The Warm Down: Optimism becoming expectancy in Leicester's relentless charge 
James Maddison celebrates his opening goal at Villa Park | Photo: Getty/ Michael Regan

Leicester City combatted a valiant second-half fightback from an Aston Villa side without Jack Grealish - the fulcrum of their thrilling attacking philosophy - for the first time this season to claim three points in the Premier League. 

City portrayed the epitome of an effective high-pressing tactical system as they restricted their opposition’s offensive approach and maintained their exemplary surge towards Champions League qualification. 

Villa put in a commendable shift to halve the deficit early into second-half proceedings after a turbulent opening that saw the concession of two goals within the space of four minutes, but efforts proved futile as they were felled at Villa Park.

The Foxes now perch in second, six points above fifth placed Chelsea – who drew at Southampton the day previous – with dreams of returning to the Champions League now becoming expectations after agonisingly missing out of the final day last season. 

  • England stars leave their mark

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England manager Gareth Southgate was in attendance for the fixture, and was no doubt avidly observing the stunning performances of Harvey Barnes and James Maddison.

The two goal scorers were exemplary once again for their side, galvanising their team into a blistering opening, each taking their opportunity to strike with aplomb. 

Barnes and Maddison – now with 13 and 11 goals this season respectively – could not have played better as they each stake their claim for an elusive position in the national squad ahead of the European Championship this summer.

Displays of such attacking prowess will inevitably leave Southgate pondering the inclusion of such players at the international tournament, with a wealth of attacking options at the manager’s disposal.

With the brilliant form of such talents showing little sign of diminishing, the signs bode well for the immensely talented duo. 

  • Blistering Away Form

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The imperious performances that Leicester have produced away from the King Power Stadium have been a focal point for the sides blistering form this season, indeed: nine wins, three draws and one loss on the road is a total matched only by runaway leaders Manchester City.

Granted, the stadiums are currently devoid of supporters on account of the global coronavirus pandemic, but the achievement remains admirable as the marathon push for the Champions League continues. 

Rodgers can now revel in an eight-game unbeaten run in the league away from home – consisting of five wins and three draws – since suffering defeat away to the champions Liverpool in November.

There is almost a feeling of serenity for City when travelling to opposing territory, a contented understanding that a hostile stadium will not impose itself upon a side eager to capitalise on the lack of support during these unprecedented times. 

  • Personnel firing on all cylinders

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Rodgers deserves unconditional backing for cementing the club as an elite side amongst the established ‘big six’, despite evident financial and economic discrepancies when competing with his division rivals. 

The meticulous construction of a team displaying guile and enigmatic talent in abundance has resulted in the rebirth of a team famed for the unprecedented title triumph in 2016. 

One of the most commendable feats achieved by Rodgers during his Leicester tenure is the manner that the team has developed an almost innate collective understanding. 

Leicester have been somewhat plagued by injuries over the course of the current campaign, but this has scarcely deterred the club with a plethora of individual’s impressing when called upon to contribute. 

The young and promising full-back Luke Thomas is the latest player to leave a sterling impression as he produced an assured and promising performance for the club.

  • Optimism for Villa following injury to Jack Grealish

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Before Sunday’s entertaining encounter, Villa’s distinguished captain Grealish had made 48 successive starting appearances in the league fort his boyhood club, rising to prominence as one of the countries most talented players in the process.

But roughly 24 hours prior to the match, Grealish was withdrawn from contention – citing a leg injury – forcing boss Dean Smith to revaluate his options and prepare for the challenging tie without their coveted captain. 

The Villains were undeniably outclassed in an intense opening where Leicester’s determined confidence and intricate pressing system overwhelmed their midfield early on, with the incisive attacking manoeuvres resulting in a 2-0 score-line after merely 23 minutes.

But a revitalised performance after the break paid dividends and Villa were rewarded with a Bertrand Traore strike after 48 minutes, leaving room for optimism for Smith . 

Eight of their 11 match attempts – as well as their solitary goal - were created after halftime, and the improvements allowed the side to implement some of the offensive pressing play that has lauded acclaim after significant improvements from the season previous. 

The innovation and inspiration so regularly provided by the elegant brilliance of Grealish will be sorely missed, and with unconfirmed reports that the England international might be side-lined for a month, unease will be high for those associated with the club. 

But a side cautiously hopeful of securing continental football for next season will take solace in the ability displayed to compete with Leicester and – in instances – emulate their pressing game, maintaining sustained periods of pressure.  

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