Coutinho can’t explain Messi and Barcelona’s Champions League struggles

Philippe Coutinho said it was hard to explain why Lionel Messi and Barcelona had not won the Champions League more often in recent seasons.

Messi, 31, is a four-time winner of Europe’s premier club competition, but the last of those successes came in 2015.

Barca have been eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Champions League in the past three seasons.

While last season saw Barcelona dominate La Liga, the Champions League proved a different story as Roma fought back from a 4-1 first-leg deficit to stun the Catalan club and advance on away goals after a 3-0 victory in the return leg.

Coutinho, who had made a January switch to Barca, was unable to take part in the proceedings after being cap-tied to Liverpool earlier in the compeitition, a rule that has since been changed.

Asked why Barca, with one of the all-time greats in Messi in their side, had struggled for success in the competition in recent seasons, Coutinho said that was tough to explain.

“That’s difficult to say. Messi is the best player in the world, perhaps the best in history and it’s difficult to explain that,” the attacker said ahead of Barca’s clash against PSV on Tuesday.

“I guess there’s no explanation to that. Such as all of us he is aiming so much to win big things and the Champions League is one of them.”

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Coutinho will make his first appearance in the Champions League for Barcelona on Tuesday when the Catalan club hosts the Eredivisie champions in their Group B opener.

Group B also includes Premier League side Tottenham and Serie A giants, and Coutinho’s old club, Inter.


Coutinho: I have to improve a lot to earn Iniesta comparisons

Philippe Coutinho feels comparisons between himself and “genius” Andres Iniesta are not appropriate as he wants to be known for his own game.

Coutinho’s arrival from Liverpool in the January transfer window was widely accepted to place the Brazilian in pole position to be Iniesta’s heir.

The long-serving midfielder moved to Vissel Kobe at the end of the season and Coutinho has slotted in to take the former Spain international’s place.

But Coutinho, who like Iniesta has played in both attack and midfield, rejected suggestions he is following in the 34-year-old’s footsteps.

“Andres was a genius, comparisons between us are tough,” Coutinho told a news conference ahead of his Champions League bow for Barca against PSV on Tuesday. “I just want to be myself and win as much as I can here.

“I try to work hard regardless of my position and I work hard on every aspect of my game, I feel more of an attacking midfielder and I am comfortable on the left as this is where I’ve played the most.

“My goal is to improve at everything and if I want to be like Andres Iniesta I have to improve a lot.

“My first job is to make plays in the midfield, in the middle it’s more difficult as I have to hold on to the ball and help my team-mates.

“In attack I can contribute to more goals, but I will do whatever job the coach asks me to do.”

Coutinho could not play for Barcelona in the Champions League last term as he had already featured for Liverpool earlier in the competition.

Barca subsequently suffered a shock exit to Roma at the quarter-final stage, surrendering a 4-1 lead from the first leg as they were beaten 3-0 in Italy.

“It was tough for me personally and for us as a team because of the way we were eliminated, but this time we are determined,” Coutinho added.

“I wanted to help, but I could not. I was watching it on TV, it was very hard.

“Last year I couldn’t play and I’m looking forward to getting out there in the Champions League.

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“Barcelona fight for all the competitions but the Champions League is the biggest and we are going to go for it.

“We haven’t won it in a few years but we have the players and we are hungry to go out there and win it.

“We have to keep working hard and it all starts right now in the Champions League.”


Richarlison hails first Brazil goals as ‘dream come true’

It was a “dream come true” for Richarlison as the Brazil forward marked his starting debut with two goals against El Salvador.

Everton star Richarlison scored in either half to lead Brazil to a 5-0 rout of El Salvador in Tuesday’s international friendly.

After coming off the bench to make his debut against the United States last week, Richarlison was named in the starting XI and netted two fine goals in Maryland.

Speaking afterwards, the 21-year-old – who has netted three goals in as many Premier League matches for Everton this season – said: “I’m very happy, right. A dream come true … my first goal. I hope to do more.”

