Coutinho dropped for the good of Barcelona – Valverde

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said Philippe Coutinho was benched for the good of the team following Saturdays victory at Eibar.

Despite being ineligible for Tuesday’s Champions League showdown with Chelsea following his arrival from fellow last-16 participants Liverpool, Coutinho was dropped for Barca’s 2-0 win .

Coutinho – a €160 million signing last month – started the goalless draw against Getafe but made way for Andres Iniesta as goals from Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba saw Barca equal a club record of 31 games unbeaten in La Liga.

Explaining his decision to drop Coutinho, Valverde told reporters: “I think it was best for my team to try to win.

“Last week Coutinho started, Iniesta didn’t, so this week Iniesta started.

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“It’s true that on Tuesday we have another match but for me the most important thing was this match.

“On Tuesday, let’s see, I know Coutinho cannot play, but we will do something.”

After ending a run of back-to-back draws, Barca moved 10 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid, who host Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

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Firmino looking to help fill Coutinho void for Liverpool

Roberto Firmino wants to help fill the creative gap that was left in Liverpool’s side by the departure of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona. 

Coutinho left the Reds for the Spanish giants in January in a €160 million deal , leaving a void in the midfield for Jurgen Klopp’s side. 

But countryman Firmino is looking to help fill that space, believing that he can help other Liverpool stars, like Mohamed Salah, pour in the goals despite the loss of the 25-year-old.

Firmino himself has been in fine form of late, with four goals in his last six outings and 20 goals in his last 36 appearances for the Reds. 

Liverpool face a tough last 16 tie in the form of Portuguese side Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday, and Firmino is looking forward to the added load on his shoulders ahead of the European clash. 

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“Coutinho is a great player and of course when he left that put a greater responsibility on everyone else to perform without him,” Firmino told a press conference.

“It is our job to deal with greater responsibility and I think we have done that so far.

“I’m going to do what I can to help [Salah] score goals and to help all the team. I also want to help myself to make a good season.

“I don’t know if Porto are going to be afraid but we are going to make their life difficult and make them suffer.”

Firmino Salah

While Firmino has taken on a starring role for Liverpool in recent weeks, manager Jurgen Klopp doesn’t believe his Brazilian star is doing anything he hasn’t done in the past, only that he is not being overshadowed by his former team-mate. 

“When I came in I said immediately that I was happy Roberto was here,” Klopp told reporters.

“I don’t think he has stepped up recently but maybe it is more obvious because his situations are not overshadowed by Phil Coutinho’s situations. That’s how it is.

“He’s a very important player and he doesn’t always have to be the standout player. As often as he can be, that’s good.

“Is he underrated? I don’t think so, not anymore. I don’t know what other people think about Roberto Firmino. But people with a football brain judge him right.”

Liverpool and Porto will play the first leg of their round of 16 tie on Wednesday at Estadio do Dragao, with the return leg set for March 6 at Anfield. 

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Coutinho enjoying special union with ‘best in the world’ Messi

Philippe Coutinho considers playing alongside Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi “very special” as he believes the Argentine to be the best in the world.

Coutinho joined Barca from Liverpool in January after a protracted transfer saga and has settled in quickly, impressing with his early performances.

The Brazilian was strongly linked with a move to Camp Nou in pre-season and was reportedly upset when it did not go through.

But after finally getting his dream switch to Barca, Coutinho has the chance to play alongside Messi every week, with the Argentina star, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta making a strong impression on the 25-year-old.

“It’s something very special [to play with Messi],” Coutinho told Mundo Deportivo. “Not everyone has the opportunity to play with the best player in the world. This makes me very happy.

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“[Messi and Suarez] received me very well. They are two great idols and being part of the team with them is a very good feeling.

“But not only with them, also with Andres and with the rest. For me it’s very special to live with this squad. For me, it’s a great experience and a great opportunity to be in this club.”

Coutinho’s transfer fee of €120million, potentially rising to €160m, makes him the most expensive signing in the club’s history, but he insists that is not a cause of pressure.

“No, for me it’s an honour and gives me pride,” Coutinho added. “But it’s something I have to set aside, so I can dedicate myself to playing football and doing it the way I always did.

Lionel Messi Philippe Coutinho Barcelona

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“I have to improve and do well on the field to help the team achieve the things that they hired me for.

“Being here gives you the opportunity to play with the best and the opportunity to win titles, which is something that motivates me a lot.

“So I am very motivated to train every day to improve and learn so that everything goes well and in the end the titles arrive.”

