Last-chance saloon for under-fire managers

MADRID • Valencia striker Alvaro Negredo ending his goal drought and the return of Espanyol's Felipe Caicedo after injury have set the tone for today's La Liga battle at Mestalla which could decide the fate of two beleaguered managers.

Gary Neville was relieved to see Negredo find the net for the first time in four matches in Valencia's 1-1 draw with Barcelona in their King's Cup semi-final second leg on Wednesday.

Even though Valencia went out 8-1 on aggregate, the performance gave the Englishman renewed hope of a first victory in 10 league matches.

"Negredo got his goal (and) in terms of individual performances, it went well," he said, adding that he is hopeful disgruntled fans will turn up today.

"I think the stadium on Saturday will be full and have an electric atmosphere. We and the team need the fans more than ever on Saturday."

Valencia are 14th in the standings after only five wins in 23 matches, four points above the relegation zone, with fans demanding Neville's head.

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    Alvaro Negredo's goal in the King's Cup against Barcelona on Wednesday was the Valencia striker's first in four matches in all competitions.

Espanyol's manager Constantin Galca, whose side have not won in seven La Liga games and are hovering just above the drop zone in 17th place, thought he had lost his job after Monday's 5-0 pasting at home to Real Sociedad.

However, the club's new Chinese owners - who have targeted Champions League football within three years - gave the Romanian manager a reprieve until the match at Valencia, where he can count on Caicedo.

The burly Caicedo, whose form has helped Ecuador top the South American 2018 World Cup qualifiers with four goals in four matches, is fit again and training normally, Espanyol confirmed on their website on Thursday.

He missed the last two league matches in which Espanyol conceded 11 goals - six to Real Madrid and five to Sociedad - after picking up an injury in the 2-2 draw against Villarreal.

At the other end of the table, Zinedine Zidane faces his toughest test since becoming Real Madrid manager as Athletic Bilbao visit the Santiago Bernabeu today.

Real's title hopes hang by a thread as they are four points adrift of leaders Barcelona, who also have a game in hand.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2016, with the headline 'Last-chance saloon for under-fire managers'. Print Edition | Subscribe