Barcelona backing Coutinho amid Man Utd & Chelsea talk

Barcelona continue to back Philippe Coutinho amid ongoing talk of a possible summer switch to Manchester United or Chelsea.

The Catalan giants invested heavily to sign the Brazil international from Liverpool during the winter transfer window of 2018.

He had been a top target for some time and was considered to be quite a coup when lured from Anfield to Camp Nou.

Coutinho has, however, struggled to replicate his Premier League form in La Liga and has seen questions asked of his value as a result.

It has been suggested that an imminent return to England could be on the cards, with Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge mooted as possible destinations.

Barca, though, have the 26-year-old tied to a contract through to 2023 and will give him time in which to prove his worth.

Guillermo Amor, the club’s director of institutional and sporting relations, told Sport when quizzed on the speculation surrounding a talented playmaker: “At the beginning with Coutinho we were happy and have always been happy.

“We have to give him chances and he’ll take them. He’s always shown his quality. He takes risks, he tries.

“It feels as if everyone is watching what he does, the poor guy. But we believe he’ll carry on going forward.”

Coutinho enjoyed a promising end to the 2017-18 campaign, netting seven times in his last six appearances.

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He then went on to find the target on two occasions for Brazil at the World Cup finals in Russia.

Much was expected of him in his first full campaign at Camp Nou, but he has mustered just five goals and as many assists across 27 appearances in La Liga and the Champions League.

A further three efforts have been registered in the Copa del Rey, with Barca still competing on multiple fronts and giving Coutinho as many chances as possible to play his way back into peak form.


‘Messi is fine’ – Valverde dismisses fitness concerns over Barcelona star

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde dismissed suggestions Lionel Messi was not fit enough to start in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Athletic Bilbao.

LaLiga’s leaders were held to a third draw in succession across all competitions, as they were frustrated at San Mames by Athletic.

Messi started Wednesday’s 1-1 Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg draw against Real Madrid on the bench due to a thigh knock, but he came back into the line-up in Bilbao.

The Argentina star was Barca’s liveliest player, yet he still appeared to be a little off colour compared his usual level of performance.

As such, Barca were kept at bay, as Philippe Coutinho did little to ease the burden on their talisman, but Valverde is adamant Messi was in condition to play.

Speaking to reporters, Valverde said: “Messi is fine and he has played at 100 per cent.

“He has had some difficulties, because we had them as a collective, but when he plays it is because is absolutely convinced everything is fine.”

Valverde accepted that Arturo Vidal and Coutinho were some way short of their best, however.

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“It’s like everything else when you get a draw that you think that you should have won,” Valverde said.

“It is a matter for the whole team and people always point to a player because he failed a pass or some situation. It is true that sometimes they can be more successful.”


Barcelona 1 Real Madrid 1: Malcom forces first-leg draw in Copa Clasico

Barcelona and Real Madrid played out a hard-fought 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final at Camp Nou on Wednesday.

Malcom’s second-half goal cancelled out a sixth-minute opener from Lucas Vazquez and ensured there will be plenty to play for in the return fixture on February 27.

With Lionel Messi fit enough only for a place on the bench, the onus was on Barca to show they could cope without their talisman in the first of a difficult run of fixtures this month.

Madrid went ahead with the second shot of the match, though, Vazquez twisting his body to flick the ball beyond Marc-Andre ter Stegen from Karim Benzema’s drilled cross.

Malcom, starting in the cup for the fifth time this season, scuffed a glorious chance straight at Keylor Navas but was spared somewhat by the offside flag.

The Brazilian was proving a problem down the Madrid left and it was his free-kick that Ivan Rakitic headed against the crossbar, before Vinicius Junior almost set up Benzema for a tap-in on the break.

Luis Suarez saw a shot well saved by Navas after more good Malcom work, but frustrations began to build for the home side in their struggle to create clear-cut openings.

They found the equaliser 57 minutes in, however, when Sergio Ramos, having brilliantly cleared a Suarez effort off the line, allowed Malcom’s strike on the rebound to fly past him and into the net, apparently convinced it was going wide.

Messi and Gareth Bale were introduced from the bench, and it was the Madrid man who missed the best chance for a winner, failing to make the most of Benzema’s pass after Ter Stegen had been left stranded.

What does it mean? Madrid take slender advantage to Santiago Bernabeu

Vazquez’s clever finish means Santiago Solari’s side have an away goal, giving them a slight lift heading into the second leg in Madrid.

That said, with Messi likely to be fully fit by the time of the return fixture, Barca will certainly believe they are capable of at least one goal in the capital.

