Gary Neville has made telling changes at Valencia, says Barca boss

Barcelona manager Luis Enrique believes Gary Neville has made some noticeable changes on the pitch since taking over at Valencia, but is confident his men can fend off whatever comes their way in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final.

Valencia continue to struggle for consistency in the Primera Division, with a 1-0 home defeat by Sporting Gijon leaving Los Che eight league games without victory and only a five-point cushion over the relegation places.

Nevertheless, Enrique has been impressed by the way Neville has approached his first managerial role, the former Manchester United defender and England assistant having been appointed in early December 2015.

Gary Neville has made telling changes at Valencia, says Barca boss

“You can already see what Neville has done with Valencia. They are great at getting the ball into the area, and they have some quality players to move the ball up the field. The manager has made changes and we’ll have to deal with them,” Enrique said at a press conference, quoted on the official Barcelona website.

“Valencia will create difficulties. They are a team that dares to generate pressure and they have some fine individuals.

“This wasn’t an easy draw for either of us, but we’re hoping to play well and set things up nicely for the second leg.

“After everything this club has done in recent years, it’s only logical that they are saying we’re the favourites, But we have to prove that we’re better on the pitch.”

Barcelona defeated Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp on Saturday to take command at the top of the table as Enrique’s men extended their unbeaten run to 26 matches in all competitions.

Enrique is determined to maintain his squad’s focus through to the end of the campaign.

Gary Neville has made telling changes at Valencia, says Barca boss

He said: “More than setting one record or the other, what we have to aim for is trophies. This long unbeaten streak will help us to do that, but it’s no guarantee of anything.

“We are the defending champions of most competitions we play in, so what we have to do is go out and defend those titles.”

The Barcelona boss added: “We are developing physically and we are performing well, so things are going more than well for us.

“We are ready to compete in what will not be easy conditions going into the final stage of the season.”

Valencia will be without Enzo Perez after taking a blow to the face against Gijon, but Neville hopes the midfielder will be back in contention for the league game at Real Betis on Sunday.

Top scorer Paco Alcacer is expected to step up his training in the next few days, while Javi Fuego should join in again next week.

Defender Aymen Abdennour will be rested, so Aderlan Santos and Ruben Vezo are options.

Russian midfielder Denis Cheryshev and Brazilian defender Guilherme Siqueira could make their debuts following loan moves from Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Cheryshev played for Madrid earlier in the competition in their tie with Cadiz, which resulted in his parent club being expelled as he was in fact ineligible because of a suspension.

Neville is determined whatever side he fields at the Nou Camp will produce the required performance.

Gary Neville has made telling changes at Valencia, says Barca boss

“We absolutely have to compete. My good fortune here has been in the Copa this season, where it does not follow us in La Liga,” Neville said at a press conference, replayed on valenciacf.com.

“We all understand the difficulty of the opponent, but my players are made for this type of game.

“We were determined and competitive against Barcelona a few weeks ago, and we will have to take all of those qualities into the Nou Camp.

“The important thing is we return to the Mestalla with a big opportunity (to make the final), so that is the intent.”


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