Leicester v Aston Villa: Foxes can open semi-final gap
Leicester were way too good for Aston Villa earlier in the season and can make their class tell again in Wednesday's Carabao Cup semi-final first leg, says Andy Schooler...
Leicester v Aston Villa Wednesday 8 January, 20:00 Live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event
The Midlands will be represented at the Carabao Cup final on 1 March and it is Leicester who are expected to qualify and make that trip to Wembley.
After a superb first half of the season, Brendan Rodgers' side are just 1.23 to see off Aston Villa over two legs, the first of which takes place at the King Power Stadium on Wednesday night.
Leicester well prepared
Leicester come into the game sitting second in the Premier League - ahead of champions Manchester City. They won a remarkable nine straight games in the autumn, a run which had some suggesting they were genuine title challengers.
However, with Liverpool proving relentless and Leicester hitting a four-game skid (all competitions) without a victory, such hopes faded. They have responded well though, winning their last three.
Rodgers rotated his squad heavily over the festive period, including making 10 changes for the weekend FA Cup win over Wigan, and so his first XI look well prepared for this challenge.
Stars such as James Maddison and Caglar Soyuncu will return here, with the Premier League's top scorer Jamie Vardy also set to start following a recent calf injury. Rodgers is quoted as saying he is "fit and fine".
Second-guessing the team news is a regular problem for punters in this competition but there should be no worries on that score here. Leicester went strong at Everton in the quarter-finals and have clearly planned for this game with recent selections.
This competition is arguably a priority now and they should be going full pelt. The Foxes are 14 points clear of fifth place in the league, thus bang on course for next season's Champions League. But they are also 13 behind leaders Liverpool with any title hopes surely over.
Villa problems mounting
In contrast, Villa boss Dean Smith has plenty to worry about.
His side sit just one place and one point above the relegation zone and he'll have one eye on Sunday's clash at home to Manchester City.
Injuries are piling up with main striker Wesley and England keeper Tom Heaton both seeing their seasons end at Burnley on New Year's Day. They join another key player, midfielder John McGinn on the sidelines.
In Heaton's absence, Orjan Nyland, a man yet to start a Premier League game, will be in goal, while Jonathan Kodjia, a star for Villa in the Championship, now looks set for a run in the team up front. However, having also been injured himself for a long part of the season, he's started just two games so far.
Villa won that game at Turf Moor 2-1 but the hosts were pretty awful that day and away from home the Birmingham-based side have really struggled.
They've collected just seven points from their 11 road trips, conceding a league-high 23 goals.
The brightest spot for Villa has been Jack Grealish, a player who could yet make England's Euro 2020 squad if his current form continues.
His scoring output has improved this term and he's scored in six of his last 12 league games, while his two substitute appearances in this competition have brought two goals.
If you are looking to get with Villa somehow, 5.50 about Grealish to score isn't the worst price around.
Foxes look strong
However, Leicester should be far too good given the form that's in the book.
They've already won 4-1 at Villa Park this season when the home defence failed to cope with the vibrancy of Leicester's attacking play.
The Foxes are strong favourites at 1.38to win this first leg - it's worth noting that away goals don't count and no extra time will be played in the second leg in three weeks' time.
Villa are at 9.00 with the draw a 5.60 chance.
Expect goals from hosts
However, better value can be squeezed from the handicap markets where backing Leicester to win by two clear goals looks the way to go.
They are slightly odds-against to do this - 2.06 in the -1.5 Asian handicap market - but they covered it no problem earlier in the season when Villa had a stronger side out.
We've yet to see just how hard they've been hit by those injuries to Heaton and Wesley - Villa fielded a much-changed side in Saturday's FA Cup defeat at Fulham - but I'd envisage it being a major blow.
Losing your regular keeper is always a concern to a defence and Villa's has been far from watertight even with their reliable stopper behind them.
Wesley has also been a regular and it's asking a rusty Kodjia to slot straight in, especially against such quality opposition.
Nine of their 14 wins in the league have been by two goals or more and I don't see Villa being defensively good enough to play a containing game looking towards the home leg.
Against sides in the bottom half of the Premier League, Leicester have won 10 of 11, with seven of those victories meeting the margin criteria.
Expected Leicester dominance brings over 2.5 goals into play but that's just 1.61 which looks short enough.
For the record, under 2.5 can be backed at 2.40 but the handicap bet definitely looks the way to go and is a confident shout.
Leicester have gone on to reach the final of the League Cup on each of the five occasions they've played at the semi-final stage (1963/64, 1964/65, 1996/97, 1998/99 and 1999/2000).