There was very little to split these teams – Barca edged possession, Madrid matched their opponents for attempts at goal – so there is every reason to expect a similarly tight affair next time.

Malcom a makeshift Messi

Ever-present in the cup this year, Malcom produced a performance that should put him back in contention for more regular football. He caused Marcelo plenty of problems and deserved his goal.

Coutinho cast adrift

At times, Philippe Coutinho looked like he was not involved; at others, he looked like he did not want to be. He looks a long way short of top form and confidence.

What’s next?

The second leg takes place in three weeks’ time in the capital. More immediately, Madrid make the short trip to the Wanda Metropolitano for a crucial league derby with Atletico Madrid on Saturday, while Barca head to Athletic Bilbao a day later.


Coutinho urged to ignore Man Utd transfer talk by Barcelona legend Stoichkov

Philippe Coutinho has been told to “not even think about joining another club”, with the Barcelona playmaker urged to ignore interest from the likes of Manchester United by Blaugrana legend Hristo Stoichkov.

The Brazil international has spent just 12 months at Camp Nou.

He completed a big-money move from Liverpool in January 2018 and was expected to become a key creative influence alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Coutinho has struggled for consistency at the Liga giants and seen his value and ongoing presence called into question as a result.

A return to England has been mooted, with United said to be keen after Jurgen Klopp moved to rule out a possible second stint at Anfield.

Stoichkov, though, believes that the 26-year-old can prove his worth at Barca, with the iconic Bulgarian striker writing in an open letter published by Mundo Deportivo: “I am writing these words to send you my most sincere support for the difficult moment you have been going through, although I’m sure there are a lot of players out there who would like to be in the same situation as you like when you scored those two vital goals against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey.

“And by the way, for the first goal, to have an incredible player like Messi asking you to take that penalty – a penalty which set the course for the rest of the tie. That’s a task that only the very best players are asked to do.

“Barca isn’t an easy club and during my first few months there, I suffered like you. I know how it feels when things aren’t turning out how you want, but I’m convinced that with hard work and sacrifice you’ll move forward because you have all the quality you need to do that. You are one of the best foreign players to have played for Barca.

Philippe Coutinho Barcelona 2018-19

“You’ve got a lot of football in you to give Barca and the only thing you should be thinking about is enjoying your game. Enjoy it like you do with Brazil. I tried to enjoy playing like I always did with Bulgaria and I ended up enjoying myself exactly the same with Barca.

“Never let yourself be disheartened because, from what I’ve seen, the fans are with you and want to see you succeed. Understand that they’re the best fans in the world and they’ll support you always – like they did with me.

“And besides, now’s not the time to feel down, we have every reason to feel positive. Forget all about the draw against Valencia. It’s starting to get tight at the top in La Liga, the Champions League is back and more than anything, we are about to face a month in which we’ll have three games on the trot against our eternal rivals, Real Madrid, who we can never rule out.

“The Clasico is the best game in the world and you yourself know what it’s like to score in one – it’s a feeling which cannot be matched. We’ll need you at your best to sew up the league and book our place in the Copa del Rey final – and even more so if the God of Football, Leo Messi is carrying a groin strain from the Valencia match.

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“Lastly, a small favour. Please do not even think about joining another club, which is something I’ve read might happen in the press. There is no other club like ours. That’s why they say it’s more than a club. And anyway, you wouldn’t find another club with mates like Messi, Suarez and Co. with whom you have a great time doing what you love most – playing football.

“I wish you all the best, with all of my heart, I am sure that you will make history at Barça. Keep your chin up! A big hug, Hristo.”

Coutinho has recorded eight goals and five assists this season, but more is expected of a man snapped up in a deal which could end up being worth €145 million (£127m/$166m).


Valverde hopes Coutinho gains confidence from brace

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde hopes Philippe Coutinho’s brace against Sevilla gives the Brazilian attacker a boost in confidence.

Coutinho netted twice as Barca thrashed Sevilla 6-1 on Wednesday to claim a 6-3 aggregate success in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

The 26-year-old has been questioned this season, but converted an early penalty – given to him by Lionel Messi – before adding another in the second half.

Valverde praised Coutinho and said he hoped that would give the attacker the boost he needed.

“Leo has given it to him to take and he has taken a great responsibility and made it 1-0,” Valverde said.

“I hope the success gives him more confidence.”

Coutinho extended his thanks to Messi after the game for allowing him to step up to the spot.

Barca looked in trouble in the tie, but Coutinho’s double and goals from Ivan Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Luis Suarez and Messi saw them seal a comeback win.

