MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) goes hunting for midweek Copa del Rey value as under-fire Valencia welcome all-conquering Barcelona to the Mestalla.
Valencia v Barcelona | Wednesday 20.00
It was 7-0 but it could and should have been 14-0. Gary Neville’s Valencia were hung, drawn, quartered and left out in the open for the vultures to peck out their insides.
Last Wednesday’s shocking annihilation at the Camp Nou – the first time in over 20 years that Valencia had conceded seven goals in one game – has left Neville clinging onto his job. The club’s sporting director, Suso Garcia Pitarch, described it as “one of the worst results in our history”.
There’s obviously no way back for Los Che and this midweek’s exercise at the Mestalla is all about restoring pride, resting and rotating the squad ahead of a tumultuous fixtures with Espanyol at the weekend. After all, the Bats are now just four points off the relegation zone.
“Let’s be clear: on Sunday we have to deliver,” Neville said after the Camp Nou fiasco. But his side didn’t deliver – they were defeated 1-0 by Real Betis whilst showing little imagination or organisation, meaning they’re winless in nine La Liga games under the Manc who’s rebuffed calls for him to resign.
A recent poll suggested 90% of fans wanted Neville removed and on three occasions in five days supporters have gathered at Valencia’s training ground to protest, chanting against players, directors and now the manager too.
Neville’s continual claims that Los Che have been unlucky are starting to grate on locals too. For the most part of his tenure, the Bats have been dreadful. Sure, he’s inherited an unbalanced and inexperienced squad assembled expensively by Peter Lim and Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes but there’s absolutely no doubt Valencia are underachieving dramatically.
In the first leg in Catalonia last week, Neville fielded four full-backs and one striker, leaving Álvaro Negredo and Paco Alcácer out, deciding to sit deep and wait for Barcelona. “Absurd,” was the judgment in one Valencia paper. It did not work, Valencia were startlingly passive and can ill-afford a repeat.
The Copa del Rey was supposed to be Valencia’s competition, a little joy in an increasingly difficult campaign, a diversion from the difficulties in the league. But they had reached the semi-final by knocking out Second Division B side Barakaldo, Granada and Las Palmas. The run was always likely to end against Barcelona, just not like this.
Visitors Barcelona extended the club’s unbeaten run to 28 games at the weekend with a hard-fought 2-0 win against Levante. Luis Enrique’s side struggled for the most part but it’s now 10 consecutive victories and with a seven-goal advantage, can afford to give their galaxy of star names the night off.
So this is now a game nobody wants to play, and both sides are likely to field much-changed sides. It will have a strange atmosphere about it and bar another tonking, the home attention is and will be all on the weekend’s La Liga contest.
It’s a night for small stakes punting and although Valencia will be hell-bent on stopping another landslide, I’d rather be with the Bluagrana at the prices, even without Claudio Bravo, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Arda Turan, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez or Neymar in the squad.
Valencia v Barcelona – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score (5/2 Bet365)
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