Ross Barkley dedicated his winning goal to Aston Villa‘s medical staff as Dean Smith’s side maintained their 100% start to the season by edging victory at Leicester.
The game looked set to be the first goalless match of the campaign, but Barkley finished incisively into the bottom corner to give Villa all three points and send them second in the Premier League.
Villa have won their opening four top-flight games for the first time in 90 years.
Barkley joined Villa on loan from Chelsea in the summer and has been impressive for the West Midlands club, with the goal his second in as many games.
However, he revealed that a knee problem had left him in doubt for Sunday’s game.
“I was 50-50 in the week and our club doctor did a really good job getting me right,” said Barkley.
“He said I would end up scoring the goal and I did, so I dedicated the goal to him.
“The manager has given me the platform to play and I am excited and looking forward to every game.”
It had been a drab Sunday night encounter until Barkley’s 91st-minute effort, with neither goalkeeper called on to make difficult saves.
Douglas Luiz had curled a 25-yard shot straight at Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel, while Villa’s Emiliano Martinez kept out Youri Tielemans’ deflected long-range strike.
Villa are just one point behind leaders Everton with a game in hand, while Leicester remain fourth.
The fixture was a poignant one, as last season’s equivalent back in March was the final game staged with fans before the coronavirus-enforced suspension to the season.
Since then supporters have not been allowed into stadia – but had a crowd been in attendance, many may have been thinking of an early exit as the contest appeared to be drifting towards a bore draw before Barkley’s late intervention.
Villa narrowly avoided relegation last season but have started this campaign in magnificent fashion, backing up their 7-2 dismantling of champions Liverpool last time out with a narrow victory on this occasion.
They have won four Premier League games in a row for the first time since 2009, stretching their unbeaten run in the competition to eight games.
The signing of Chelsea’s Barkley on a season-long loan came as a surprise, but it looks to be an inspired acquisition by Smith and the England international has formed a good understanding with Jack Grealish.
The goal was a superb strike from the former Everton player, striding forward as the Leicester defence backed off before firing a crisp, low drive past the reach of Schmeichel.
“We have seen Ross Barkley do that enough times for Everton and Chelsea so we are pleased he did it for us,” said Smith.
“It was touch and go whether he started. He had a knock to the knee, but a great goal and a real battling performance by the whole team.”
Foxes fail to fire
Leicester were in the top four for much of last season before falling away after the restart, and they began this term with three straight victories.
But they have since faltered, losing back-to-back games, and rarely looked like finding the net against Villa.
Without the injured Jamie Vardy to call upon up front, Leicester struggled to carve out meaningful chances and Belgium full-back Timothy Castagne and Nigeria forward Kelechi Iheanacho both saw their efforts comfortably saved by Martinez.
Even the introduction of the rarely-sighted Algerian Islam Slimani, making his first Foxes appearance since January 2018 following loan spells away, could not spark any attacking impetus for Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Promising defender Wesley Fofana, 19, was given his debut after signing for £30m from Saint-Etienne, but there was little the French teenager could do to prevent Barkley’s superb strike.
“I didn’t think we deserved to lose,” said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers.
“We tried to be too precise in the final third of the pitch. It was just that final ball when we get into the box. It is still very early and we will continue to work hard.
“We are disappointed but we will go again.”
Villa keep it clean – the stats
- Aston Villa have won their opening four games of a league season for the first time since the 1930-31 campaign, when they went on to finish second in the top flight.
- Leicester have suffered consecutive Premier League home defeats without scoring for the first time since February 2017.
- Aston Villa are unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games (W6 D2); their longest run without defeat in the competition since October 2011 (10 games).
- Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers suffered his first defeat against Aston Villa in the Premier League since September 2014 (1-0 in charge of Liverpool), having won each of his previous four meetings with them since then.
- Aston Villa have kept a clean sheet in both of their two away games in the Premier League this term, after keeping none in 19 away games in the competition last season.
- Ross Barkley has scored in each of his two Premier League appearances for Aston Villa (2 goals), as many as he managed in his last 42 for Chelsea before moving to Villa Park.
- Since the start of last season, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish has won 182 fouls in the Premier League (including five tonight) – the most of any player in the competition.