Neville's tenure on the line

Betis striker Ruben Castro scoring the winner past Valencia goalkeeper Matthew Ryan. While coach Gary Neville has faced the brunt of criticism during their poor run, the whole team have been below par.
Betis striker Ruben Castro scoring the winner past Valencia goalkeeper Matthew Ryan. While coach Gary Neville has faced the brunt of criticism during their poor run, the whole team have been below par.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Fans to vent frustration at 'dead' 2nd leg Cup tie but Espanyol league clash is crunch match

MADRID • Valencia coach Gary Neville can expect to endure one of the most awkward nights of his career when his side entertain Barcelona in the return leg of Spain's King's Cup semi-final today.

The 7-0 thrashing suffered in the Nou Camp last week means it would need a miracle of unheard proportions for Valencia to be able to turn the tie around, making the 90 minutes to be played on the pitch at the Mestalla Stadium all but irrelevant in football terms.

However, Neville and his players will have to endure the abuse of the fans who bother to turn up in the wake of a run of league games which have seen Valencia plummet down the Spanish Primera Liga table.

Sunday's 0-1 loss away to Real Betis means the former Manchester United and England defender has yet to win any of his nine league games in charge, and he is one game away from setting a new club record for the worst run of league form.

He and the players were booed and insulted on their return from Seville on Sunday, just as they were after their first-leg beating in Barcelona a week ago.

With the fans angry at the players and with no faith in the inexperienced coach, the atmosphere in Mestalla will be horrible for all concerned.

With the tie all but lost, even the consolation of a win against a side they drew 1-1 with in the league would be irrelevant, as everyone knows the key game for Neville is this weekend's league match at home to Espanyol.

Neville admitted after the Betis loss that every defeat feels like a "punch in the face", but the 40-year-old insisted that he will fight and sources at the club said there is no plan to sack him.

Valencia's president Chan Lay Hoon was back in Singapore for Chinese New Year rather than in Seville on Sunday and the manager continued to have support from the upper echelons of the club, including Singaporean owner Peter Lim.

Gaizka Mendieta, who played for Valencia between 1993 and 2001, said it is more that likely Neville will remain at the Mestalla for the foreseeable future.

He told Sky Sports: "I don't think he'll be sacked. The president and chairman still believe in Gary and because of the short time he's been at the club, he should stay and not be changed . But the sporting director and the fans won't be thinking the same.

"It's not only the results, but it's the way the team is playing. It's not only Gary who's to blame here, I think it's the players as well.

"When you see the way they play, they look like a team who are not prepared to compete at the level that they should. It's more than just Gary here, there are a lot of things to look at for the club."

For Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, today's game offers the rare chance to rest players after a start to 2016 which has seen his side play two games every week.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be in goal, while stars such as Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar can all expect a rest, with Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez given match time along with Aleix Vidal, Arda Turam, Thomas Vermaelen and former Valencia stopper Jeremy Mathieu.

THE GUARDIAN, XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Neville's tenure on the line'. Print Edition | Subscribe