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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What’s it like to play with Messi & Iniesta? Coutinho lifts the lid on Barcelona life

Philippe Coutinho is living the dream at Barcelona, with the Brazilian honoured to be in the company of icons such as Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.

A January switch to Camp Nou has allowed the 25-year-old playmaker to join star-studded ranks at Camp Nou, with a €160 million deal luring him away from Liverpool.

Coutinho made no secret of his desire to head for Catalunya once interest first emerged in the summer of 2017, with the South American eager to test himself on the grandest of stages.

He has finally got his wish and admits he is still having to pinch himself as he lines up alongside iconic figures of the modern era who boast countless honours between them – including Ballon d’Or wins and World Cup triumphs.

Coutinho told La Liga World on Sky Sports: “It’s an incredible feeling when you look across the dressing room and see Andres, Leo, Luis [Suarez] and Sergio Busquets, and everyone else.

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“They are players I used to watch on TV or play with on PlayStation and now I am sharing the same dressing room, it’s incredible for me.

“Andres is a genius and it’s an honour to share the same dressing room. I hope to learn a lot from him. Of course there is only one Iniesta. I have come here to try to create history of my own and learn from these great players.

“Like everyone else I thought Messi was the best player in the world and to be here with him now is a fantastic honour. It’s a great experience watching him in training and in matches…the way he can transform a match is unbelievable.

“He is really laid back as a person. Like everyone else he gave me a great welcome. This was a shock because you see he is a real person.

“I have known Luis for a while, we played together in England and were always together there. I talked to him a lot before I came and he has helped me settle down here. He is an incredible player. He is always scoring, pressuring the opposition, fighting for the ball, he is a real star.”

Philippe Coutinho Lionel Messi honour

Coutinho hopes that playing alongside such talent will allow him to grow as a player while also adding to his medal collection.

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“I have always said I want to work harder so I can develop, learn, grow and improve,” he said.

“I love to play football and when I come on the pitch I want to do my best to help the team. It’s up to the coach the position I play.

“I am coming here to learn and contribute with my style of football. The most important thing for me in my time here is to win titles. My dream in this shirt is to make the fans happy, win trophies for them and enjoy playing in the Barca colours.”

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‘Coutinho isn’t worth €160m’ – Barcelona overpaid for Liverpool star, says Carragher

Barcelona overpaid for Philippe Coutinho, says Jamie Carragher, with the former Liverpool playmaker “not worth” €160 million.

Following a six-month chase, those at Camp Nou finally got their man during the January transfer window as they acquired a Brazil international for a club-record fee.

Liverpool were reluctant sellers, having fought hard to Coutinho at Anfield for as long as possible.

Despite putting up fierce resistance, Carragher believes the Reds were wrong to buckle mid-season, with a cut-price deal in the summer making more sense for all concerned.

The former Liverpool defender told Sky Sports: “I think if you lose your best player there’s no way you can dress it up as a positive window.

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“I think every Liverpool fan, when Philippe Coutinho stayed in the summer, thought ‘okay, we know he’s leaving next season. Lets enjoy this 12 months’.

“To lose him mid-season, I don’t agree with it but for that fee… Coutinho’s not worth that. He’s not that good.

“I would have taken £20m-£30m less in the summer to know that Liverpool would have had him for the second half of the season because at that time we were still in the FA Cup, still a Champions League to play for.”

Liverpool parted with Coutinho having seen him contribute 12 goals and eight assists across all competitions this season.

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Jurgen Klopp refused to reinvest the funds generated from his sale during the winter window, with the Reds prepared to be patient.

They are, however, taking a risk in that approach, with a top-four battle in the Premier League intensifying while the Champions League presents their last path to major silverware – with Porto waiting at the last-16 stage.

Coutinho, meanwhile, has linked up with a Barca side sat 11 points clear at the top of La Liga and chasing down a possible treble as they continue to compete on European and Copa del Rey fronts.

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‘It’s a spectacle watching him’ – Valverde asks for room to breathe for Messi

Ernesto Valverde said Lionel Messi must be allowed to breathe amid the weight of expectations on the Barcelona star.

Messi helped set up Barcelona’s 1-0 first-leg win over Valencia in the Copa del Rey semi-finals on Thursday, turning provider for team-mate Luis Suarez.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner clipped a ball to the back post, where Suarez headed home in the 67th minute at Camp Nou .

Speaking about Messi post-match, Barca head coach Valverde told reporters: “When Messi plays the ball, everybody expects many things from him.

“Sometimes it’s too much because we have to let Messi breathe a bit.

“It’s true he is an awesome player as we have said many, many times. It’s a spectacle watching him every day.”

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Barca will take a slender lead to the Mestalla and Valverde added: “I wouldn’t say the score is not that bad because I think the score is good because we won the match.

“Winning a match is really difficult and we did. Valencia didn’t score, so we have to think that 0-0 is good for us at Mestalla but we won’t go there looking to draw the match. We will go for trying to win it.”

Club-record signing Philippe Coutinho started the match from the bench before he was introduced approaching the hour-mark.