Richarlison earned a second-minute penalty, albeit harshly on El Salvador as Roberto Dominguez appeared to get a foot on the ball, before captain Neymar converted.

The former Watford attacker then doubled Brazil’s lead with a stunning first-time finish in the 16th minute before he scored the team’s fourth of the night – another fine effort five minutes into the second half.

“Pressure, responsibility. I’m used to playing in big clubs,” Richarlison said.

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Richarlison, who linked up well with Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar, added: “I’m very happy for both goals. I was able to take advantage of the opportunity. 

“I just have to thank my friends. I have to work hard at my club to come back more often.”


Brazil 5 El Salvador 0: Two-goal Richarlison leads rout as Neto ends eight-year wait

Neto made his long-awaited international debut and Richarlison scored a brace as Brazil eased past minnows El Salvador 5-0 on Tuesday.

There were no surprises in Maryland, where captain Neymar converted his second penalty in two games, while Richarlison and Philippe Coutinho were also on target at FedEx Field.

Neymar opened the scoring when El Salvador were harshly penalised for a foul on Richarlison inside two minutes, before the latter capped his starting international debut with a stunning curled effort in the 16th minute, and Coutinho added a third on the half-hour mark.

Richarlison netted his second of the match – the Everton star producing another fine finish past Henry Hernandez five minutes into the second half – and Marquinhos completed the rout in the 90th minute.

All eyes were on goalkeeper Neto, however, after the 29-year-old ended his wait for a senior appearance following eight years and 25 games.

Fans barely had a chance to take their seats when Neymar stepped up and scored from the spot after Richarlison went down under a challenge from El Salvador’s Roberto Dominguez in the second minute.

Neymar’s opener took his international tally to 59 – three adrift of Ronaldo and 18 behind all-time leading scorer Pele.

It was routine for Brazil – who defeated the United States 2-0 last time out – as Richarlison got himself on the scoresheet with a beautiful first-time shot from the edge of the area.

Neymar should have made it 3-0 six minutes later but his shot rattled the crossbar, though, Brazil eventually got their third in the 30th minute via Coutinho, who left the keeper stranded having received a ball from the former just outside the penalty box.

El Salvador emerged from the interval with renewed enthusiasm and attacking intent, and it caused some nervy moments for Brazil, however, it left the CONCACAF nation exposed in defence.

Richarlison was at it again in the 50th minute, firing a low shot into the bottom corner of the net as he showcased his goalscoring instincts, before Marquinhos headed home Neymar’s corner at the death.

What it means: Brazil moving on from World Cup

Tite discussed the pain of Brazil’s shock quarter-final exit in Russia after his side accounted for USA last week. It was not what the five-time world champions had dreamed of but back-to-back wins during the international break, regardless of the opposition, will help restore some confidence.

Pat on the back: Richarlison showing he’s the real deal

The Brazilian forward has started the Premier League season like a house on fire. Three goals in as many games for Everton earned him Selecao selection and a brace on Tuesday showed he can do it on the international stage.

Boot up the backside: Referee gets it wrong?

It was always going to be an uphill battle for El Salvador but referee Jair Marrufo did not make it any easier. Dominguez appeared to have got the ball as Richarlison went down, however, the American had other ideas as he pointed to the spot amid protests.

What’s next?

The Selecao will return to action next month, with a showdown against South American rivals Argentina in Jeddah on October 16 the headline event following a friendly with Saudi Arabia four days earlier.


Coutinho elevates Messi and Barcelona to higher level as record signing silences doubters

Questions were asked when Barcelona spent £142 million ($192m) on Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho in January. Was he good enough to be the world’s third most expensive player? Could he possibly replace legendary playmaker Andres Iniesta? Those questions went unanswered last season.

In fits and starts Coutinho showed his quality, most often with his trademark curling strike after cutting inside on the left.

However, the Brazilian also went unnoticed in several games as he bedded in to life at Camp Nou, establishing himself as a presence in the team on the pitch and also in the dressing room.

Coutinho is at home in a team boasting several other South American stars and in Barcelona’s rampant 8-2 victory over Huesca on Sunday, put in his finest performance to date, combining effortlessly with Lionel Messi to devastating effect.

