Strikers could hold key to coaches' fate
REUTERS - Valencia striker Alvaro Negredo ending his goal drought and the return of Espanyol’s Felipe Caicedo after injury sets the tone for Saturday’s La Liga battle at Mestalla (1930 GMT) which could decide the fate of two beleaguered coaches.
Gary Neville was relieved to see Negredo find the net for the first time in four matches in Valencia’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in their King’s Cup semi-final second leg on Wednesday.
Even though Valencia went out 8-1 on aggregate, the performance gave the Englishman renewed hope of a first victory in 10 Liga matches.
“Negredo got his goal (and) in terms of individual performances, it went well,” Neville told reporters after a late equaliser by Barca teenager Wilfrid Kaptoum denied Valencia the boost of a win.
“Now we are preparing Saturday’s game, which we know is hugely important,” added Neville.
Valencia are 14th in the standings after five wins in 23 matches, four points above the relegation zone, with fans demanding his head.
Espanyol’s coach Constantin Galca, whose side have not won in seven Liga games and are hovering just above the drop zone in 17th place, thought he had lost his job after Monday’s 5-0 pasting at home to Real Sociedad.
However, the club management gave the Romanian a reprieve on Tuesday until the match at Valencia where he can count on Caicedo.
The burly Caicedo, whose form has helped Ecuador top the South American 2018 World Cup qualifiers with four goals in four matches, is fit again and training normally, Espanyol confirmed on their website (www.rcdespanyol.com.es) on Thursday.
Caicedo missed the last two league matches in which Espanyol conceded 11 goals, six to Real Madrid and five to Sociedad, after picking up an injury in the 2-2 draw against Villarreal.
At the top of the table, Real Madrid host Athletic Bilbao on Saturday (1500) when a win would lift them above Atletico Madrid into second and one point behind leaders Barcelona.
Barca visit Celta Vigo (1930) and Atletico travel to Getafe (1715) on Sunday.
(Writing by Rex Gowar, editing by Pritha Sarkar)