Aston Villa boss Dean Smith regards today’s opponents Leicester as a blueprint for what can be achieved at Villa Park.

The two best Midlands clubs meet in front of England manager Gareth Southgate with Villa able to close the gap on Brendan Rodgers team to seven points and with two games in hand.

It suggests the beginnings of a great rivalry but Smith is cautious in comparing the clubs at this stage despite having exciting talents like Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings in his squad.

Dean Smith has insisted that his Aston Villa side can not yet be compared to Leicester City

Dean Smith has insisted that his Aston Villa side can not yet be compared to Leicester City 

England boss Gareth Southgate will be watching the West Midlands sides on Sunday afternoon

England boss Gareth Southgate will be watching the West Midlands sides on Sunday afternoon

Leicester are a little further ahead in their development, sitting 10 points ahead of Aston Villa

Leicester are a little further ahead in their development, sitting 10 points ahead of Aston Villa

Southgate is due to be in the stands to check on them and others including Ross Barkley, Harvey Barnes and James Maddison. 

‘We’re still playing catch up on Leicester City and we will continue to do that. It is very early to be talking about how much closer we’re going to be. I believe Leicester are a top four club now,’ said Smith.

‘They’ve won the Premier League in recent history, were competing for a top-four place last season and are so again this season. But I am not surprised by our progression.’

Villa have more league games to play than anyone else in the division due to earlier Covid-related postponements.

Villa are gearing-up for a late-season push to achieve a European place, a stunning turnaround

Villa are gearing-up for a late-season push to achieve a European place, a stunning turnaround

It leaves the tantalising prospect of a late run for Europe but the manager admits he’d rather have the points on the board.

‘I am not sure it is an advantage to come up on the rails. What history tells you is that unless you are Manchester City, it is very tough to win two games on the spin in this league,’ he said.

‘Every game you go into is competitive. Whether you have two games in hand or not, you still have to go and win them and that is a tough thing to do in this league. We are mindful of that.

‘We have been playing catch-up from the first week and also had the Covid outbreak. All we can do is concentrate on the next game and see where that takes us.

Villa have recovered from their Covid-19 outbreak at the club and have kept-up their form

Villa have recovered from their Covid-19 outbreak at the club and have kept-up their form 

‘Against Arsenal, we kept a clean sheet and won, then we have gone to Brighton, not been very good but got a point.

‘Certainly our home performances have improved of late and we need to be at our best to be competitive against a very good Leicester team.’

Smith and Rodgers did their pro-license together when the Leicester boss was still coaching at Chelsea before going on to manage Liverpool and Celtic.

‘He’s been outstanding,’ said Smith. ‘He won an awful lot of trophies north of the border and he’s come down here and is challenging for trophies as well.’