Coutinho inherits legendary number seven shirt at Barcelona

Philippe Coutinho will wear the number seven shirt for Barcelona this coming season, the Liga champions have announced.

Coutinho, who joined the Catalan club from Liverpool for €120m (£108m/$139m) in January, initially wore the No.14 shirt upon his arrival at the Camp Nou from Merseyside – but he now fills the jersey vacated by Arda Turan as Ernesto Valverde prepares for the new season.

The Brazil international, who featured for his country at the World Cup in Russia where they reached the quarter-finals, follows in the footsteps of club legends Luis Figo and David Villa in taking on the mantle.

In his first half-season with Barca, the 26-year-old won the domestic double with the club, winning the Copa del Rey alongside the league, scoring 10 goals across 22 appearances.

In stepping into the storied legacy of the number seven shirt, Coutinho will hope to write his own legacy at Barca, similar to the mould of previous holders Figo and Villa, both of whom delivered triumphs during their stints.

The former helped the team to a domestic double in 1997-98 before his bitter transfer to Real, and the latter scored the winning goal in the team’s 3-1 victory against Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League Final before his transfer to Atletico Madrid.

His elevation to the number seven position sends a signal of intent to La Liga rivals and Champions League holders Real Madrid who are still looking to fill the vacancy left by Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese superstar left the Spanish capital to join Serie A giants Juventus, where he has retained the same shirt number he held during his tenure at Santiago Bernabeu.

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Coutinho’s new number also places him in direct contention with France’s World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain, who himself took up the same jersey in the French capital this summer.

Barca face Sevilla in the Supercopa de Espana Final on August 12 before they kick off their Liga title defence against Alaves six days later on August 18.

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Can Coutinho be Barcelona’s new Neymar? Brazilian backed to fill big boots by Luis Garcia

Philippe Coutinho can make a similar impact at Barcelona as fellow Brazilian Neymar did, says former Camp Nou and Liverpool star Luis Garcia.

After several months of intense speculation, the 26-year-old playmaker completed a €105 million (£94m/$122m) transfer in January.

He was drafted in to help cover the loss of Neymar in the summer of 2017, with Barca having also invested in the likes of Ousmane Dembele and Paulinho in their bid to find added attacking spark.

Coutinho is being backed to provide that in his first full season with the Liga giants, with Garcia confident that a former favourite at Anfield can become a crowd-pleaser in Catalunya.

A man now working as an ambassador for Barca told AS: “It was hard to sign Philippe and to get him was a real bonus as he was an idol at Liverpool.

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“The people there loved him but everything calmed down when their team reached the Champions League final.

“It’s true they had the attack covered with [Sadio] Mane, [Mohamed] Salah and [Roberto] Firmino, but it was still a shock when we were able to sign him.

“Coutinho brings a lot to Barca. We are going to miss [Andres] Iniesta a lot because we won’t see a special player like him for many years, but Philippe is similar to Iniesta and gives you goals, which you need from midfield.

“At times we rely too much on Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez and to have a player who can change a game with one shot is something we were not accustomed to seeing.

Philippe Coutinho Barcelona

“Coutinho is different to Neymar but he can have the same impact at Barca because he can score more goals, or at least the same

“Neymar is eye-catching as he plays a lot with the ball, his runs are 50 metres, but when it comes to effectiveness they are similar.

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“We still have to see how good he is from free-kicks. He was a bit lost in his first few games but he ended up dominating. People are going to see how good he is.”

Neymar netted 105 times in 186 appearances for Barcelona, with the 2014-15 campaign proving to be his most productive as he found the target on 39 occasions across all competitions.

Coutinho has never been that prolific, as he operates from a more deep-lying post, with 22 efforts spread across his spells at Liverpool and Barca last season representing his best return to date.

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‘No one can replace Coutinho at Liverpool’ – Klopp

Jurgen Klopp insists seeking a like-for-like replacement for Philippe Coutinho was never part of Liverpool’s transfer plans this close-season because such a player does not exist.

