Valencia fans welcomed their former manager Rafael Benitez with a banner saying "Rafa, you gave us the best years of our lives, thank you," before their crucial Real Madrid game. It was a classy gesture given Rafael Benitez has had a lot of troubles in Madrid this year and his incredible success story at Valencia was almost forgotten. Nevertheless, even though it is very early to make clear judgments about present Valencia manager Gary Neville, we can easily say that his approach does not signal anything groundbreaking for the once mighty now moderate Valencia.
First of all, Neville's strategy for Valencia smells like a bad copy of Sir Alex Ferguson's game plan at Manchester United. English coaches always put four defenders deep and try to connect the other four offensive players with two physical and defensive midfielders, like Danilo Parejo and Andre Gomes. It immediately reminds me of Ferguson's two untouchables, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes, who served as both a safety valve and the center of passing circulation. It is obvious that Neville is inspired by his former coach while drawing strict lines between offence and defense.
Furthermore, seeing as Real Madrid's unique offensive strength made it more visible, Neville's direct approach is not as attacking and brave as it seems. Besides leaving four defenders completely out of build-ups, Neville does not let his players build a dominant and consistent game by relying on quick counters, another feature that resembles Ferguson's game.
In his golden era, Sir Alex brought this strategy to its upper limits by implementing a lethal counter attacking game with Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, their kingdom did not last long, as the Barcelona revolution happened just after Manchester United's glory days and showed the whole world that a dominant, controlled and patient game is always superior to quick, imbalanced and chaotic counter-attacking game. It seems that Neville refused to acknowledge the self-sufficient power that comes from controlling time and space via patiently circulating the ball among all 11 players.
On the other hand, Real Madrid coach Rafael Benitez actually did not utilize the structural deficiencies of Gary Neville's Valencia, he simply pushed their defenders more deep by putting Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale further in the opponent's half. This move crippled Neville's already scared defense, but naturally did not serve as a plan itself. Benitez's only plan was taking attention from the left wing where Ronaldo himself was enough to take attention, and then, create available spaces for right back Danilo to sneak into the Valencia penalty box. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric tried to deliver long balls to Danilo several times, but ironically, the first goal came from a quasi-Barcelona move in the middle.
To sum up, if this is the best Gary Neville and Rafael Benitez could do, I am definitely not impressed by this game. Neville is in a relatively easy position with more credit given that he still deserves time, but Benitez has to establish tactics in his mind before chairman Perez nukes the Santiago Bernabeu. On the bright side, he has prior knowledge about the game he wants to play, but as Gary Neville pointed in one of his interviews, it is incredibly hard to practice it with the gigantic egos of his superstars.
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