If it was not evident from the numerous television shots of Gary Neville in the stands, the Englishman was rather pleased with his new side’s 1-1 draw with champions Barcelona – and he has every right to be.
True, Valencia, led by interim boss Voro were utterly outplayed in the first half, to the extent that the second half should not have even been a contest.
Luis Enrique’s side delivered a masterclass in build-up play as they schooled their opponents time and again with their intricate passing, but failed to adequately test the man between the sticks.
The one goal they did score through Luis Suarez could so easily have been ruled out for offside. Uncharacteristically profligate in the opening exchanges, they were punished for their poor finishing late on by a wonderful counter-attacking goal. Regardless of their inadequacies in the first 45 minutes, Valencia deserve acknowledgement for their attitude in the second half.
Neville will hope such displays of spirit and determination become commonplace during his six-month tenure at the club. With a young squad comes energy, enthusiasm and a willingness to impress.
It’s amazing just how much a few good results can change the mood and outlook at a club. A draw with Barcelona looks good on paper, and see even better when Champions League rivals Celta Vigo and Deportivo La Coruna both draw their respective matches.
Valencia’s situation in the league is nowhere near as dire as it has been portrayed. Still only five points from fourth, a few decent results and they could start shuffling up the table. It is only December after all.
For all the talk of Valencia’s struggles they have been imperious at the Mestalla, with this draw stretching their unbeaten La Liga run to 17 games. Should Neville be able to retain such a record the Valencia fans – who are a vociferous bunch – will make their appreciation known.
One thing the young manager will have noticed when he stepped into the dressing room for the first time is just how young his own squad is. Last night it was 19-year-old Santi Mina who scored the equaliser after being set-up by 22-year-old Paco Alcacer.
Valencia boast the youngest squad in the league, and one of the most youthful squads in Europe’s top leagues with an average age of 24. Valencia are a team built for the future, and as such Neville has emphasised the need for long-term thinking.
Though only in the job for six months, a stellar campaign could see him land the job on a full time basis, and he knows this.
Neville was lucky to avoid Barcelona as his first match, however his touchline debut will may be Valencia’s most important match of the season. Wednesday sees the visit of Ligue 1 strugglers Lyon in a Champions League match which will decide whether they will progress to the knockout stages.
Most managers take their first steps in management further down the ladder, but the former Manchester United full-back has been gifted a historic club with a quality squad, one capable of challenging in La Liga. With that comes an element of pressure, but seeing his side for the first time against Barcelona may have put to rest some fears.
Neville has a competitive team, the full backing of the owner and the support of his brother as an assistant. Should he gain a proper grasp of the language, there is every chance that his spell with Valencia will be a fruitful one.