Coutinho joined Barcelona in a blockbusting £142 million ($193m) deal in January but his departure did little to check Liverpool’s progress under Klopp as they sealed a top-four spot in the Premier League and reached the Champions League final.

The funds raised from the Brazil playmaker’s sale have been handsomely reinvested from the mid-season signing of centre-back Virgil van Dijk onwards.

Fabinho and Naby Keita, the latter a pre-agreed signing from RB Leipzig, will bolster Klopp’s midfield for the coming campaign, while Xherdan Shaqiri provides another creative attacking option.

Brazil goalkeeper Alisson joined Van Dijk in becoming the most expensive player in history in his position but Liverpool have not specifically recruited anyone to step into Coutinho’s shoes, nor looked likely to since their bid to bring in Nabil Fekir from Lyon collapsed

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“You cannot replace Phil Coutinho with exactly the same kind of player,” Klopp told reporters.

“He’s Phil Coutinho. He has a specific style of play, tactically an outstanding player. He can play as the winger, the 10, the eight – really great.

“I don’t want to put one of my players in the position where people will say constantly, ‘He’s the Phil replacement.'”

Klopp is understandably proud of Liverpool’s performances from the second half of last season which, along with the impressive raft of recruits, has many tipping them for a sustained title bid this time around.

Nevertheless, the former Borussia Dortmund coach allowed himself to wonder how May’s Champions League defeat to Real Madrid might have played out had Coutinho still been at his disposal after injury struck talisman Mohamed Salah.

“I think the biggest thing we did in the second half of last season was that we didn’t need to speak too much about Phil,” he explained.

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“That wasn’t clear in January. How could we have known that? If we still had Phil then we could have played him in the Champions League final and, when Mo [Salah] goes out injured, Phil goes on the left wing, Sadio [Mane] to the other side and bring a midfielder on.

“Then it’s a different story. That would have been nice but he wasn’t here and we wish him well.”

Klopp added: “We don’t need to replace Phil. We need to make a squad for the next year. Out there in the market, there isn’t a Phil Coutinho-light. He’s not there. But there are a lot of good players and we have brought a few of them in.”

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Mane takes Coutinho’s No.10 squad number at Liverpool

Sadio Mane will wear the No.10 shirt at Liverpool this season.

Philippe Coutinho vacated the number when he moved to Barcelona in January of last year, and the Senegal international has now taken over.

Mane previously wore No.19 at Anfield, but has now switched to the new number that has something of a chequered history at the club.

John Barnes, Michael Owen and Luis Garcia were all successful No.10s at Liverpool, but Joe Cole and Andriy Voronin fared less well.

If recent form is to suggest anything, though, Mane should enjoy the responsibility afforded by the number.

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The Senegal international had an excellent campaign in 2017-18, scoring 20 goals in all competitions and providing nine assists. In the Champions League, Mane scored 10 times in just 11 appearances as the club reached the Champions League final against Real Madrid.

Mane captained Senegal at the 2018 World Cup, and scored in his side’s 2-2 draw with Japan.

However, they were eliminated at the group stages, losing 1-0 to Colombia after beating Poland 2-1 in their opening game.

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‘We’ll be beaten from all sides’ – Coutinho ready for World Cup backlash

Brazil star Philippe Coutinho said he was ready for the backlash after the surprise World Cup quarter-final loss to Belgium.

A Fernandinho own goal and Kevin De Bruyne’s fine strike helped Belgium to a 2-1 win in Kazan, where substitute Renato Augusto’s second-half header gave Tite’s men hope.

However, they were unable to find an equaliser despite a frantic finish, the favourites bowing out in the last eight.

“We wanted to go all the way to the final but we’ve given our best shot. Everyone gave everything,” the Barcelona playmaker told SporTV.

“I’m sure will be beaten up by criticism from all sides. Life goes on, that’s football. You win and you lose.

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“We’re sad because we wanted to win badly, like all Brazil. Unfortunately, we couldn’t.”

