Gary Neville's first five Valencia priorities
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Gary Neville watched Valencia exit the competition against Lyon and after speaking to the new coach, Graham Hunter identifies five changes the Englishman will want to make.
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Within just a few minutes of the final whistle at his first Mestalla match, new Valencia coach Gary Neville was already a little restless about answering so many questions about Manchester United.
Not about his illustrious past there but the fact that a combination of results this week means Valencia and the only club of Neville's playing career can be paired together in Monday's UEFA Europa League round of 32 draw. It's a thought to tantalise both football fans and the world's media.
A terrific story drawing on echoes of Neville's Old Trafford successes; the kind of twist which helps make football magical and, potentially, a meeting of two clubs which repeatedly reached UEFA finals over the 15 years But whoever Valencia draw, Neville will want a very different playing style, efficacy and result when European football resumes in February.
Here are five things that Valencia's newly appointed English coach will expect to have changed radically by the time he coaches his second UEFA match in charge of the Spanish club.
1 Match stamina
Neville told UEFA.com: "The hard work we've put into our games in the last few weeks caught up with us against Lyon. We've nine or ten injuries and a lot of players have put a great deal into producing performances every three days. This, tonight, felt like just one game a little over the edge."
Getting key players injury-free again will be a vital part of that, naturally. But so will restoring stamina and match sharpness to two vital, experienced, members of the Valencia group – Álvaro Negredo, who had not played for 66 days, and Shkodran Mustafi. His players can expect Neville to demand intensity in training every day – he's a student of the 'train like you intend to play' school of thinking.
2 Match control
Perhaps it was merely tiredness which meant that Valencia were picked apart by Lyon so regularly on the counterattack. However it was something which Neville immediately explained he'd begin work to correct. "We have to defend better against counters. Until you learn to sustain your own attacks it's very difficult because then you keep on having to run back towards your own goal. The effort my players put in to doing that was immense but, at this level, having to do that is a problem."
Valencia had no European football last season to compare to this, but their domestic scoring has dried up. At this early stage of the Liga, the Blanquinegros have seven fewer strikes than the same period last season. As for Europe, only three teams scored fewer times in the UEFA Champions League group stage this term.
Gary Neville is a "fan of possession but not for possession's sake". Against Lyon his team made nearly 100 passes more than Hubert Fournier's men – but managed fewer efforts on target and lost 2-0.
5 Key players
For a variety of reasons Negredo, André Gomes, Pablo Piatti, Sofiane Feghouli and Rodrigo have all started significantly fewer than half Valencia's available matches. If, by early 2016, they and their manager can augment those stats, it will go a long way to augmenting the team's competitiveness, experience and winning mentality.