MADRID, December 4- New Valencia coach Gary Neville will be a mere spectator as his side face the daunting task of halting European champions Barcelona’s free-scoring form on Saturday.
Neville doesn’t officially take charge at the Mestalla until Sunday leaving the caretaker team of his brother Phil and Voro in control this weekend.
“Wednesday was the announcement and Thursday was the first day I was able to come over so it wasn’t fair for me to come in and do sessions just before such a big match,” Neville explained as he was unveiled on Thursday.
Despite the difficulty of the task, Valencia’s need for points is the greater as they lie ninth in the table, five points off their target of a top-four finish.
By contrast, Barcelona have surged four points clear of Atletico Madrid at the top of the table with Real Madrid a further two points back.
Wednesday’s 6-1 thrashing of Villanovense in the Copa del Rey took the Catalans tally to 26 goals in their last six games.
And with Real Madrid facing expulsion from the Cup for fielding an ineligible lineup against Cadiz in Wednesday, talk in Barcelona has already turned to whether Luis Enrique’s men can make history by repeating the treble of La Liga, Cup and Champions League they won last season.
“The fans and the technical staff are happy because we should enjoy this moment,” said Barca striker Luis Suarez on Thursday.
“We want to leave our mark on the history of football.
“We have a good advantage (in the league) and we want to make the most of it, but we can never get complacent against anyone.”
Enrique has the luxury of recalling Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi after all three were handed a rest against Villanovense as they look to build on their tally of 125 goals in 2015.
Real Madrid have an easier task at home to Getafe on Saturday as they try to pick up the pieces of a disastrous few weeks on and off the field.
Coach Rafael Benitez and his players are set for a frosty reception by the Madrid fans in their first appearance at the Santiago Bernabeu since being thrashed 4-0 by Barcelona two weeks ago.
Moreover, club president Florentino Perez is expected to receive more calls for his resignation after the administrative failings that have left Madrid’s Copa del Rey hopes in tatters.
And despite losing on each of their last seven visits to the Bernabeu, Getafe defender Roberto Lago believes they can inflict more pain on the 10-time European champions.
“I want to win, I will never settle for a draw,” he said on Thursday.
“We are Getafe and what matters to us is what we do, I let others fix what is wrong in their house.
“We are thinking about ourselves and believing in what we can do.”
Benitez will also be able to recall a host of stars who were rested in midweek including Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
However, he has only four defenders available due to injuries to Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Dani Carvajal and Marcelo.
Atletico can continue to split Barca and Madrid with a sixth consecutive win in all competitions when they travel to struggling Granada.
Diego Simeone’s men face their first serious test without influential midfielder Tiago, who will miss the next four months due to a broken leg, at Nuevo Los Carmenes.
Saul Niguez is expected to replace the Portuguese after his winning goal in the Cup against Reus in midweek, whilst Colombian striker Jackson Martinez is still doubtful with an ankle injury.
Elsewhere, Celta Vigo will look to maintain their stay in the top four when they travel to Real Betis on Saturday.
However, they could be usurped by Galician rivals Deportivo la Coruna should they beat Sevilla.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Real Madrid v Getafe (1500), Granada v Atletico Madrid (1715), Valencia v Barcelona (1930), Deportivo la Coruna v Sevilla (2100), Real Betis v Celta Vigo (2105)
Real Sociedad v Eibar (1100), Villarreal v Rayo Vallecano (1500), Sporting Gijon v Las Palmas (1715), Athletic Bilbao v Malaga (1930)
Espanyol v Levante (1930)