Valverde said it showed his team, who are top of La Liga, could step up when needed.

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“The best thing is that we have security and we confirm that we are a team that when we have to take a step forward, we do it,” he said.

Messi meanwhile stressed the victory showed the Catalans are a club that would never throw away any competition. 

Barcelona are next in action with a La Liga clash at home to Valencia on Saturday.


Messi – Barcelona don’t throw any competition away

Lionel Messi has insisted Barcelona never contemplated throwing away the Copa del Rey after a comeback win over Sevilla on Wednesday .

The La Liga leaders crushed Sevilla 6-1 at Camp Nou to claim a 6-3 aggregate victory in the quarter-finals, with Philippe Coutinho scoring a brace to go with goals from Ivan Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Luis Suarez and Messi.

Messi, who recently revealed criticism he receives from son Thiago , played down any suggestions Barca were ever going to simply give up the competition to focus on La Liga and the Champions League.

“It was said that we threw the cup or that we didn’t want it, or maybe my message was misinterpreted at the beginning of the season,” he told Barca TV .

“The team want to fight for the three competitions, as it is always Barcelona’s obligation every year.

“We do not throw anything.”

Coutinho started Barca’s comeback with a 13th-minute penalty, which Messi let the Brazilian – whose form has been questioned – take.

Messi explained his decision to allow the 26 year old, who completed his brace in the second half, to take the spot-kick.

“I wanted him to kick it and we fixed it, because the important thing was to win,” he said.

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“He scored and I’m happy because that’s where everything started.”

Coutinho thanked Messi after the game for letting him take the penalty as the Catalans sealed their place in the Copa del Rey semi-finals.

While Barcelona won on the pitch on Wednesday, they took a tumble off it as they accidentally confirmed Denis Suarez’s move to Arsenal  prematurely. 


Coutinho thanks Messi for penalty gesture

Philippe Coutinho thanked Lionel Messi for allowing him to take a confidence-boosting penalty as Barcelona hammered Sevilla to reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals.

Coutinho has endured a difficult season with Ousmane Dembele seemingly preferred by Ernesto Valverde, but the France winger’s hamstring injury has opened a spot in Barca’s attack.

And Coutinho grabbed his chance with both hands in Wednesday’s second leg, scoring twice as Barca heaped more Copa del Rey misery on Sevilla, whom they battered 5-0 in last year’s final.

Barca’s 6-1 victory overturned a 2-0 deficit from the first leg when Messi was rested by Valverde, but the captain was in inspirational form at Camp Nou.

And when Messi was fouled by Quincy Promes he allowed Coutinho to step up to beat Juan Soriano and get the rout up and running, with former Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, Sergi Roberto and Messi himself also on target.

“The penalty has come naturally,” Coutinho told Barca TV. “Leo’s gesture shows how great it is.

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“Thanks to Leo, for letting me kick the penalty, that’s good for the confidence of the group.

“We knew that to overcome, we had to be involved from the beginning.”

Barca join Real Betis and Valencia in the semi-finals, with either Real Madrid or Girona to join them on Thursday.


Barcelona 6 Sevilla 1 (6-3 agg): Coutinho at the double in Copa del Rey comeback

Philippe Coutinho scored twice as Barcelona produced a brilliant comeback in the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final against Sevilla, a thumping 6-1 win sealing a last-four place.

Sevilla, beaten in the final by Barca in two of the past three years, deservedly won the first leg at home 2-0 when Ernesto Valverde’s decision to rest captain Lionel Messi backfired badly.

Messi was back in the team for Wednesday’s return at Camp Nou and he inspired a dramatic comeback that saw Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Roberto add to Coutinho’s well-taken brace before Luis Suarez and the Barca captain himself compounded Sevilla’s misery.

Before Messi and Suarez made sure of Barca’s progression, Guilherme Arana – after a VAR review for a penalty at the other end – had set up a grandstand finish, while Ever Banega having a first-half penalty saved by Jasper Cillessen proved a key moment in the second leg.

Barcelona have won the Copa del Rey in each of the last four seasons and the LaLiga leaders are on track to make it five in a row after a stunning performance.

Coutinho’s error contributed to Sevilla’s second goal last week but he gave Barca a 13th-minute lead when Quincy Promes’ challenge on Messi resulted in a penalty the Brazilian stroked home.

Barca were grateful to Cillessen for two big saves in close succession, as he magnificently pushed Andre Silva’s flicked backheel on to the post, then dived to his left to keep out Banega’s poor penalty after Gerard Pique bundled over Roque Mesa.

