the linespeople live here.


 

BONUS: Who is the best referee in the Premier League and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: Mike Dean because he is not only a pretty fair referee, overall, but he jokes with the players and seems to have their respect. Don’t @ me.

Daniel Karell: I don’t know who the best is, but Mike Dean is towards the bottom.

Kyle Bonn: Mike Dean, because he has supreme control of the pitch and makes the fewest amount of obvious errors.

Nick Mendola: I find Michael Oliver the most consistent.

2019-20 Premier League Best XI so far

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With the coronavirus shutdown of all major European soccer, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize the players who have stood out to this point as the table begins to truly take shape. Liverpool is just a hair away from securing the 2019/20 title, but not everything is about the Reds – although a lot of it still is.

[ MORE: Possible end dates | PST roundtable ]

With that in mind, here’s the frontrunners at each position for Premier League Team of the Season, with the players who could also make a leap into the conversation with a strong finish to the campaign, if they ever get the chance.

Premier League Best XI

Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Also considered: Alisson Becker

Harsh on Alisson, who is leading the way for one of the best back lines in Premier League history, but Dean Henderson has been just as brilliant in far more difficult circumstances. The Manchester United loanee has starred at Sheffield United, prompting talk that the Red Devils should cut his loan short and instill the 23-year-old’s loan short and bring him on to take over for a struggling David De Gea. While many have labeled the shot-stopper “England’s future number one,” it’s entirely possible that Henderson would have been the starter had Euro 2020 not been postponed until next season, and it’s certainly fathomable that the youngster could still be first-choice once the tournament arrives. There are recent rumors among English tabloids that Manchester United is preparing a new contract for Henderson worth nearly $120,000 a week, which would be more than backup goalkeeper Sergio Romero currently makes and about equal with new midfielder Bruno Fernandes.

Ederson is normally considered part of this list as well, but he just hasn’t performed up to the level required this season considering how he sparkled in Manchester City’s title campaign last time around.

Left-back: Andrew Robertson
Also considered: Ben Chilwell, Lucas Digne, Jonny

While Robertson doesn’t burst off the page like his fellow full-back teammate Alexander-Arnold (more on that in a moment), he is still far and away the best left-back in the league. The former Hull City man who joined Liverpool for just $9 million back in 2017 has flourished into one of the world’s best, and his chemistry with Alexander-Arnold is growing the two into a legendary pairing. He is a long-ball master, delivering 2.4 per game, the most of any left-back in the league and third among full-backs to just Kyle Walker and Alexander-Arnold.

Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Also considered: Ricardo Pereira, Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Did you know the Premier League was absolutely stacked at right-back? If not for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is quickly establishing himself as the best full-back in the world and has a shot at a place among the greatest of all-time should he maintain this form for a number of years, the likes of Ricardo Pereira and Aaron Wan-Bissaka would actually have a legitimate shot at this award. Pereira’s performance this season has been so good he’s earned himself links to Real Madrid, and both he and Wan-Bissaka are tackle masters who are blowing away the rest of the league in that category (both are the only men not named Wilfried Ndidi to average over 4 successful tackles per match). Throw in Kyle Walker and wing-back Matt Doherty, and the ranks of Premier League right-backs are loaded. Too bad TAA trumps them all, with a gargantuan 12 assists this season and 2.6 key passes per game, more than double the total of any other right-back.

Center-Back: Virgil Van Dijk, Harry Maguire
Also considered: Caglar Soyuncu, Wily Boly, James Tarkowski

Selecting one of these players is a no-brainer. Virgil van Dijk is far and away the best center-back in the Premier League, and maybe the world. Selecting his partner is far more difficult.

WhoScored’s second-highest rated player at the position this season is Wily Boly, but like Scott McTominay, thanks to injuries he has not played enough this season to qualify. Caglar Soyuncu is another popular choice, and the youngster no doubt has been a pleasant surprise next to Jonny Evans at Leicester City, one of the league’s rising stars at the position. But Harry Maguire lived up to his price tag this season and that’s no small feat as the world’s most expensive defender. His positioning is exquisite, and while he hasn’t displayed van Dijk levels of domination – a slight slip in form through the months of October and November prove that – he has done fabulously at Manchester United, racking up a complete 2,610-minute Premier League season to this point and playing significant minutes through the other Cup competitions as well while the Red Devils struggle with injuries all over the pitch.