“It’s true that Coutinho played on the centre because sometimes Messi likes playing on the right side,” Valverde said. “If that happens we have to readjust a bit. Our idea is Coutinho should play on the sides, when Messi plays in the centre, but he can play everywhere.

“It’s true that for Liverpool he used to play on the left but for Brazil he used to play on the right side. He can suit any place forward.”

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Meanwhile, Valencia boss Marcelino heaped praise on his team following their gutsy effort away to the La Liga leaders.

“It’s not a good result, but we deserve a lot of credit for how much we competed,” he said. “The tie is very difficult but open, we will fight with all our strength, it seems impossible but we will try to be heroes.

“The Mestalla will help us, the fans saw their team compete without a big part of their team. I think that Barcelona have only failed to score in two away games, hopefully we will be the third.”

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Coutinho versatility an asset to Barcelona, says Valverde

Ernesto Valverde insists Philippe Coutinho can excel in a number of different positions for Barcelona as he looked back on a busy transfer window at the club.

Coutinho has made a low-key start to his Barca career on the back of his blockbusting €160m move from Liverpool.

The Brazil international was initially laid low by a thigh injury before appearing as a substitute against Espanyol in the Copa del Rey and playing an hour as late goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi sealed a dramatic 2-1 La Liga win over Alaves at the weekend.

Coutinho is in line to feature once more when Barca host Valencia in the first leg of their Copa semi-final on Thursday.

The 25-year-old’s appearances have come nominally on the right of midfield for Barca so far and Valverde feels his versatility will be a major asset.

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“He works well in several positions,” the head coach told a news conference. “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.

“And in both Liverpool and in Brazil things have gone well for him. That’s why we signed him – his versatility will help us.”

Coutinho’s arrival at Barca was a contributing factor to Gerard Deulofeu exiting on loan to Watford and Valverde confirmed Russia 2018 had been in the Spain winger’s thinking.

“I talked to him and we both thought that the best thing was a way out,” he said.

“We think the best thing is that he can have minutes because there is also a World Cup and there are options [for Deulofeu] to go.

“I am happy with him personally because of how he has been here.”

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Arda Turan and Rafinha have also departed on initial loan moves but Aleix Vidal remains at Camp Nou despite speculation linking him with a switch to Roma.

“He’s not the undisputed starter but he’s been playing and helping regularly, entering some games in the second half and starting both against Espanyol,” Valverde added.

“In addition, three players who play in a similar position to that of Aleix have left. That’s why it’s good for him to stay.”

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Liverpool owners blasted over Coutinho sale: ‘Fans don’t care about bank balances, they care about winning’

Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, have been blasted for selling Philippe Coutinho, with Christian Purslow pointing out that “fans don’t care about bank balances, they care about winning”.

The Reds bowed to pressure from La Liga giants Barcelona during the current transfer window as they sanctioned the €160 million sale of a prized asset.

Coutinho had expressed a desire to complete a “dream” move, but questions have still been asked of Liverpool’s willingness to do a deal mid-season rather than wait until the summer.

Purslow feels a Champions League quest and top-four push in the Premier League has now been compromised, with those at the Anfield helm accused of prioritising money over on-field success.

The former managing director at the Merseyside giants told Sky Sports: “It’s quite exceptional to see a top team in contention in two important trophies (the Champions League and the FA Cup), and obviously the day-to-day business of making sure you’re in the top four. They’re all very, very live season challenges Liverpool face.

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“To effectively put money in the bank and take a player away – any football expert would say the likelihood of winning the Champions League without him has reduced, the likelihood of coming fourth is reduced, and they have already gone out of the FA Cup – is in pure footballing terms, a gamble.

“Strategy and business is a very artificial separation because this sport centres around what happens on the field. There’s no use to Liverpool strategically to consistently not win trophies and, God forbid, not get top four.

“I would have thought the businessmen in the ownership group would not have needed to have taken that gamble. I would have expected – if they needed to give the player certainty, that he was going to fulfil his dream and go to Barcelona – then the deal could have been done with either money now with a loan back, or a contract deferred delivery of player and money in May.

“This player is a starter for Brazil, playing brilliantly. If Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Barcelona are all in for Coutinho on the back of a World Cup, this player may have been £200 million.

“The winners were Barcelona, the losers were Liverpool – other than their bank balance. Fans don’t care about bank balances, they care about winning.”

Liverpool money over success Christian Purslow

Purslow acknowledges that a deal may have been done eventually, as the likes of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano left Anfield during his time at the club, but he feels the timing of Coutinho’s sale was all wrong.

He added: “We saw Xabi Alonso go to Real Madrid, we saw Javier Mascherano go to Barcelona – they do go eventually.

“What we’re debating is whether Coutinho was always going to end up at Barcelona, we’re debating why they would take that money and risk in January.

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“The Klopp project is two-and-a half-years underway here and probably the next step in Jurgen’s success would be a trophy. Liverpool have the makings of a really dangerous team in the Champions League.

“Home second leg in the knockout stages? Nobody wants to go there even defending a one or two-goal lead. (If you reach) the last eight of the Champions League, anything can happen.

“But one thing is for certain, it’s less likely without Coutinho. I would have thought Fenway would have prioritised winning that.”

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