Real Madrid coach Rafael Benitez is to return to Valencia tomorrow, where he won two league titles with los Che, fighting to hold on to his job.
Madrid’s awful year last year began with defeat at the Estadio Mestalla, which ended a 22-game winning run and led to the eventual sacking of Carlo Ancelotti after he failed to deliver a major trophy.
His successor could also be set for the chop after just six months in charge should Real suffer a fourth league defeat in eight games.
Yet, despite another unconvincing display in seeing off Real Sociedad 3-1 on Wednesday, thanks in part to two debatable penalty decisions in their favor, Benitez insists his side are improving and can challenge for La Liga and the Champions League this year.
“What I want [this year] is for the team to keep winning games and the fans to enjoy victories, good football and a title,” he said.
“The review of the year will be made at the end of the season. We continue in good form because the team reacted well and is playing better every game,” he added.
It is the first time that Benitez will return to the Estadio Mestalla as an opposition coach after leading a golden age for Valencia, with titles in 2002 and 2004 before joining Liverpool.
That success seems a distant memory with Valencia in desperate need of the points themselves. Gary Neville is yet to taste victory after his first three games in charge in La Liga.
However, they have only lost three of their past nine meetings with Madrid and have not been beaten at home in La Liga since November 2014.
The visitors are expected to be at full strength, with captain Sergio Ramos training on Thursday after missing the win over Real Sociedad.
Madrid could find themselves five points adrift of the leaders by the time they kick off at the Mestalla, with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in action today.
Barca rounded off a five-trophy haul last year with a 4-0 win over Real Betis midweek to also set a new record tally for Spanish soccer of 180 goals in a calendar year. Their quest to repeat that feat this year comes in the first of three Barcelona derbies in 10 days away to RCD Espanyol today.
World No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying yesterday eased past her Thai opponent to advance to the second round of the Toyota Thailand Open. The Taiwanese star toppled world No. 46 Supanida Katethong 21-16, 21-11 in 29 minutes at the Impact Arena in Bangkok. “I think I played OK today. I am feeling a little better than last week,” Tai said. Tomorrow, Tai faces Indonesia’s Gregoria Mariska Tunjung. The two have faced each other six times, with Tai beating the world No. 21 in all six matches. Tai on Sunday reached the final of the Yonex Thailand Open before losing decisively against Carolina Marin of Spain.
LOOKING TO REPEAT: World No. 7 Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin advanced to the round-of-16 at the Toyota Thailand Open, after winning the Yonex Thailand Open on Sunday Taiwan’s world No. 7 duo yesterday eased past the US’ world No. 37 pairing at the Toyota Thailand Open to reach the round-of-16 in Bangkok. Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin beat Phillip Chew and Ryan Chew 21-14, 21-11 in just 24 minutes. Lee and Wang, who won the men’s doubles title at the Yonex Thailand Open on Sunday, next face the world No. 34 pairing, Canada’s Jason Anthony Ho-Shue and Nyl Yakura. In men’s singles, Taiwan’s world No. 2 Chou Tien-chen again beat Thailand’s world No. 45 Suppanyu Avihingsanon, after edging past the Thai player in the opening round of the Yonex
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant described new teammate James Harden as “incredible” after the guard recorded a triple-double on his debut for the team in their 122-115 NBA victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night. Harden on Thursday joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets to reunite with Durant — his former teammate at Oklahoma City Thunder — and the duo looked dominant in their first game together with the Brooklyn team. Durant scored a season-high 42 points while Harden, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2018, became the seventh player in NBA history to register a triple-double in his debut
Three new COVID-19 cases yesterday hit the Australian Open’s troubled buildup as a backlash grew against international tennis players flown in during a raging pandemic. Two of the new cases were players, state health officials said, taking the total infections to seven since more than 1,000 people arrived in largely COVID-19-free Australia on charter flights last week. The Victoria Department of Health and Human Services said that the two players and a third person associated with the tournament — a woman in her 20s, and two men in their 30s — had returned positive results. The year’s first Grand Slam, delayed three weeks,