Defensive Midfield: Wilfred Ndidi
Also considered: Scott McTominay, Declan Rice, Jorginho

Wilfred Ndidi is a midfield destroyer the likes of which we haven’t seen since…well, since N’Golo Kante did it first at Leicester City just a few short years ago. But that doesn’t take away from the otherworldly performance that Ndidi has put forth this season, given that Kante earned himself Ballon d’Or nominations for his performance in Leicester City’s title-winning season. See this from November:

Ndidi is completing 4.4 successful tackles a game, only second to Crystal Palace’s James McCarthy who has only appeared in 12 games this season. He is doing so in a vicious pressing system that centrals around the Nigerian’s ability to cover an insane amount of ground, easing the pressing load on the other players as to not tire them out. Need an idea how important Ndidi is to the team? Of the five matches he missed in 2020 due to a knee injury, Leicester City won exactly zero of them, with three losses and two draws. He’s so important to the squad that Pep Guardiola game-planned for him successfully.

Scott McTominay has been a revelation this season, taking the next step into one of the league’s best defensive midfielders, but he missed too many games due to injury. Declan Rice continues to push forward as one of West Ham’s best assets, but has been unable to assert the same table-climbing effect on his side that Ndidi exerts on Leicester City.

Central Midfield: Jordan Henderson, Kevin De Bruyne
Also considered: Joao Moutinho, John Fleck

Kevin de Bruyne is everyone’s first choice on this squad. Leading the league 17 assists and producing scintillating displays nearly every week. The Belgian has displayed positional flexibility, often best sitting behind the striker in an attacking midfield role but also moving back into central midfield to receive the ball deeper or shifting out wide to make use of his crossing technique. De Bruyne will likely battle with van Dijk for Player of the Season should the awards eventually end up given out.

On the other end, Jordan Henderson is a perfect foil for de Bruyne. The Liverpool captain has been gargantuan this season, moving from cult hero to widespread household name. Henderson is a lynchpin of the highest order, calming the side and bringing structure to the buildup while helping defensively when Liverpool is hit on the counter.

The others considered from this position deserve to be mentioned. Joao Moutinho, along with midfield partner Ruben Neves, has turned the Wolves midfield into a dominant force no matter who they play. While they don’t necessarily hold the ball for endless spells of possession, they have been vicious when moving forward and relentless when shielding the back line. John Fleck, meanwhile, has been the other Sheffield United standout this season alongside Henderson, and his performance this season must be mentioned given where the Blades sit in the table.

Attacking Midfield: Jack Grealish
Also considered: James Maddison, Mason Mount

As far as players who are the most important to their team, Jack Grealish is unquestionably tops of that list. The Aston Villa midfielder has produced spectacular performance after spectacular performance this season, often the best player on the field despite Villa’s overall struggles. With his current club potentially going down should the season be concluded, Grealish is being linked with teams scattered across the top of the Premier League table and rightly so. At just 24 years old, Grealish has grown into a flourishing attacker who excels at taking players on and creating chances out of nothing.

Mason Mount has been fabulous for Chelsea this season, but injuries have hampered his campaign. The Blues should nonetheless be encouraged about the bright future of their young star. James Maddison has been equally fantastic for Leicester City in a similar role with freedom around the pitch, but he doesn’t quite carry his team like Grealish does. The youth on this list should be encouraging for the long-term health of attacking systems in the English top flight.

Forward: Sadio Mane, Jamie Vardy
Also considered: Sergio Aguero, Mohamed Salah, Adama Traore

Absolutely the most difficult choice of any position here, some high-profile players have missed out on a place in the team, but there’s just no way to leave out the two men at this spot. Jamie Vardy leads the league in goals, and while things have dried up somewhat until his brace against Aston Villa last time out, his goal conversion rate is still at historic levels. The dry spell has lowered his xG that at one point sat above the +6 mark, but he still has converted chances at a +4.76 rate this season, bagging 19 goals on a 14.24 xG mark. While Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah have also been prolific goalscorers, they just haven’t finished at the absurd rate that Jamie Vardy has produced.

Those two also just don’t equate to the importance that Sadio Mane presents to Liverpool. The presence of Gabriel Jesus means that Sergio Aguero could be missed and Manchester City hardly misses a beat, and while that shouldn’t take away from what the Argentine means to the heartbeat of that squad, it just doesn’t stack up to Mane’s vital presence at Liverpool. Adama Traore has burst onto the scene the second half of the campaign, injecting life into an occasionally stagnant Wolves attack and earning himself a place on this list, but he still struggles with consistency and doesn’t quite equate to the massive stature of the Liverpool winger.