The 2018 World Cup may have been the last for several Brazil players, with nine of their 23-man squad in their 30s.

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Defender Miranda, 33, was unwilling to confirm his international future, unsure whether it was his last appearance at the showpiece tournament.

“It’s hard to talk about it because all players here are part of a generation,” he said.

“I won’t say goodbye, but I also won’t confirm that I’ll be there for the next World Cup.”

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Willian unfazed by Barcelona rumours

Willian insists he is not letting speculation over a potential move to Barcelona distract him from Brazil’s World Cup campaign.

The 29-year-old will be hoping to make a fifth consecutive start at Russia 2018 on Friday when the Selecao take on Belgium in a mouth-watering quarter-final in Kazan.

The Chelsea man has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge in recent weeks, with Manchester United and Barcelona mooted as destinations.

When asked about joining his fellow Brazilians Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho at Camp Nou, Willian said: “Well, they are excellent players with a lot of quality. In addition to great players, they are very good friends.

“People speculate a lot. We see a lot of things on the internet, but this is not the time to talk about this. I’ve not received any information about that. I’m trying to focus on my performance, playing for Brazil.”

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While Neymar has been dominating the headlines throughout the tournament, it is arguably Coutinho who has been Brazil’s star man.

And Willian had praise for the forward, saying: “Coutinho has been playing a wonderful World Cup, and he helps us a lot. I hope that he will continue playing even better.”

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Brazil v Mexico Betting Tips: 14/1 dabble of the day with Coutinho set to shine in Samara

The bookmakers expect Brazil to sweep aside Mexico and secure a spot in the World Cup quarter finals when the pair square off in Samara.

At just 8/15 (1.53) to win in normal time, the Selecao form are unlikely to prove too much of an appealing prospect for punters as a single wager though.

That’s where the dabble of the day market could boost the potential returns for the favourites coming out on top. dabblebet are offering Brazil to win, Coutinho to score anytime, over six Brazil corners and both teams to score in the match at 14/1 (15.0).

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While El Tri have certainly got the attacking weapons to cause Tite’s side some problems and land the both teams to score portion of this wager, their World Cup dreams have ended in defeat the last 16 stage for the past six tournaments.

Hector Moreno will miss the match through suspension and he will be a huge miss for Mexico in defence, adding more weight to the theory that Brazil should enjoy themselves in the final third.

Despite wins over Germany and South Korea, Sweden ruthlessly exposed Mexico’s defence when they were chasing the game and the outright favourites certainly have the attacking options to do likewise.

Lots of the pre-tournament focus was on Neymar but it’s Philippe Coutinho who has been the star of the show.

dabblebet new customer offer Harry Kane 4/1

A stunning opening goal against Switzerland plus another against Costa Rica make the 26-year-old a great anytime scorer option. He’s now been on target in three of his previous four outings for the national side.

Finally, Brazil’s corner tallies have been sky high during the World Cup so far and should be again if they dominate the game as expected. They’ve taken 25 in just three matches, covering the line included in this bet on each occasion.

At 14/1 (15.0) this looks a great option for those searching for a longshot selection ahead of Brazil’s clash with Mexico on Monday afternoon in Samara.

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Where is Neymar? Coutinho completely overshadowing Brazil’s star man

Before the World Cup started, Neymar was the focus of all of the interest in the Brazil squad. Now, though, attention has turned to Philippe Coutinho.

Quite simply, Coutinho has outshone Neymar, providing moments of outstanding skill and important goals. It is the Barcelona man who has looked like the Selecao’s talisman – not the world’s most expensive player.

Coutinho was man of the match in Brazil’s opening two games – and rightly so. He announced his arrival in Russia with a wonder goal in the 1-1 draw with Switzerland, while his last-minute strike against Costa Rica kickstarted his country’s campaign.

The former Liverpool star did not net in the 2-0 win over Serbia that sealed top spot in Group E but he was once again one of Brazil’s key men, constantly probing and pressing.

