About 10 minutes after coming off the bench, Denis Cheryshev was looking to make an impact. Sensing a lapse in concentration from Barcelona, the Russian winger sped off on the left flank, leaving Aleix Vidal for dead. And with Marc Bartra in all sorts of bother, he squared for Rodrigo Moreno, who tapped the ball past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
The Camp Nou crowd, who had sarcastically chanted ‘Bring on Cheryshev’ and ‘We love you Cheryshev’ in the first half and had given the winger a standing ovation when he replaced Joao Cancelo at the 59th minute mark, were stunned. Valencia, were at that stage were 4-0 down, had hit back with an away goal, or so they thought. It was the kind of night where nothing went their way. The goal was ruled out for offside.
But things weren’t supposed to have panned out like this. If anything, for Gary Neville at least, it was meant to be a homecoming, of sorts, to a happy hunting ground. In his two previous competitive matches at Camp Nou, the former Manchester United defender had earned a draw and a win.
The Red Devils had all but secured qualification into the Champions League knockout stages with a 3-3 draw against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona in November 1998 only to return six months later to lift that same trophy after beating Bayern Munich 2-1 in the final on that same ground.
Camp Nou had, after all, brought the 40-year-old “my greatest memory in football”. On this night, though, the match would prove to be his most painful experience.
“Seven goals and a funeral”, read Marca’s headline. That, though, as harsh as it was, paled in comparison to Valencia-based paper Super Deporte’s “Historic farce” headline. “Unpresentable, embarrassing, insulting, undignified.”
Any hope of getting a result and reaching the final were dashed when Luis Suarez scored after just seven minutes. Enrique’s men doubled their advantage moments later and by half time, Valencia were one man down and three goals down. By that time, the tie was effectively over, but the ‘festival’, as Sport and Mundo Deportivo dubbed it, had only just begun
Lionel Messi would go on to score his 500th, and 501st career goals, while Luis Suarez added two more to his collection, bringing his tally to 35 goals in 34 matches in all competitions this season. La Blaugrana added four more in the second half and that was without Andres Iniesta in midfield.
As for Neville, whether he will be in attendance next Wednesday for the second-leg remains to be seen. It’s almost poetic that the man who stopped the most potent of attackers in his peak and revolutionised punditry with cutting-edge analysis was so helpless throughout the drubbing.
“This was one of my most painful nights in football,” the former Manchester United full-back admitted. “The score line is unacceptable. I have not enjoyed tonight. I won’t sleep well tonight. I didn’t like what I saw. The fans didn’t deserve that tonight. We have to recover incredibly quickly.”
In what was a tense post-match press conference, Neville was asked on three occasions whether or not he would resigned. He gave a simple ‘no’ the first time around. When the issue was raised again as to whether his sacking would be understandable, Neville replied: “Next question.” The third time, he said; “Next question. I have answered that before. I think I was very clear.”
While this defeat may not necessarily see Neville a sacked, a loss against 14th-placed Real Betis at the weekend could spell trouble for the man touted as Roy Hodgson’s replacement for the England job.
Valencia have not won in their last eight La Liga matches and their 1-0 reverse to Sporting Gijon last weekend was the first time they’ve lost at home in the League since November 2014. An away win on Sunday afternoon could see them reach as high as 10th, six points adrift of a European place.
Nevertheless, it seems impossible that Neville will stay on beyond the summer. The language barrier has been enough of an issue. As a promising tactician, the sense is that he will return to England to take up another post after this summer’s European Championships.
“There are four Coaches sacked by Valencia doing well in the Premier League,” and in such dark times, if anything, sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch’s quote may come as some sort of relief for the beleaguered trainer.