Leicester City wallops Aston Villa

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Harvey Barnes led Leicester City to a 4-0 win over Aston Villa at the King Power Stadium on Monday, snapping a four-match Premier League winless run.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Barnes scored and played a role in Leicester City’s other two goals as Jamie Vardy bagged his first two goals of 2020 in the win. Marc Albrighton assisted both the Foxes’ goals.

Leicester now has 58 points to hold an eight-point advantage on fifth place, 10 over sixth.

Villa’s 25 points are two behind a trio of teams. The Villans have lost four-straight in league play and sit 19th. They next face Chelsea, Newcastle, Wolves, and Liverpool.


Three things we learned

1. Vardy’s 2020 finally begins: Leicester City star Jamie Vardy had 17 goals on the Premier League season entering Monday’s action, but had not found the back of the goal since a 3-1 loss to Man City on Dec. 21. The goal moves Vardy back ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the race for the Golden Boot. More important, however, is the idea that Vardy could help Leicester firm up its top four credentials.

2. Villa architects of own demise (and VAR didn’t help): There’s no question that Leicester was the better team on the day, but their breakthroughs both came from Villa errors. Reina’s race to meet Albrighton’s delightful long ball to Barnes was ill-conceived and Mings’ unlucky lunge cost Villa any hopes of a comeback. Should it have been a penalty? Probably not, but it’s a low-percentage defensive move anyway.

3. Barnes an easy Man Of The Match: The 22-year-old scored his fifth and sixth league goals to go with six assists, and served the ball that led to Vardy’s penalty while also helping negotiate the counter for Vardy’s second. Barnes also is a willing combatant in his own end, winning the lion’s share of his duels while being credited with three tackles and an interception.


The visitors stormed out of the gates, and an early free kick was slid wide of the goal by Mbwana Samatta.

Leicester responded, with Kelechi Iheanacho missing wide before Pepe Reina made a great save on a Jonny Evans header.

Villa defender Frederic Guibert’s well-timed tackle earned penalty shouts from the Leicester faithful in the 23rd minute.

The Foxes kept coming, and Iheanacho missed wide with a promising header attempt 10 minutes later.

Barnes put Leicester City ahead in the 41st, as Albrighton sprung him down the wing. Barnes pushed the ball around an onrushing Reina and slotted into the empty goal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Reina denied a breaking Iheanacho in the 47th minute as Leicester kept coming forward.

It continued to be all-Leicester, and Dean Smith prepared some subs in the hopes of injecting life into his side.

Mings was whistled for a penalty before that could happen, his shoulder striking the ball in a lunge to block Barnes’ cross. Vardy beat Reina to make it 2-0 with 28 minutes to play.

Evans made two tackles to spring a counter for Leicester’s third, Barnes waiting to play Vardy down the left.

Watch Live: Leicester City v. Aston Villa

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Leicester City can draw within four of second-placed Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table with victory over Aston Villa at King Power Stadium on Monday, with kickoff at 4:00 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Plenty is at stake for both clubs, however, as Aston Villa could pull itself out of the relegation zone with all three points. The visitors sit in 19th, two points back of West Ham, Watford, and Bournemouth in 16th, 17th, and 18th.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Jamie Vardy is back for Leicester City, a huge boost for the Foxes who have been shut out in their last two Premier League matches, including the latest one against Norwich City which Vardy missed with a calf injury. However, the 33-year-old can only make the bench as Kelechi Iheanacho starts up front. Ben Chilwell misses out with a hamstring strain as 22-year-old James Justin starts.

Villa has lost its last three matches, and its schedule to finish the season looks daunting. Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Wolves, and Arsenal are all on the docket for Aston Villa in the run-in.

Pepe Reina retains his league place in goal despite the solid performance of Orjan Nyland in Cup action midweek. Jack Grealish captains the side as usual, second in the league in chances created this season behind only Kevin De Bruyne.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Justin; Ndidi, Praet, Maddison, Barnes, Albrighton; Iheanacho.

Aston Villa: Pepe Reina; Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Targett; Douglas Luiz, Nakamba, Elmohamady, Samatta, Grealish.