COPA DEL REY | BARCELONA - VALENCIA
"I expect a different Valencia from the one in the league"
The Barcelona boss said he has seen changes in Valencia's style under Gary Neville and expects a "difficult match" at Camp Nou.
Luis Enrique is not taking anything for granted ahead of the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg against Valencia at Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Despite Barcelona’s opponents not having won a league game since Neville arrived at Mestalla in December, Enrique was wary of the threat posed by a side that held the culés to a draw in the league encounter before the former Manchester United defender took over and started to instil his ethos into the team.
“Neville's Valencia play a good pressing game; his team already looks different from the one we saw before. The team has a strong sense of identity now. I expect a different Valencia from the one we met in the league. It’s a different competition and they have a different coach now,” Enrique said in his pre-match press conference.
Both managers will also be acutely aware that Valencia’s best chance on current form of competing in Europe next season is to win the domestic cup competition. Although Neville has fashioned a side that is difficult to beat, Valencia have struggled to put opposing sides to bed when they have the opportunity. The most recent example was last weekend’s 1-0 loss in Mestalla to Sporting. Despite dominating for large periods of the match and hitting 15 shots to the visiting side’s seven, Valencia paid the price for their profligacy. If Neville can coax a similar performance out of his side in Camp Nou, the result is far from a foregone conclusion.
Enrique sounded a note of caution about Barcelona’s tag of perennial favourites for every competition they are involved in: “We have to prove that. We’re aware that people look at us as favourites, it’s not like we’re a surprise or anything. But it only matters on the pitch and that’s where we have to show it.”
Neville faced the dreaded barrage of white handkerchiefs from the stands on Saturday but remained defiant after the loss, despite a record of played eight, drawn six, lost two in La Liga. In any case, Valencia sporting director Jesús Garcia-Pitarch has backed Neville to succeed at Mestalla: "He has my full support. I want him to turn things around."
That support translated into new faces on the final day of the transfer window, with Real Madrid winger Denis Cheryshev and Atlético full-back Guilherme Siqueira joining Valencia. Both players were named in the squad for the trip to Barcelona, a match that Enrique said will differ from the 1-1 Liga draw in December.
“That day Valencia presented a defensive image; they closed up shop at the back and their game plan was clearly to try and hit on the counter-attack. They played the game they were able to play. Now they have a new coach and we have seen some new aspects to Neville’s Valencia. They defend in a different area of the pitch. They are displaying a different identity with players getting into the box more. They have players that can bring the ball out of defence with quality. It will be a difficult match.”
The good news for Barcelona is that Leo Messi is fit to play after finding himself on the wrong end of a nasty challenge from Atlético’s Filipe Luis last weekend. “Fortunately, he’s perfectly ok,” Enrique said.
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