MADRID, February 5 – Gary Neville could take charge of Valencia for the final time should he fail to deliver a league win at the ninth attempt when his side travel to fellow strugglers Real Betis on Sunday.
Neville’s terrible run of five points from eight La Liga games since taking charge in December was compounded as Valencia suffered their heaviest defeat in 23 years with a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi-finals on Wednesday.
“I need to make sure everything in the players’ minds now shifts to Betis. Be clear, we have to deliver on Sunday,” said Neville.
“I feel most for fans. It’s their club and they suffer very badly. I have to work out how we can get in a positive frame of mind on Sunday.”
Neville insisted he wouldn’t quit in the face of persistent questioning in midweek, however the club’s sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch refused to give his backing to the former Manchester United captain.
Madrid sports daily AS reported on Thursday that Valencia had already sounded out former coach Rafael Benitez – who won two La Liga titles in three years at the Mestalla between 2001 and 2004 – as Neville’s replacement for next season.
Valencia’s overall winless streak of 11 league games has left them just five points above the relegation zone.
However, luckily for Neville’s men, Betis are also mired in crisis, three points adrift of Valencia and also without a win in nine games.
– Barca unbeaten record –
At the top of the table, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are heavy favourites to pick up wins in the title race.
Barca’s 2-1 win over Atletico last weekend opened up a three-point lead at the top with Real a point further adrift. Barca also have a game in both clubs from the capital.
The 7-0 rout of Valencia in midweek also took the European champions to within a game of matching a club record 28-game unbeaten run set by Pep Guardiola’s Barca in 2010/11 ahead of their trip to bottom side Levante.
“After the run and number of games we have had until now, we have to congratulate them to be able to see that fluidity and confidence,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique.
“We have unique players, that is evident and we still have many things to achieve.”
Enrique is likely to recall Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves after they were rested in midweek, whilst the deadly trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar will continue up front.
Atletico have a defensive crisis as they host free-scoring Eibar to the Vicente Calderon.
Filipe Luis, Diego Godin and Juanfran are all suspended, whilst Stefan Savic is struggling with a thigh strain.
Atletico are also a striker down having sold Jackson Martinez to Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande for 42 million euros on Wednesday, but Luciano Vietto is expected to return to accompany Antoine Griezmann in attack.
Eibar’s biggest threat won’t be unknown to Diego Simeone’s men as Borja Baston is on loan from Atletico, but is free to face his parent club and is the top scoring Spaniard in La Liga with 15 goals this season.
Real Madrid look to continue their positive start to life under Zinedine Zidane when they travel to Granada on Sunday.
Zidane may be able to recall Gareth Bale after three weeks out with a calf injury.
Madrid have scored 16 goals in winning their three home games with ease since Zidane took charge, but slipped up in their only other away trip so far with a 1-1 draw at Betis two weeks ago.
“Every piece of advice he gives you is like gold dust and it helps you improve on the pitch,” midfielder Luka Modric told FIFA.com of Zidane’s influence.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Malaga v Getafe (1930)
Atletico Madrid v Getafe (1500), Rayo Vallecano v Las Palmas (1715), Athletic Bilbao v Villarreal (1930), Sporting Gijon v Deportivo la Coruna (2105)
Levante v Barcelona (1100), Real Betis v Valencia (1500), Celta Vigo v Sevilla (1715), Granada v Real Madrid (1930)
Espanyol v Real Sociedad (1930)