Neville heads for trial by fire

Valencia head coach Gary Neville (left), with younger brother Phil, the assistant coach, behind him at training. Valencia need to beat Lyon and hope Gent do not defeat Zenit, to advance in the Champions League.
Valencia head coach Gary Neville (left), with younger brother Phil, the assistant coach, behind him at training. Valencia need to beat Lyon and hope Gent do not defeat Zenit, to advance in the Champions League. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Valencia's new head coach to face first test in match against Lyon

VALENCIA • Gary Neville will be handed a baptism of fire as Valencia boss when the Spanish side host Lyon in the Champions League today in hopes of sealing their place in the last 16.

The match will be Neville's first as a head coach after he was surprisingly hired by business partner and Valencia owner Peter Lim until the end of the season despite his lack of managerial experience.

To reach the knockout stages for the first time in three years, Valencia need to win and also hope that Belgian champions Gent do not beat the already-qualified Zenit St Petersburg.

"Someone said it's the first day of the rest of my life tomorrow," Neville said yesterday.

"I'm focusing on staying calm. It's impossible to get everything into the players in the next 48 hours.

"We worked on things yesterday and this morning, but it's the simple things that, hopefully, we can see tomorrow night in the game."

The former Manchester United and England full-back has also offered a fresh start to his players, with former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo returning to the squad for the first time in more than two months.

Negredo was discarded by predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo after a disagreement between the two before suffering appendicitis three weeks ago.

"I explained to them that every single player has an opportunity to play," he said. " I will treat no player differently than any other."

Neville had watched from the stands as Valencia managed to salvage a point against Barcelona in La Liga on Saturday, thanks to Santi Mina's late equaliser.

On top of the confidence gained for taking a point from the Spanish and European champions, morale within the Valencia camp should be boosted by the availability of a number of key players.

Shkodran Mustafi and Javi Fuego are expected to return from injury while right-back Joao Cancelo returns from suspension.

Neville admitted that the Valencia fans are right to have misgivings about the appointment of a coach with no previous experience and who does not speak Spanish. But he has already tried to win them over by opening his first full training session to the supporters and is seeking to meet their expectations.

"We have to aim for the Champions League qualification and we have to try and win all the Cup games," he said. "The reality in football, though, is it doesn't always go the way you want. We're here to win football matches, we're here to entertain starting tomorrow night.

"Lyon is a big game, it sets the benchmark straight away. It gives me an immediate understanding of what our mentality is like."

Lyon have failed to win any of their last five matches.

The latest embarrassment for Hubert Fournier's men came with a 2-0 defeat at home by Angers in the last-ever league game at the Stade Gerland on Saturday.

Lyon are already eliminated from all European competitions after taking just one point from their opening five group games.

Moreover, the French side are hampered by injuries to several key players. Nabil Fekir, Gueida Fofana, Aldo Kalulu and Christophe Jallet are all long-term absentees while Jordan Ferri is suspended.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2015, with the headline 'NEVILLE HEADS FOR TRIAL BY FIRE'. Print Edition | Subscribe