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Aston Villa v Leicester - Match preview

Unai Emery’s reign might have got off to an excellent start but you can guarantee Villa’s head coach won’t be resting on any laurels.

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery speaks to Philippe Coutinho
Aston Villa manager Unai Emery speaks to Philippe Coutinho

Despite five wins a return of 16 points from his first seven Premier League matches in charge, the Spaniard continues to carry the air of someone who knows the hard work has barely begun.

“We have to improve more,” he said, after watching his team win 1-0 at Southampton last time out.

“The gaffer is a winner,” explained veteran wideman Ashley Young, hinting at standards set significantly higher than before.

Tomorrow, on paper at least, would appear to offer Villa a chance to make it three consecutive league wins for the first time since March. While they sit near the summit of the top flight’s form table, Leicester are placed near the other end having picked up just one point from five matches since the season resumed on Boxing Day.

Nothing is ever straightforward, not least in the Premier League, yet if Villa are to be taken seriously as contenders for a top half finish, it is the kind of fixture they should be winning.

A victory would further fuel optimism of a potential challenge for European football and though Emery has so far dodged the question, whenever it has been asked, there is no disputing the team’s resurgence since his appointment has put Villa right in the mix, just three points off sixth-placed Brighton, albeit with pretty much half a season still to play.

The failure to recruit further in the final fortnight of the window disappointed some supporters who believe a rare opportunity risks being missed. But with the price of Emery’s targets the club ultimately opted to keep their powder dry and wait until the summer to bring in players unobtainable this time around.

That meant Emery did not get the experienced striker he wanted to replace the departed Danny Ings and the added dependence placed on Ollie Watkins, the only senior centre-forward now in the squad, is a nagging concern.

At least the head coach will be able to call on Jhon Duran with the 19-year-old forward available for the first time since his £15million move from Chicago Fire. Skipper John McGinn and left-back Lucas Digne have also returned from injury and with £26m summer arrival Diego Carlos on track to be ready for the end of the month, Villa’s reserves of quality in other areas of the pitch are getting deeper.

The decision for Emery is whether to stick with the team which started the win at Southampton. If there are changes, they are likely to be in midfield. McGinn was in his best form of the season before suffering a hamstring injury which has seen him miss the last three league matches, while Philippe Coutinho has impressed the boss with his substitute cameos against both Leeds and the Saints.

Recalled winger Bertrand Traore is recovering from a knee injury and won’t be available for selection.

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