Embattled Valencia coach Gary Neville is confident the club’s supporters will return on the weekend after they staged a boycott of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against Barcelona.
With Neville clinging to his job and his team struggling for form, only a quarter of the 55,000-capacity Mestalla Stadium was filled as Valencia and Barca drew 1-1 midweek, after the Spanish and European champions posted an emphatic 7-0 win in the opening fixture.
Valencia were on course for a 1-0 victory in the second leg against a second-string Barca side – missing Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar among others – but an 84th-minute equaliser from Wilfrid Kaptoum cancelled out Alvaro Negredo’s first-half opener, giving Luis Enrique’s men an 8-1 win on aggregate.
Despite the scarce numbers in the crowd, Neville – who is yet to win a La Liga match since taking charge in December – is sure fans will be back for Saturday’s showdown against Espanyol, with Valencia just four points above the relegation zone.
“I am grateful to the fans who came out to support us,” he said. “Those who didn’t want to come, are within their rights.
“[The] Mestalla will be full on Saturday, and the atmosphere will be electric.
“We need the fans more than ever.”
Neville admitted he fielded a younger side with an eye on 17th-placed Espanyol, who are only three points adrift of Valencia.
“Now we are preparing Saturday’s game, which we know is hugely important,” he said.
“I picked players today with the idea in mind that we want the team as fresh as possible for Saturday.
“I don’t want to put pressure on the young players. They have to grow gradually.
“There are players with a lot of talent in the Academy, and we saw some very good signs.”
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