Neville refuses to panic as Valencia face Real examination
Veteran coaches report they learned more from the bad times than the good, which suggests Gary Neville's first foray into management will prove a highly educative experience.
The task of reviving Valencia has proved more demanding than Neville might have hoped with no 'new manager bounce' enjoyed.
A month into the job he has lost one and drawn two of the club's three La Liga matches and been knocked out of the Champions League with a home defeat to Lyon. A Copa del Rey win over third-tier Barakaldo has been the only success. Thursday's 1-0 defeat at Villarreal, rivals regionally and for the fourth Champions League spot, left Valencia 10th in La Liga, nearer in points to the relegation zone than the prized fourth place Villarreal now occupy.
That gap is 11 points and Neville admitted: "It is a large distance to make up. The [Villarreal] defeat makes it a lot more difficult."
It is unlikely to get any easier as Valencia's next match, tomorrow, is against a Real Madrid team eager to cut their two-point deficit to joint-leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Valencia have home advantage but Rafael Benitez's side will have had 24 hours more rest having played on Wednesday when they beat Real Sociedad 3-1.
That brought Real's December tally to 28 goals in six games, but in one of those matches they drew a blank and lost to Villarreal.
Benitez seems to have survived for now the speculation that followed that defeat - and Jose Mourinho's sudden availability - but remains under pressure.
Neville played a back five against Villarreal - a response to injuries as much as results - and the team struggled to break out of defence in the opening half. Though they conceded the game's only goal after 64 minutes, the second period was better.
"It was the best, most controlled half since I've been here," said Neville. "If we continue that way then it is possible to pick up the points we need."
A manager's success is often dictated by his expertise in the transfer market but Neville added he would not be looking to buy immediately in this window as injuries meant he had still to fully assess the squad.
"I've got five or six players returning between two to three days and two to three weeks," he said. "When the squad gets back to full fitness, at that point it's time to assess whether the squad needs strengthening."
Valencia v Real Madrid,
Live, Sky Sports 3, 7.30 tomorrow
Independent News Service