Leicester City strengthen top-4 spot in Premier League with 2-1 win against Aston Villa

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Leicester’s Harvey Barnes, right, celebrates with Leicester’s Youri Tielemans after scoring his sides second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Leicester City at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Sunday, Feb. 21

Leicester strengthened its position in the Premier League’s top four with a 2-1 win at Aston Villa thanks to early goals by James Maddison and Harvey Barnes on Sunday.

Villa was without Jack Grealish because of injury and made a slow start without its inspirational captain, going 2-0 down by the 23rd minute at Villa Park.

Barnes laid the ball off to Maddison, who slotted a shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area in the 19th.

The winger then scored himself, forcing home a rebound high into the net after Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez could only palm away a fierce effort from Jamie Vardy.

“Harvey looks like he’s going to score in every game, he was sensational today,” Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said of the left winger, who has netted seven goals in his last 14 games in all competitions.

Bertrand Traore gave Villa hope by pulling a goal back in the 48th from close range after John McGinn helped on a cross by Matt Targett, but Leicester held on to move above Manchester United into second place. United plays Newcastle later Sunday.

Leicester, which is six points clear of fifth-place Chelsea, hasn’t played in the Champions League since the 2016-17 season — the season after winning the Premier League in improbable fashion.

One negative for Leicester was the sight of Maddison walking off gingerly midway through the second half, having earlier complained of both foot and hip injuries after a heavy but fair tackle by Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz.

“James had an issue with his hip last season so we’ll assess that,” Rodgers said. “He felt some pain, so as a precaution we took him off.”

Villa has won just one of its last four games and has dropped seven points off the European positions, albeit with two games in hand over most of its rivals.

The loss of Grealish is a big blow and Villa manager Dean Smith was guarded about the exact nature of the injury the midfielder picked up in training. Local media reported Grealish has shin splints.

“We don’t believe it’s a long-term injury,” Smith said before kickoff. “We’re just going to assess him as he goes.”

Targett suggested the absence of Grealish had a psychological impact on both teams.

“When they see there’s no Jack Grealish, it gives everyone in their team a lift,” he said. “He’s the best player in our squad, there’s no hiding from that.”

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