Sunday, 3 January 2016

Valencia v Real Madrid - Preview

Gary Neville has dismissed suggestions his previous encounters with Rafael Benitez provide an advantage for Valencia in Sunday's home Primera Division fixture with Real Madrid.

Neville played for Manchester United throughout Benitez's six-year reign at Liverpool which began in 2004, and also spent six years as a team-mate of Real's key player Cristiano Ronaldo from 2003.

Neville is still looking for his first win as Valencia head coach after losing 1-0 to Villarreal on New Year's Eve and expects to find few similarities with the Real side coached by Benitez now and the Reds team he came up against regularly in the Premier League.

"It's a big match, an important match, playing against Real Madrid in any season is obviously an important match," Neville told the Spanish media after the Villarreal game.

"It's a key match, but (Villarreal) was a key match.

"If we play like we did in the second half (against Villarreal) it gives us a great opportunity. It's a key match but not anything more than Villarreal was.

"It's a very, very different Rafael Benitez team to the one he had at Liverpool. The one he had at Liverpool was obviously a very good team also, but it was a lot more rigid in the way in which it played, even though it had excellent individuals.

"I don't think the lessons of playing against a Benitez team in the past are going to help me or hinder me. I don't think it helps me knowing Rafa Benitez and his style at Liverpool versus playing against Real Madrid on Sunday.

"The team at Liverpool is completely different to the Real Madrid of today."

Anything but victory for Real will likely further increase the pressure on Benitez, which has gradually been building despite them scoring 13 goals in their past two games. Los Blancos currently trail league leaders Barcelona by two points.

His departure would come as little surprise, but Sergio Ramos has called for a period of stability at the famously volatile club.

"At a professional level, I hope 2016 is a successful one, that we can finally reach a regularity, a balance and a stability," he told reporters in Spain.

"And that we find the best way to play, keep that going and get to the end of the season the strongest possible to win titles and celebrate with our fans."

Ramos remains an injury doubt having missed Wednesday's 3-1 defeat of Real Sociedad. Fellow defender Raphael Varane could return from a month out with a thigh injury, as could Dani Carvajal after a similar problem.

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