Neymar, by contrast, has been the most frustrating player to watch during the group stage, despite racking up a goal and an assist.

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Indeed, Neymar is rightly being criticised for his performances. Only 18 of his 42 dribbles have been successful. He has had more chances than any other player (18) but he has converted just one. Neymar also gave the ball away a staggering 84 times – more than any other player in the group stage.

As his record of 56 goals from 88 caps underlines, Neymar usually carries the expectations of over 200 million Brazilians with ease and has previously revelled in the limelight.

All eyes were on him when Brazil hosted the World Cup four years ago but he was arguably the only player who made light of the pressure, playing a starring role before his tournament was ended by a vicious knee in the back from Juan Camilo Zuniga in a bruising quarter-final clash with Colombia.

So, it is strange to see the 26-year-old struggling on the game’s grandest stage, particularly as he is arguably at the peak of his powers.

However, it is his conduct that has really upset some commentators. Even when he shed some tears after scoring against Costa Rica, some pundits suggested this was further evidence of his allegedly attention-seeking behaviour.

Neymar’s diving, though, is what really grates with rival players and supporters.

“We all know Neymar, so it’s not on me or on us to judge him, but rather the referees, and FIFA,” Mexico’s Andres Guardado stated on the eve of Monday’s last-16 meeting with the Selecao in Samara.

“Now, with VAR, they have to see his style of play and know how to manage the game because we know he likes to exaggerate fouls, to throw himself around.

“That’s his style of play and the one who has to judge that and put a stop to it is the referee, not us.”

Guardado Neymar PS

Neymar, of course, holds huge sway at Paris Saint-Germain but Brazil isn’t ‘The Neymar Show’ and Coutinho’s classy performances in Russia have made that abundantly clear, perhaps even to the €222 million man.

He needs to find a way to contribute for his team, even when the going gets tough. 

Of course, match fitness could also be a factor, given Neymar’s club season was ended by a fractured metatarsal in February. Of course, he netted both of Brazil’s warm-up games but it’s clear that his match sharpness isn’t quite at his usually high level.

In that regard, the three group games will have done him the power of good, and there’s no reason why the flop of the group stage can’t go on to become the top player in the knockout rounds. 

Indeed, Brazil boss Tite believes the signs were there against Serbia that Neymar is almost back to his brilliant best.

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“He played very well and he played similarly to what he’s been doing before, which is difficult,” he reasoned.

“He played fantastically, he helped mark the wings, transition with the ball. How he’ll play [on Monday], I don’t know but as of now, yes, he’s reclaimed his best form.”

Now would be the perfect time to prove it. If he doesn’t, the burden may once again fall on Coutinho to carry Brazil through to the next round.

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‘All the pressure’s on Neymar’ – Coutinho shining in the shadows, says Roberto Carlos

Philippe Coutinho is flourishing in Neymar’s shadow and could prove instrumental in Brazil claiming a sixth World Cup, according to Roberto Carlos.

The Barcelona star has scored twice in Brazil’s three games so far at Russia 2018, while Neymar has found the net just once – hitting home the second in the 2-0 win over Costa Rica.

Such is Neymar’s global appeal, the Paris Saint-Germain forward still dominates headlines, despite his team-mate’s more impressive performances.

Former Selecao full-back Roberto Carlos – who won the World Cup in 2002 – hopes that continues, allowing Coutinho to maintain his unheralded performances.

“Philippe is in a very good moment, in Barcelona and in the Brazilian team,” the former Real Madrid man said.

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“He’s a very important player for Brazil because the pressure is all on Neymar, then Coutinho shows up. The Brazilian team have a very strong chance to win this World Cup.

“Neymar is getting better. He’s relaxed. He’s recovered well from his injury. He’s a very important player for Brazil. He is very calm, that is the most important thing. When he is calm I know that he can offer much more.”

Brazil take on Mexico in the last 16 on Monday and Roberto Carlos believes Brazil should not take one of the World Cup’s surprise packages lightly.