The tie was all-square in the 31st minute when Arthur’s sensational pass sent Rakitic clear for a delicately poked finish the former Sevilla midfielder refused to celebrate scoring.

Barca led 3-0 early in the second half, Coutinho stooping to head a driven Luis Suarez cross through Juan Soriano’s weak hands.

The capitulation from Sevilla – thrashed 5-0 by Barca in last year’s final – was seemingly completed 103 seconds later by Roberto’s rifled first-time finish from a deflected Messi pass.

But after Coutinho had a penalty appeal for a handball against Daniel Carrico rejected, Sevilla went down the other end with Arana hammering a drive past Cillessen’s grasping fingertips, although there was a VAR check before awarding the goal.

In a frantic finale Sevilla could not find the second strike they needed to progress on away goals and, with the visitors over-committed, Suarez finished off a rapid break before Messi atoned for a pair of remarkable misses with the clincher.


Valverde backs misfiring Coutinho to start scoring soon

Ernesto Valverde praised Philippe Coutinho’s creativity and character after a tough outing for the Brazil star in Barcelona’s 2-0 win at Girona.

Goals from Nelson Semedo and Lionel Messi restored Barca’s five-point lead at the top of La Liga, although Girona caused a share of problems for their illustrious visitors – even after Bernardo Espinosa’s 51st-minute sending off.

It might have been a more straightforward victory had Coutinho converted a sublime Messi pass midway through the first half and he botched another one-on-one opportunity in stoppage time.

The former Liverpool forward is reportedly unsettled at Barca, a year on from his blockbuster move, and is no longer a natural choice in Valverde’s strongest XI.

Nevertheless, Coutinho’s head coach feels there are better times ahead.

“What I like about him is that he always tries things and takes on his man,” Valverde said.

“It might work or it might not.

“He had chances but didn’t score because their goalkeeper is excellent. He’ll convert other chances soon.”

Coutinho had started the last two La Liga games before Sunday’s win, but previously had not been selected in the starting XI for four games in a row.

The former Liverpool and Inter man has also not scored in the league since October and has registered just one assist in the last 15 La Liga games.

His poor form has even seen him linked with a mega-money move to Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain this month.

However, Valverde’s comments seem to imply Coutinho will remain at Camp Nou for the foreseeable future.

The Barca coach singled out Coutinho’s compatriot Arthur for praise after the midfielder gave the Spanish champions some much-needed control upon his 58th-minute introduction in place of Arturo Vidal.

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“We were having some difficulty because they were pressing high and we couldn’t pass through it on occasions,” he explained.

“These losses of possession led to Girona’s main chances. When Arthur went on, he had the ability to keep the ball.

“Plus, they were down to 10 and it was a matter of controlling the game and of finding the open man. In the end, we had more chances and sealed the result.”


Klopp rules out Liverpool return for Coutinho

Jurgen Klopp has downplayed any talk of a return to Liverpool for Philippe Coutinho just over a year after his departure to Barcelona.

The Brazil international sealed his exit from Anfield in January 2018, after a prolonged struggle to make his way to Ernesto Valverde’s side.

However, after a promising start last season which saw him feature in a Barca side that took home the Liga crown and Copa del Rey title, Coutinho has fallen on more difficult times this campaign.

A dip in production preceded a decrease in playing time, with Coutinho’s place coming under threat from Ousmane Dembele.

While he has featured in the Champions League and Copa del Rey, Coutinho’s start against Eibar last week was his first in La Liga since December 2, prompting talk that the playmaker was unhappy with his situation.

Rumours of a move to Manchester United have popped up, as well as a potential return to Liverpool.

However, Klopp moved to rule out the latter, saying it is not a likely move for the Reds.

“That is something I don’t want to talk about,” Klopp told reporters. “I would not say it is a potential transfer or a likely one.

“Nothing to say. Whatever I say would open more stories and there is no story.

“Phil is at Barcelona and as I know he fits really well and everything is fine.”

Klopp’s own future became a question as well, with many of Liverpool’s big names committing to the club long-term.

Andy Robertson became the latest to do so after inking a five-year contract on Thursday, and the manager was asked if there might also be a new deal coming for him.

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“I would be really happy if they didn’t come now because I don’t want to think about it,” Klopp said.

“I have a long time, there will be a lot of changes before then [2022] but I don’t want to think about it at the moment. I am completely in this year and next year and then we will see.”

Klopp’s Reds host Crystal Palace on Saturday, hoping to at least maintain their four-point advantage over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table.