Intriguing Midlands tie could fall short on goals
Eighth-placed Aston Villa welcome Leicester City to Birmingham for Sunday's early afternoon Premier League fixture. The hosts have been on a relatively poor run by their own standards this season, winning just three of the last nine matches, and come up against a Foxes outfit that will go back to being the closest challengers to runaway leaders Manchester City with a draw or win at Villa Park, even if just for a few hours. Brendan Rodgers' men toiled in a goalless stalemate with Slavia Prague in the Europa League, and many of those who played a big part on Thursday won't be as fresh as their counterparts. Read our preview here:
Time to talk about Ezri
When considering his squad for the delayed Euro 2020 tournament (should it still press ahead this summer in anything like the same format), England manager Gareth Southgate arguably has an embarrassment of riches in every single position on the pitch to rival the likes of France, Spain, or Belgium but with one exception: left-back. Leicester City's James Justin, who is now out for the season, could've been an excellent candidate, filling in on that flank extensively since the departure of Ben Chilwell to Chelsea. However, if there's one player in the heart of defence who should be given serious consideration to be contention (if he hasn't been so already), it's Ezri Konsa. Alongside Tyrone Mings, himself a former left-back, the ex-Charlton Athletic academy graduate has barely put a foot wrong in a team where the attack-minded players, goalkeeper Emi Martínez excepted, are the ones who receive the bulk of the plaudits, and moreover, not a side who were fancied to be performing anywhere close to how they have done in 2020/2021. Although they have played fewer games than any other club in the top tier, they can still boast the second meanest defence, and a major contributing factor to that has been the 23 year-old. Quick, great at staying on his feet when challenging for the ball, and similarly excellent at anticipating and blocking shots, he has only enhanced his worth considerably to Dean Smith and potentially the national side, too.
Castagne his net wide
The aforementioned loss of Justin is a big blow, but the timely return of Red Devils' international Timothy Castagne to fitness has softened it to a degree. Like his teammate, he prefers to be on the right flank, but has the ability to operate in a four or three/five-man defence on either wing to a similar standard. Besides, his deployment on the left allows Ricardo Pereira to remain in situ, and there have definitely been occasions when the Champions League hopefuls have rued his prior, seemingly never-ending unavailability. Rodgers is more likely to opt for a four to theoretically give numerical superiority in defensive situations against any quick breaks by Villa, which are undoubtedly a big threat to any side in the Premier League. Pereira's understanding with Albrighton down the outside is also a good balance of attributes, and they will of course be vigilant of Jack Grealish being allowed to dwell on the ball for any length of time.
Everton's dispatching of Liverpool in the Merseyside derby blows wide open what was already a stacked race for automatic qualification into European competition through league finish this season. At the time of writing, Tottenham Hotspur in ninth have two games in hand on London rivals Chelsea in fourth, and sit seven points behind. Positive results in those would bunch everyone up further still; meanwhile, Villa have the 'luxury' of three games in hand on some sides above them, and winning them all would be a massive filip for Dean Smith. Form suggests that won't happen, and there is a perception that two of the more entertaining teams outside of the so-called 'Big Six' could cancel each other out. Betfair have odds of 2.10 for under 2.5 goals.