Only pride on the line for Neville's Valencia in Copa semis

Associated Press

February 9, 2016

MADRID Facing the virtually impossible mission of reversing a seven-goal deficit against Barcelona in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals, coach Gary Neville hopes a decent result against the Spanish giant will help start turning things around for Valencia.

In addition to restoring some dignity, a home win against red-hot Barcelona on Wednesday could help steer the team back in the right direction after a dismal run under Neville's command.

A victory at Mestalla Stadium would also put Valencia in the history books as the team that kept Barcelona from breaking its club record of 28 games without a loss.

Although no one denies there is little chance of overturning the humiliating 7-0 first-leg loss, the return match means Valencia can regain some confidence and prove it's better than recent results have been showing.

"We obviously put ourselves in a ridiculous position in that match," Neville said. "It was unacceptable. But what I can see is that last Wednesday was a massive accident. That was a freak match."

In his first head-coaching job, Neville is under increased pressure because of a series of poor results. The team hasn't won in nine Spanish league games since he took over less than two months ago.

"The reality is, if you don't get the results to go with improvement in performances, then you lose some strength in your words," the former Manchester United and England defender said. "I see a difference (in the team) in the last three weeks but no difference in results and that is the thing that really is annoying, frustrating and disappointing for everybody at the club."

Valencia is 14th in the Spanish league with five victories in 23 games.

Here are other things to watch in the Copa del Rey semifinals this week:

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RECORD STREAK

With a spot all but secured in the Copa del Rey final for the third straight season, Barcelona's main goal will be to keep its unbeaten streak alive and break the club's record.

Luis Enrique's team can be the first to reach 29 consecutive games without a loss in all competitions.

Barcelona on Sunday tied the record of 28 unbeaten match set by Pep Guardiola's squad in 2011, and now it's a draw away from surpassing it.

Enrique's team hasn't lost since a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the seventh round of the Spanish league in October.

It will also be trying to win its 11th game in a row in all competitions.

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HALF-STRENGTH BARCA

Sitting on a 7-0 lead, Barcelona coach Luis Enrique is expected to rest some of the team's top players in the return match against Valencia.

Lionel Messi is one of the players likely to miss action as he underwent tests this week after a recurrence of kidney problems he had in December. Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal at the time because of renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Messi scored a hat trick in the first leg against Valencia. Luis Suarez scored the other four goals.

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CELTA-SEVILLA

Sevilla will travel to Vigo to defend its 4-0 lead over Celta in the semifinal on Thursday.

Sevilla has thrived in the Copa del Rey with victories in all of its seven matches. The team hasn't conceded a single goal so far, while scoring 20.

The teams will be meeting for the third time in a week. In addition to the first leg of the semifinal in Seville, the teams also met in the Spanish league this weekend, when they drew 1-1 at the Balaidos Stadium in Vigo.

"We need to respect Celta," Sevilla coach Unai Emery said. "We have to continue what we started last week in the first game."

Sevilla is trying to reach the Copa final for the first time since 2010, when it won the title. Celta has never won the Copa del Rey.