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“There is no easy game in this World Cup,” he added.

“It’s very balanced, really equal. In order to be the champion, Brazil will have to overcome all difficulties, but I think we have a great team and we can get the title again.

“Be careful with Mexico. They look like a normal team, but they have lots of quality.”

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Fantasy Football: Kane leads the line for our World Cup Group Stage XI

The World Cup group stages have come to a close and now we can collectively catch our breath. While there were plenty of surprising results throughout, most of the teams that were expected to go through have, with the obvious exception of Germany. Sweden and Russia both performed better than many anticipated and, understandably, both nations are represented in our, for lack of a better phrase, Team of the Group Stage.

In fact, every player that made our list this week represents a nation that advanced. Of course, we should not be shocked that the best individual performances helped their team reach the knockout phase, but the fact that no eliminated players made the cut is a bit surprising. In lieu of a full day of football, we offer you our Goal Fantasy Team of the Round.

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GK: Fernando Muslera – Uruguay – 3 Starts, 7 Saves, 3 Clean Sheets = 23 Points

DEF: Andreas Granqvist – Sweden – 3 Starts, 2 Goals, 2 Goals Conceded, 2 Clean Sheets = 28 Points

DEF: Yerry Mina – Colombia – 2 Starts, 2 Goals, 2 Goals Conceded, 2 Clean Sheets = 28 Points

DEF: Diego Godin – Uruguay – 3 Starts, 1 Assist, 3 Clean Sheets = 24 Points

The Atleti defender is one of the best defenders in the world and he has continued to back that up with his performances in Russia. To that point, Godin captained Uruguay to the tune of three clean sheets in the group stages, a tournament best.

Diego Godin Uruguay

The only downside to his Fantasy value is that his lack of attacking prowess (0 goals in La Liga or the World Cup this year) gives him a hard ceiling. That added to the fact that he will face Ronaldo and Portugal in the next round makes Godin a tough own in the Goal game this week.

DEF: John Stones – England – 3 Starts, 2 Goals, 2 Assists = 24 Points

MID: Denis Cheryshev – Russia – 2 Starts, 3 Goals = 23 Points

Very few expected much from Russia heading into this tournament but they flipped that script from the very start of this World Cup. The fact that Cheryshev is the player that propelled the hosts out of the group stages is made all the more impressive, as he was only given minutes due to an injury to Alan Dzagoev against Saudi Arabia.

While it’s unlikely that Cheryshev can recapture the magic against Spain, his heroics in the group stages will not be forgotten any time soon.

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MID: Philippe Coutinho – Brazil – 3 Games, 2 Goals, 1 Assist = 21 Points

MID: Eden Hazard – Belgium – 2 Starts, 2 Goals, 1 Assist = 19 Points

FOR: Harry Kane – England – 2 Starts, 5 Goals = 29 Points

A lot of Fantasy owners were cautious on Kane heading into the World Cup yet, at the end of the group stage, he is the highest scoring player in the Goal game. Many of his 29 points came from an unconventional hat trick against Panama (two penalties and a deflection), but they all count.

Whether or not he can continue this pace is certainly a question worth asking though as the Tottenham man is outside the top 30 in shots in Russia thus far. That having been said, it’s unlikely that anyone that kept him through the Belgium match would dump him now.

Romelu Lukaku Belgium 2018 World Cup

FOR: Romelu Lukaku – Belgium – 2 Starts, 4 Goals = 24 Points

FOR: Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal – 3 Starts, 4 Goals, 1 Penalty Missed = 23 Points

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The last round was far from kind to Ronaldo due to his missed penalty, but four goals are still good for joint-second best at the World Cup thus far. While he has the ability to score against any opposition, the fact that Portugal sit 22nd in chances created is not exactly inspiring.

His round of 16 opponent is not ideal either as he comes up against Uruguay’s defenc,e who boasted the fewest goals allowed and most clean sheets in the group stages. He’s obviously worth starting but is no longer a must-own.

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