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Pako Ayestarán on the day of his first game in charge of Valencia / LALIGA.ES

Barça will be looking to get back to winning ways on Sunday night at 8.30pm CET as they take on a Valencia team that has not being having the best of seasons, and is into its fourth manager of the campaign.

Pako Ayestarán is the latest man to take on a job that has already been filled this term by Nuno Espírito Santo, Salvador González (caretaker) and Gary Neville. The Basque manager, who was one of Neville’s backroom staff, thus becomes the 45th incumbent of the chief coaching position at the club.

He’s only had two games to make his presence felt. Despite 2-1 defeat at Las Palmas in his debut, it was already apparent that he had managed instil a refreshed combative spirit into the team. That showed a week later, when they defeated Sevilla 2-1 in his first home fixture, Álvaro Negredo netting the winner in the last minute.

Valencia are currently down in 14th place in La Liga, quite a comedown for a side that qualified for this season’s Champions League, only to go out to Zenit and Gent in the group stage. Rather than competing for Europe, the immediate concern at Mestalla right now is avoiding relegation. The Sevilla win went a long way to doing that, putting nine points between Valencia and the drop.

Ayestarán is in his third stint at the club, where he also served under Rafa Benítez (2001-2004) and Unai Emery (2009-2010). His main tasks since taking the reins have included dealing with the situation of Algerian winger Sofiane Feghouli, who rejoins the team on April 21, and making the best use of one of the club’s most prized assets, Álvaro Negredo.

FC Barcelona and Valencia are about to meet for the fourth time this season. González was in charge when the teams drew 1-1 in the league just before Christmas, while Neville endured the 7-0 rout at the Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey and the largely meaningless return leg at Mestalla, which ended one each.

Anfield past

53 year old Ayestarán, whose only playing experience involved a short spell in the Real Sociedad academy, gained his first experience as a head coach at Mexican clubs Tecos and Santos Laguna, and at Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.

Before that, his numerous backroom staff roles included time as an assistant at Liverpool in 2007, just after Javier Mascherano had signed for the Merseyside club and in the season that the Reds made it to the Champions League Final against AC Milan. Sadly for both, there was no repeat of the ‘miracle of Istanbul’ and the Italians took the title with a 2-1 win.

Confident for Sunday

Speaking to the press about the prospect of playing at the Camp Nou, Ayestarán insisted that “I have never felt fear before a game. You only feel fear if you are badly prepared, and my team is prepared.”

He also commented that “when you play big teams like Barça that haven’t performed well for a few games, it means they are on the point of changing. I’d much rather have played a Barça that has been getting good results, because that’s when you can really catch them by surprise.”


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