Aston Villa 2-1 Leicester City (3-2 agg.): A missed opportunity
By Ben Sanderson
Perhaps Leicester City’s best chance this season of winning a trophy disintegrated as they were ousted 3-2 by Aston Villa on aggregate in the League Cup semi-final, after losing 2-1 in Tuesday’s second leg.
Villa dramatically won the match, which Leicester dominated, right at the death in the 92nd minute when two Egyptian substitutes, Ahmed Elmohamady and Trézéguet, combined for the latter to tap in a winner from Elmohamady’s long, curving ball.
Villa took the lead after Jack Grealish, who will make the latest of many trips to Wembley on 1st March, made a dangerous, pacey run into the left-hand side of Leicester’s area and then passed to Matt Targett using clever footwork to outwit Leicester’s defensive pressure, and Targett slotted home into the right-hand bottom corner of the goal.
Leicester equalised after Harvey Barnes yet again made a great run which had an opposition defence in tatters and his curving cross was tapped in by Kelechi Iheanacho in one of the easiest goals the Nigerian will ever score.
It was a night that will, ultimately, be looked at with great regret by the Foxes, as their fantastic progress in the league would have been further validated by a cup victory, and it would have been icing on the cake for a superb season.
Leicester, especially James Maddison, the hero against West Ham for masterminding Foxes attacks, were very wasteful in front of goal, only scoring once from 22 opportunities, with Maddison in particular rushing to take too many shots when good goalscoring chances could have been created.
Leicester hit the ground running (and remained on the front foot for most of the game despite the result), with Iheanacho, starting in place of Jamie Vardy, who was on the bench as Brendan Rodgers was unwilling to risk the Premier League’s top scorer who came off injured against West Ham on Wednesday, seeing his shot from a great angle go straight to Orjan Nyland, man of the match for spectacular saves he made, who palmed away.
Grealish put through Targett in the next encouraging bit of attacking play but Targett’s cross was blocked by Kasper Schmeichel’s stretched leg.
Leicester had one of their best chances at the 5-minute mark, when Maddison was played into space and his shot looked destined for the right-hand bottom corner, nutmegging Tyrone Mings, only to be tipped wide by a great diving save by Nyland.
Two minutes later, Maddison had another shot, this time from the edge of the 18-yard area, after Ricardo Pereira’s cross to Ayoze Pérez was cleared by the Villa defence only as far as Maddison, who shot wide of Nyland’s right-hand post.
Maddison shot for the third time in the opening ten minutes from roughly 25 yards out and his shot again went wide of the right-hand post, the third of six first-half attempts for him.
Grealish and Maddison both have had excellent performances this season which has led England fans to have just reason to be excited about the possibilities in this summer’s Euro 2020, but tonight the Villa man triumphed where Maddison failed, as Grealish’s unselfish play to spot the run of Targett in behind gave the left-back a golden opportunity.
He did not scupper it, finishing into the right-hand bottom corner beyond the outstretched dive of Schmeichel in the 12th minute, for his first ever League Cup goal.
Maddison, responsible for everything right against West Ham, was tonight’s villain, with presumed frustration rising from possibly Nyland’s early save which denied him a goal, and he gave away a free-kick which Anwar El-Ghazi shot marginally over the bar from range in what would have been an amazing goal.
Villa did score a goal in the 26th minute but this was ruled out for offside as Frédéric Guilbert was offside in the build-up.
That would have been a first goal for Villa debutant Mbwana Samatta, who is set to become the first Tanzanian to play in the Premier League.
Either side of those were long shots well wide from Pereira and Maddison again, before Youri Tielemans had Leicester’s best first-half chance from the edge of the Villa penalty area, bringing out a magnificent save from Nyland.
The shot was curling into the top corner with exquisite precision but Nyland made a fingertip save to help the ball onto the crossbar, and the rebounded ball turned into another shot for Maddison, and this was blocked by Marvellous Nakamba’s hand, though appeals for a penalty were waved away by VAR.
Leicester had a more dangerous chance towards the end of the first-half but Iheanacho failed to get his cross away after nutmegging Mings, and Nyland gathered the ball.
For all the Leicester misses, Villa scored with their only shot on target.
Grealish did have a shot in the second-half that went just wide after he dribbled through the Leicester defence and this was followed up by a shot from distance by Targett which went well wide.
Ezri Konsa was booked in the 57th minute for throwing the ball away and had reached the booking limit in the cup, but this has been wiped, allowing the defender to play in the final.
Around the hour mark, there were a flurry of a chances, with Barnes having a trademark mazy dribble and crossing to Iheanacho who shot straight at Nyland, Grealish shooting over the bar and then crossing wonderfully for Samatta who missed the ball and his best chance for a debut goal, the Tanzanian substituted off soon afterwards.
Yet another wasted Maddison chance was followed by Leicester’s goal and that started with Barnes using skill to get past Guilbert after a fast run and his cross passed Nyland and the reach of the Villa defence.
Iheanacho was on the end of it to poke home and Leicester now looked closer to the final of the competition they last won in 2000.
With ten minutes to spare, Maddison shot over from a good position, and in the last ten minutes the best chances, from Evans and Iheanacho, both went wide.
The winner was scored in injury time as the tie looked to be headed for extra-time, as Leicester cleared a Villa chance from another free-kick Maddison gave away and Villa gathered the ball, with Elmohamady in acres of space to cross a ball in.
His good ball found Trézéguet on the left-hand side of Leicester’s penalty area and he dispatched into the right-hand side of the back of the net, knocking out Leicester and their best chance, perhaps, of a trophy this season.
After Maddison’s free-kick hit the wall, the final whistle blew, and Leicester had had 22 shots (6 on target) to Aston Villa’s 9 (3 on target) and 63% of possession – and failed to make this count.
A pitch invasion ensued as Villa now have a chance to win the tournament they were the first champions of in 1961, and are back at Wembley this time as a top-flight club amid excitement for a major trophy.
Once again, a struggling team in claret and blue have got the best of Leicester when they really should not have, and once again it was a mixture of a spectacular goalkeeping performance and general wastefulness in front of goal that were Leicester’s downfall, as they carry on playing exciting football, dominating games and creating chances but lack of end product has been costly.
It did not have to be this way tonight, though, as there were shots that could have been withheld from in order to create better chances, and Maddison is the main guilty party for this on what was a bad night for the midfield maestro.
He and the Foxes will see tonight as a great chance to start a trophy dynasty for the up-and-coming Leicester missed, and as having failed to make the best of a great opportunity.