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Coutinho, Dembele and Mina not ready to star for Barcelona

Barcelona remain unbeaten in La Liga this season. Ernesto Valverde’s side were held at home to Getafe on Sunday in an unusually off-colour performance that showed some of their more recent signings will need more time to star for the Blaugrana.

Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Yerry Mina all featured for the league leaders in the Camp Nou clash and, given time, should all go on to be important players for the Catalan club. First, however, they need to adapt to Barca’s style of play.

The Brazilian midfielder, who has already played on the left, on the right and in a central position since his arrival from Liverpool last month, was picked in the Andres Iniesta role on Saturday. However, he tried to move forward more like Lionel Messi for most of the game and Barca’s play did not flow fluidly as it does with the Spain star.

That is understandable, of course. Iniesta and Messi have played together for many years, and Coutinho needs time to adapt to the way Barca play, which is probably why he was signed in January with La Liga all but sewn up.

Coutinho scored his first goal for Barca against Valencia in the Copa del Rey on Thursday night and Valverde said: “He works well in several positions. He can play at number 10 or on the left as he did at Liverpool or even the right, as in the Brazil national team. That’s why we signed him – his versatility will help us.”

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It is certainly a bonus. However, in the long term, he is seen as a replacement for Iniesta and it is that role he will be expected to learn in the weeks and months ahead. And as he cannot feature for Barca in the Champions League, he will be used in La Liga to give Iniesta some rest.

The Spain midfielder ultimately came on as a substitute in the second half against Getafe and he could not inspire Barca to victory either as Getafe produced an impressive defensive display to deny the home side, something they almost managed in the return fixture which they narrowly lost 2-1 after leading 1-0.

Dembele was injured in that fixture at the Coliseum and then suffered another problem at Real Sociedad in January. He made his comeback as a substitute in this match, replacing Paco Alcacer on the right wing with just under half an hour left.

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Ousmane Dembele Barcelona Levante LaLiga

The 20-year-old has been unlucky and badly needs a run of games to prove his worth. However, he still looks something of a raw talent and, like Coutinho, must learn how his team-mates move on the pitch in order to settle and star.

“I have faith that Dembele will make a difference in this part of the season,” Valverde said on Saturday.  “He has different characteristics to the others and is a player we have high hopes for. He can give us things, especially in this phase of the season.”

Barca are now seven points ahead of Atletico in La Liga despite their draw, while they meet Sevilla in the final of the Copa del Rey later this season and face Chelsea in the last 16 of the Champions League. So Valverde will hope Dembele can steer clear of injury now.

For his part, Mina was handed a full debut as Gerard Pique and Thomas Vermaelen missed out through injury and Samuel Umtiti was absent due to a suspension.

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The Colombian got forward well and had a couple of chances, but gave the ball away carelessly on one occasion which allowed Getafe to break and also struggled positionally, similarly to Coutinho and Dembele early on in their Barca careers.

Many of Barca’s other players could be seen giving the defender instructions on his positioning and what to do when in possession as he adapts to a new club, a new league and a new football, having previously played for Palmeiras in Brazil.

All three players need time and should settle, but they do not look quite ready to star at this stage. Valverde will hope that changes quickly, though, as Barca seek trophies on three fronts in the remainder of this season.

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Coutinho branded ‘a giant player’ by Rakitic as €160m star helps Barcelona chase down treble

Philippe Coutinho’s qualities have been hailed by Barcelona team-mate Ivan Rakitic, with the €160 million star considered to be “a giant player”.

The 25-year-old was able to complete a dream move to Camp Nou during the winter transfer window, with interest first shown in the summer of 2017 followed up in January.

Barca broke their transfer record to secure his signature, with considerable faith and funds being invested in his playmaking ability.

He opened his goal account for club in a midweek Copa del Rey semi-final clash with Valencia and is now being backed to go from strength to strength.

Barca team-mate Rakitic told Sport Bild on the Brazil international: “He is a giant player, the whole world knows his qualities. 

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“His first goal will do him good. As his friend, I am very happy and hope that good things will continue for him. Then he will get even more confidence with each game and show his qualities.”

Barcelona were already flying in 2017-18 by the time Coutinho joined the fold, with Ernesto Valverde’s side chasing down major honours on multiple fronts.

La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League crowns remain up for grabs, although Rakitic is eager to curb treble talk with so many tests still to be tackled.

The Croatian midfielder added: “We do not want to look that far forward. 

“We would like to enjoy for now the fact that we are in the cup final, because that’s a nice moment. 

“We know that the special, heavy games are still to come. So we are very relaxed and preparing for the games.”

