Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has described his side’s defeat last season to Sunday’s Premier League opponents Leicester as “a watershed moment”.
Smith’s side lost 4-0 at the King Power Stadium in their last fixture before football was suspended in March and it left them second from bottom, two points adrift of safety.
Fast forward seven months after a relegation dogfight and Villa appear to have completed a remarkable transformation.
They now sit second from top with a game in hand after thrashing champions Liverpool 7-2 before the international break.
“It was just the way we felt sorry for ourselves in the last 15 minutes (at Leicester) and conceded a couple more goals, but it turned out to be a watershed moment,” said Smith.
“We went into lockdown and certainly provided a memorable return to form after that.”
Smith points to improved fitness levels as a key factor in his side’s turnaround as they bid to extend their 100 per cent start to four matches.
“We’re tougher to beat,” he said. “Defensively, from the front our work-rate and work ethic without the ball, and that’s down to a little bit of fitness introduced as well that we worked on during the lockdown and that’s certainly improved us.”
Smith is expected to choose from an unchanged squad for Sunday’s return to the King Power, with all seven of his internationals expected to be in contention.
John McGinn marked his first game as Scotland captain with a man-of-the-match display in Wednesday’s 1-0 Nations League win against the Czech Republic.
There was also an England debut for McGinn’s midfield partner Jack Grealish in last week’s friendly win against Wales, while Douglas Luiz and Bertrand Traore were in impressive form for Brazil and Burkino Faso respectively.
“It’s obviously been a good two weeks since then because you’re riding on the back of that (Liverpool) result,” Smith said.
“But also three consecutive wins in the Premier League to start the season – it gives the team, players and staff an awful lot of confidence moving forward.”
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, who scored twice in the two sides’ previous meeting, has hit five in four league games this season and is still the man Villa must stop.
“He’s been excellent over five or six seasons for Leicester City,” Smith added. “He’s a top player and rightly lauded for his exploits.
“He’s a player who’s got an awful lot of quality, but an awful lot of character and heart as well and you have to be at your best, you certainly can’t give him chances because he will take them.”