Sunday’s high voltage La Liga clash between Spanish giants Real Madrid and Valencia CF might be described as a bit of a damp squib, with both the teams coming under a lot of criticism of late.
Real Madrid have won four out of their last five La Liga matches, but with the expectations at the Santiago Bernabeu being sky-high, the club has come under a lot of pressure after a bit of a hiccup in October left them a few paces behind arch rivals FC Barcelona in the title race.
Valencia CF on the other hand, had placed a lot of faith on the young shoulders of Gary Neville, but are yet to reap results as the Englishman is still searching for a way back for the club. While this should make for an interesting encounter, there are a few sub-plots running with their respective managers.
Gary Neville still learning with his team?
Valencia CF is Gary Neville’s debut stint as the manager of a football club, and some of the early optimism about the Englishman seems to be wearing off now. Out of nine possible points, Valencia CF have been able to amass just two under the stewardship of Neville in La Liga.
Their only victory under the Englishman has come against Segunda B side Barakaldo CF, in the Copa del Rey, and that is not a good start for any manager. This set of bad results seems to be putting the young manager under a lot of pressure at the Spanish club, who are increasingly drifting away from the more desired top-four position.
In Neville’s defence however, it can be said that he is still trying to figure out his best starting XI, which is arguably one of the most important things that a manager has to identify at a club. Valencia CF have played six different formations this season which makes it quite clear that Gary and his brother/assistant Phil are still trying to figure things out on the drawing board.
Also a long-ish injury list (Diego Alves, Sofiane Feghouli, Zakaria Bakkali, Rodrigo) has also forced Neville’s hand at times. However, with the transfer window wide open now, Neville has the chance to prove himself as a manager by bringing in good reinforcements, and hauling Los Che out of their slumber.
The prodigal son returns?
After 11 years of travelling around Europe, Rafa Benitez is finally returning to the Mestalla stadium, not as the leader of Los Che, but as the man trying to get the seemingly rebellious Real Madrid side to conquer Spain. However, there seems to be ample love in the hearts of the Valencia fans, who are preparing a grand welcome for the man who led them to two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup victory, more than a decade ago.
a AS English (@English_AS) January 2, 2016
Quite simply put, Benitez has been the most successful manager that the Los Che faithful have ever seen, and they are still showing their appreciation for him.
However, it would be interesting to see how Gary Neville reacts to Benitez possibly getting a warmer welcome than him at the Mestalla, as the two teams descend on to the pitch.
Interestingly, there is a similar atmosphere at the club that Neville had captained to many triumphs at one point of time — with the Manchester United fans booing Louis van Gaal, while a section of them chant former Chelsea FC manager Jose Mourinho’s name, urging the board to hire the Portuguese.
Benitez though, has his own band of naysayers, with the Real Madrid fans booing him during the 3-1 home win against Real Sociedad.
All in all, this makes for a really unique (and weird) atmosphere at the Mestalla, where two giants of the Spanish game lock horns with one another. It would be interesting to see whose name the fans would be singing at the end of the match. Would it be Gary Neville, Rafa Benitez, or by any chance, Jose Mourinho?