A nine-point lead is currently held at the top of the La Liga standings, while Sevilla await in the Copa final.

Ivan Rakitic Barcelona

Barca are also set to face Chelsea at the Champions League last-16 stage, with there plenty of heavyweight outfits still left in that competition.

Among those who could block the path to European glory for those at Camp Nou are German giants Bayern Munich, with Rakitic well aware of the threat they will pose as a former Schalke star.

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“The Bavarians are always there, we know the Bavarians,” he said.

“That’s why we know it’s going to be very, very difficult. Bayern are always a candidate for the title for me. 

“With the new coach, they have now got wind in their sails again. So I wish my old buddies, whom I still have, all the best. Maybe we’ll see each other at some point.”

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Valverde: Barcelona deserved to reach Copa del Rey final

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said the Spanish giants deservedly reached the Copa del Rey final after getting past Valencia.

Goals from Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic saw Barca to a 2-0 win on Thursday as the cup holders advanced 3-0 on aggregate.

The victory ensured Barca progressed to the Copa del Rey final for a fifth year in a row and Valverde heaped praise on his team ahead of the final against Sevilla.

“We faced a team who were very motivated with a city behind them,” Valverde said afterward.

“In the first leg, Valencia didn’t let us score many, in the second we have dominated despite them having good chances, but we deserve to progress.

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“We dominated the first game but weren’t clinical, today they threatened on the counter, we played our cards.

“I would have preferred to suffer a lot less and have everything in front of us before, Valencia were very dangerous on the counter and created problems with good players.

“The move where they hit the post could have put them through.”

Coutinho was named among the substitutes at Mestalla as Valverde preferred Andre Gomes in midfield.

But Coutinho – a €160 million signing from Liverpool last month – came off the bench to score his first goal for Barcelona.

“I saw the change [Coutinho replacing Gomes] clearly, we had to move things up,” Valverde added.

“Andre was helping us with strength but we needed more going forward and to do something with the domination we had.

“I normally wait to make changes, but this time I saw it clearly.”

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Philippe Coutinho scores first Barcelona goal in semi-final win

Philippe Coutinho has scored his first Barcelona goal, just minutes after coming on against Valencia as a half-time substitute. 

The Brazilian was dropped for the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg at Mestalla on Thursday, but came on at the break for the ineffective Andre Gomes.

And the 25-year-old made an instant impact, opening his Barcelona account in the 49th minute to give his side a 1-0 lead on the night, and a 2-0 advantage on aggregate. 

Luis Suarez was the architect, going on a mazy run and crossing to the back post, where Coutinho slid in and finished low across the goalkeeper into the far post. 

The Uruguayan, as fate would have it, also set up Coutinho’s first goal for Liverpool back in 2013. 

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It was the fifth appearance with Barcelona for the €160 million signing, two of which have been starts in La Liga and three of which have been substitute appearances in the Copa de Rey. 

“It’s a very happy day,” Coutinho told GOL after the match. “I was looking for the goal in the first few games and today I got it and, most importantly, helped the team reach the final.

“It’s a special moment. It’ll be a great game and a difficult one [against Sevilla]. We have time to prepare ourselves.

“It’s my first final and it’s a special and important moment for me, but there are a lot of moments to play before the final.”

Prior to joining Barcelona last month, Coutinho scored 12 goals in all competitions for Liverpool in the 2017-18 season.

Ivan Rakitic would go on to add another goal for Barcelona in a comfortable 2-0 win, with the Blaugrana advancing to the final via a 3-0 aggregate victory.

The win moves Barca into the final for a record fifth time running.

Barcelona will take on Sevilla, who topped Leganes in the other semi-final, in the Copa del Rey final.

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Valencia 0 Barcelona 2 (0-3 agg): Coutinho off the mark to send holders to final

Philippe Coutinho scored his first goal for Barcelona as they secured a 2-0 win over Valencia on Thursday and a 3-0 aggregate victory in their Copa del Rey semi-final.

The Brazil international, a €160million signing from Liverpool last month, came off the bench to break the deadlock before Ivan Rakitic sealed the win and kept the Catalans’ hopes of a treble alive.

Coutinho was perhaps surprisingly left out of the starting line-up in favour of Andre Gomes at Mestalla as head coach Ernesto Valverde named a strong side that included Gerard Pique, who recovered in time from a knee problem.

Valencia had lost their last three matches in a row but looked the more dangerous in the first half, with Rodrigo Moreno powering their best chance off the underside of the crossbar.

