Following his shock appointment as the next Valencia boss, Gary Neville faces the toughest jobs of them all as los Che host mighty Barcelona in his first game in the Mestalla dugout. The Catalans are playing their best football in months and with Leo Messi back to the side, they have rightly been made odds-on favourites to win this game.
While unable to match the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia have been among the best of the rest in Spanish La Liga, that is until the current season. In spite of the heavy recruitment of late, los Che experienced plenty of problems in the opening exchanges, with club chiefs eventually losing their patience with coach Nuno Espirit Santo. However, it was their decision to appoint inexperienced Gary Neville in his place that caused a great deal of controversy, especially with David Moyes having failed to prove his worth in Spain after impressing while in charge of Everton. And while the Manchester United icon will be given time to prove his worth, Valencia need to start winning soon if they still want to challenge for European positions, but this is clearly not the right time to be facing red-hot Barcelona. Los Che are low on confidence after back to back defeats to Zenit and Sevilla, and the Copa del Rey triumph over minnows Barakaldo is unlikely to make a difference. On top of that, they’ve got Javi Fuego and Joao Cancelo suspended, whilst Rodrigo Moreno, Diego Alves, Lucas Orban and Shkodran Mustafi are definitely out injured. Pablo Piatti and Alvaro Negredo could return, but Andre Gomes, Sofiane Feghouli and Antonio Barragan are major doubts.
It was the period of a couple of months when arguably world’s best football player Leo Messi was on the sidelines that proved just how far this team have gone under Luis Enrique, with the likes of Neymar, Luis Suarez, Rakitic and co. stepping up the plate almost effortlessly to ensure the results remain as impressive as ever. The Catalans didn’t even need to risk the Argentine superstar in the El Clasico hammering of Real Madrid, but the coach made sure for his star player to also taste one of the biggest victories over their bitter rivals. It was, therefore, hardly surprising that excellent performances and results continued with the return of Messi, as the Catalans also went to hammer AS Roma, Real Sociedad and Villanovense. With the team now on a seven-match winning run, boasting a 28:2 goal difference during the period, I definitey wouldn’t want to be in Gary Neville’s skin as the baptism of fire would probably be an understatement in this case. Not even the minor selection problems are going to spoil the party for Barcelona, with Jeremy Mathieu and Sergi Roberto having been left in Catalunya, although the good news is that Marc-Andre ter Stegen is available after recovering from injury.
Even a full-strength Valencia side on top of their game would probably struggle to match the red-hot Barcelona, and given the current situation in the los Che camp, the hosts don’t exactly have a lot to hope for. The Catalans will be looking to take an early lead and ease off to a win at Mestalla, and we fully expect them to succeed in their quest.
Best Odds: 3/4
Bookmaker: William Hill