As expected, tonight’s Copa del Rey semi-final felt more like a friendly fixture. A tremendous performance by FC Barcelona a week ago at the Camp Nou rendered the tie moot, providing Luis Enrique with a rare chance to rest his key players. Gary Neville, the man fighting hard to keep his job, also saw the game as no more than a chance to rest his players as well. There was no way Valencia were ever going to comeback from a seven-goal deficit against the treble winners, and Neville’s acceptance of that reality could potentially serve him better than a useless attempt at restoring pride.
At the time of writing Gary Neville is still the manager of Valencia. This won’t change before his side fruitlessly attempt to salvage a seven goal disadvantage tomorrow night and won’t change regardless of the result afterwards. That sounds snarky but actually I will always stand by a strategy that gives managers time when patience in football appears abhorred. That all said, the Neville experiment continuous to explode in Peter Lim’s face – he has overseen no wins in 9 league games now, been behind in every occasion, oversaw the heaviest cup defeat since 1928 and Valencia now lie just 4 points from relegation. Mixing friends and business is renowned risky business, Mr. Lim.
Post today’s game, a good friend of mine who watches football from time to time sent me the following message:
“How is the communication between the front three so good? Poor Valencia, it should be illegal for ‘MSN’ to play that well”. I think those sentiments sum up yesterday’s game, from a neutral point of view at least, quite well.
To say Gary Neville doesn’t know football would be silly. But to say Gary Neville has not been a calamity at Valencia is equally silly. Neville took control of Los Ches on December 2, 2015 and since has managed them to 5 wins, 5 draws and 3 defeats. Okay, on the face of it, that’s not entirely awful. Although, as is mostly the case numbers can’t be taken on face value. Say Cristiano Ronaldo’s season goals for example. Those wins have all been in the Copa del Rey against 18th place Granada and Las Palmas. The defeats read Villarreal (away), Real Sociedad (away) and Sporting Gijón (home). But really it’s how Valencia have played. Though unlucky to lose over the weekend to Gijón, in a match Neville described as their best under him, for most his tenure Valencia have looked a team without a plan. And that’s precisely what Barça is not. Absolutely assured in their identity and abilities, Barça will only add to Neville’s steep learning curve.
One of the main characteristics that help identify Luis Enrique’s Barcelona is their ability to bounce back, even when they’re playing badly. We saw that just four days ago against Málaga CF when FC Barcelona arguably played their worst 45 minutes of football this season, but ultimately the three points were won. Tonight’s case was similar, and once again the players’ stubborn character persevered against a desperate Athletic Club that did not have much to lose. Sometimes, it all comes down to whether you possess the spirit of champions or not.