Valencia’s duel with Athletic could decide coach Neville’s future

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Madrid, March 16 (IANS) Four Spanish football clubs will look to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League on Thursday night but it’s only possible for three to go through on a night that could be decisive for Valencia head coach Gary Neville.

Valencia need to overturn a 0-1 first leg deficit at home against Athletic Club Bilbao and Neville is under huge pressure after a run of three straight defeats, which included the game in Bilbao and last Sunday’s La Liga defeat to local rivals Levante, reports Xinhua.

Valencia were dreadful in that game and Neville said there were “no excuses” for the performance. Now with the city in the middle of its traditional ‘Fallas’ fiestas and a packed house in Mestalla, the issue is whether he can inspire a turnaround knowing anything other than a win could see him facing the sack.

Athletic travel to Valencia after five straight wins and were able to rest key players such as Oscar de Marcos, Benat, Xabi Etxieta and top scorer Aritz Aduriz for their win at home to Betis last Sunday.

Reigning Europa League champions Sevilla aim to make their home form count when they entertain Basel, who will be the hosts for this season’s final. A 0-0 draw in the first leg gives Sevilla the advantage, but coach Unai Emery knows that the lack of an away goal can be a handicap in Europe.

Winger Yevhen Konoplyanka is injured after damaging a hamstring during Sunday’s excellent 4-2 win at home against Villarreal.

Villarreal are also favorites to reach the last eight as coach Marcelino Garcia takes his side to defend a 2-0 first leg lead away against Bayer Leverkusen. Two goals from Cedric Bakambu, who also scored his side’s goals against Sevilla, was the hero a week ago and a further goal on Thursday could all but assure his side goes into the hat for Friday’s quarter-final draw.

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