Gary Neville is hanging onto his job at Valencia by a thread after seeing his team suffer yet another defeat with a 1-0 loss at Real Betis.
Ruben Castro’s 49th minute winner means Valencia have now lost three consecutive games without scoring, and Neville has still not been able to celebrate victory – or even taking the lead in a game – during his nine La Liga outings.
A large number of Valencia fans want to see him fired, with an online poll in local newspaper Superdeporte resulting in 90 per cent voting in favour of his dismissal.
Neville's run without a La Liga win now up to nine games. They've still not even been ahead at any point during those 810 minutes.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) February 7, 2016
But amid rumours that Rafa Benitez and Juande Ramos have been approached by Los Che to succeed Neville, there was still no official word from the Mestalla club late on Sunday night as speculation continued to mount that Singaporebased owner Peter Lim is poised to pull the trigger.
“My belief is strong, it always has been,” he said. “But there are no words I can give you to make the problem go away.”
He also claimed that his team’s loss at Betis, where they had an injury time equaliser from Shkodran Mustafi controversially ruled out for offside, was unwarranted.
“I don’t think we deserved to lose but things aren’t going our way in both boxes,” he added.
One source of support for Neville came from club legend Gaizka Mendieta, who helped the team reach consecutive Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001.
Mendieta says he expects Neville to stay in place for the time being, claiming: “The president and chairman still believe in Gary and because of the short time he has been at the club, he should stay.
“But the sporting director and the fans won’t be thinking the same. It’s not only the results, it’s the way the team is playing.”
Elsewhere, Federico Fazio was sent off on debut as Sevilla fought out a 1-1 draw at Celta Vigo. The defender rejoined the club on loan from Tottenham earlier in the week and was dismissed for two bookable offences inside the opening 24 minutes at Balaidos.
Sevilla responded well to score through Daniel Carrico, but Claudio Beauvue claimed a point for the hosts.
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The European champions were far from their best in coach Luis Enrique’s 100th game in charge, but David Navarro’s first-half own goal and Luis Suarez’s strike in stoppage time was enough to secure a 10th consecutive win in all competitions.
Barca now lead Atletico Madrid by three points and have a game in hand on Diego Simeone’s men.
Third-placed Real Madrid are now seven points adrift of Barca, but can cut the gap when they travel to Granada later on Sunday.
Barca’s 28-game unbeaten run matches the same feat of Pep Guardiola’s side in 2010/11 with Enrique’s men well on course to repeat their treble of Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey from last season.
“More than statistics, I am interested in the collective objectives that we have and we can only reach them at the end of the season,” said Enrique.
“We are very well-positioned in all competitions, but there is a long way to go.”
Barca needed a slice of luck to open the scoring on 21 minutes as Jordi Alba burst down the left and his ball into the box was deflected into his own net by Navarro.
Levante remain rooted to the foot of the table, but had won their previous two home games and deserved to be at least level at the break as they outplayed the Catalans in the latter stages of the first-half.
Verza fired a free-kick inches over before Jefferson Lerma had a great chance to level when he skewed horribly wide with just Claudio Bravo to beat.
Jose Luis Morales came closest to equalising when his low effort came back off the post eight minutes before the break.
Levante continued to enjoy the better of the game in the second period, but found clear-cut chances hard to come by as former Manchester United forward Giuseppe Rossi’s shot from outside the box was the only time Bravo was forced into action.
Barca had barely threatened themselves after half-time, but did seal the points with the last move of the match as Messi picked out an unmarked Suarez to fire home his 36th goal of the season.
Zinedine Zidane insists Real Madrid have not given up on their chances of landing the La Liga title, but admits there is no room for any more slip-ups.
Heading into today’s game at relegation-threatened Granada, Zidane’s men are four points behind leaders Barcelona, who also have a game in hand and a head-to-head advantage after their 4-0 Clasico win at the Bernabeu in November.
But with 48 points still available, Zidane believes there is still plenty of time for Madrid to reignite their challenge.
“We all believe that we can win La Liga, and in particular the players do,” the French coach said.
“They are aware of the situation and they know just how tough it will be, but they also believe that we can turn things around.
“We’re going to keep going until the end, until it is mathematically impossible. We are ready to tackle everything that lies ahead.”
Today’s game at Granada is Zidane’s second away match in charge of Los Blancos, and he is hoping for a better outcome than his only previous road trip which resulted in a frustrating 1-1 draw with Real Betis – meaning Madrid have won only one of their last five league games away from home.
“We can’t afford to drop any more points,” he admitted. “Only a win is good enough for us and we must put in a different performance to the one we delivered against Betis.”
Although today’s game is only his fifth as Madrid boss, Zidane is already proving to be highly consistent in his pre-match messages and again repeated his demand for his players to make a strong start.
Real Madrid under Zidane:— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cr7Prince4ever) February 6, 2016
- 4 Games
- 17 Goals Scored
- 2 Goals Conceded
- 15 Goals Scored by the BBC (88%) pic.twitter.com/4s7CkCQgRm
Last weekend’s home game with Espanyol saw Los Blancos race to a three-goal lead after 16 minutes, and his three home games in charge have remarkably seen Madrid score nine goals in the first 25 minutes.
Zidane clearly believes that the pattern of the opening stages is the most important aspect to determining the quality of his team’s overall performance, as he added: “The key for us is to be ready from the first minute. With the quality in our side, if we get off to a good start and open the scoring it makes everything easier.”
James Rodriguez should continue on the right flank with Gareth Bale still out with a calf injury.