Coutinho’s half-time introduction changed the course of the game, though, the midfielder sweeping home a cross from fellow former Liverpool man Luis Suarez, who also set up his first goal for the Premier League club back in February 2013.

Rakitic finished in style after more good work from Suarez, meaning Barca will meet Sevilla in the final in a repeat of the 2016 showdown, after Vincenzo Montella’s side beat Leganes 3-1 over two legs.

Both goalkeepers were tested in the opening 10 minutes, with Jasper Cillessen claiming a Francis Coquelin shot before Lionel Messi’s free-kick was beaten acrobatically away by Jaume Domenech.

The end-to-end nature of the game continued as Rodrigo rattled the crossbar with a fine header from Jose Gaya’s cross, and Suarez failed to control a pinpoint pass from Andres Iniesta two minutes later.

Valencia looked sharp on the counter-attack and seemed the more likely to break the deadlock, with Cillessen again called into action to deny Rodrigo.

Coutinho replaced Gomes at the break to give Barca more of a threat going forward and the decision paid off four minutes into the second half. Suarez drove into the penalty area down the left and crossed towards the far post, where Coutinho stretched to turn the ball back across goal and into the left-hand corner.

The goal seemed to sap the belief from the Mestalla crowd and the Valencia players and Suarez nearly curled home a second Barca goal after a sustained period of possession for the visitors.

Messi saw a shot saved by Domenech and Martin Montoya blocked Jordi Alba’s rebound wide, although the former Barca man was lucky not to concede a penalty, with the ball clearly striking his arm.

Simone Zaza fired a good chance over the bar as Valencia pushed forward for a lifeline, with Rakitic twice shooting wide on the break as the home side began to look exposed at the back.

Gaya thought he had halved the deficit with quarter of an hour left but Cillessen produced one of the saves of the season to block his effort from point-blank range and turn the ball past the post.

The stop proved pivotal as, with eight minutes left, Suarez stole back possession and fed Rakitic, who fired home from just inside the box to safeguard the win.

The only concern for Barca will be the sight of Pique in obvious discomfort after going off late on to be replaced by €11.8m man Yerry Mina, who made his debut.

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Philippe Coutinho scores first Barcelona goal

Philippe Coutinho has scored his first Barcelona goal, just minutes after coming on against Valencia as a half-time substitute. 

The Brazilian was dropped for the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg at Mestalla on Thursday, but came on at the break for the ineffective Andre Gomes.

And the 25-year-old made an instant impact, opening his Barcelona account in the 49th minute to give his side a 1-0 lead on the night, and a 2-0 advantage on aggregate. 

Luis Suarez was the architect, going on a mazy run and crossing to the back post, where Coutinho slid in and finished low across the goalkeeper into the far post. 

The Uruguayan, as fate would have it, also set up Coutinho’s first goal for Liverpool back in 2013. 

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It was the fifth appearance with Barcelona for the €160 million signing, two of which have been starts in La Liga and three of which have been substitute appearances in the Copa de Rey. 

Prior to joining Barcelona last month, Coutinho scored 12 goals in all competitions for Liverpool in the 2017-18 season.

Ivan Rakitic would go on to add another goal for Barcelona in a comfortable 2-0 win, with the Blaugrana advancing to the final via a 3-0 aggregate victory.

The win moves Barca into the final for a record fifth time running.

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Barcelona will take on Sevilla, who topped Leganes in the other semi-final, in the Copa del Rey final.

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Coutinho: ‘Incredible’ that Messi improves every day

Barcelona star Lionel Messi gets better every day, according to team-mate Philippe Coutinho.

Messi is enjoying another stellar campaign with the La Liga giants, scoring 27 goals in 34 games in all competitions.

Coutinho, a €160million arrival at the Camp Nou from Liverpool in January, said it was amazing to see Messi, 30, still improving.

“It seems incredible, but every day Messi gets better, and as a team-mate I can only take advantage of my moments with him,” the Brazil international told 8TV .

“I’ve learned a lot from everyone and I’ve tried to take advantage of everything they taught me.”

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Coutinho is still settling in at runaway league leaders Barca, making four appearances for the club so far.

The 25-year-old praised Ernesto Valverde, saying the Barcelona coach was continually seeking to make his team better.

“Valverde welcomed me in, and he is always seeking to improve the team’s game,” Coutinho said.

“He talks a lot with players in training and corrects positioning, which is important.”

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Barcelona face Valencia in the second leg of a Copa del Rey sem-final on Thursday. 

The Catalans are nine points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid heading into the business end of the season, and have draw Chelsea in the round of 16 in the Champions League.  

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