Win over Messi and you have a home at Barcelona – and Coutinho has done just that.

The Argentine alone is a nightmare for defenders but with Coutinho feeding him bullets Huesca’s defence did not stand a chance.

While no player could replace Iniesta, Coutinho offers something different. Less control on the speed of the game, but a higher ceiling for mayhem in attack.

Iniesta had problems scoring goals, netting just 57 goals in 669 games. And although Coutinho didn’t score against Huesca, he got in dangerous positions to shoot and was denied when sent through by a fine stop from Axel Werner.

Where the attacking midfielder shone was in creating chances for the forwards around him, in particular Messi. Coutinho put Barcelona’s sixth goal on a plate for the No.10, with a through-pass that split the Huesca defence and left Messi clean through on goal.

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On other occasions his cunning and precise passing helped Messi and Suarez evade defenders like jewellery thieves dodging laser beams in a heist.

While Barcelona fans sometimes bemoan the team moving away from the possession football which won them the treble under Pep Guardiola, Coutinho offers technique, passing ability and thrills, with audible gasps coming from supporters at his wizardry.

With Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets working hard behind him, the Brazilian has license to join the attacking trident as a fourth forward, appearing in the gaps to receive the ball.

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Even though his first half season at the club started slowly, Coutinho has made himself an essential component of Ernesto Valverde’s first choice side.

His huge transfer fee was in the news again recently as Barcelona paid a £5m bonus to Liverpool for his 25th appearance last weekend. But his 26th was his finest so far and if the Brazilian maintains this career-high level then Barcelona will be only too happy to give the Reds the next instalment early next year.

If Coutinho is still flying by that time, Barcelona, who moved top of La Liga on goal difference after the brutal win over Huesca, may be dreaming of another treble.


Barcelona 3 Deportivo Alaves 0: Messi’s milestone goal sets up victory

Lionel Messi scored Barcelona’s 6000th goal in LaLiga as the champions sealed a 3-0 win over Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

The Argentina star swept in a clever free-kick midway through the second half before Philippe Coutinho netted a fine second, with Messi doubling his tally late on to secure all three points for Ernesto Valverde’s side.

Alaves did little to trouble Barca’s goal even after going behind, but it was far from a convincing display from the hosts, who handed league debuts to Arthur and Arturo Vidal in the second half.

Barca looked laboured despite all their possession in the first half, with creativity at a premium in Coutinho’s absence, although captain Messi hit the bar with a free-kick and Ousmane Dembele fired straight at Fernando Pacheco when through one-on-one.

Coutinho was introduced at half-time for full-back Nelson Semedo, but there was little to get the 52,356 fans inside Camp Nou out of their seats until the 64th minute, when Messi sent a free-kick under the wall and into the net.

The Argentina star struck the woodwork again despite nearly slipping over in the build-up, before Luis Suarez – making his 200th appearance for the club – was denied by Pacheco when capitalising on a defensive slip.

Barca secured an opening-day win for the 10th time in succession eight minutes from time, though, when Coutinho rifled home from just inside the area, before Messi brought down Suarez’s pass and slotted home with the last kick.

What does it mean: Valverde’s men still in pre-season mode

This was the 10th season in a row in which Barca have won their first LaLiga match, and Messi’s free-kick was certainly a fine way to mark the occasion, but there is much work to be done.

The champions were far too ponderous in possession throughout, with midfielders reluctant to run from deep and Dembele too often surrendering the ball when trying to stretch Alaves’ rigid 4-5-1 set-up.

It rather felt like a friendly match, with more than 40,000 seats going unused in the stands and Barca never getting out of third gear, while the visitors made no change to their approach even after going behind.

They will improve in the coming weeks, but this was not a display to leave Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid feeling unduly concerned.

Pat on the back: Messi still Barca’s main man

It was fitting that Barca’s 6000th goal in the top flight was scored by the man who got their 5000th back in 2009.

Messi, on his first league outing as club captain and without Andres Iniesta at the club, clipped the bar in the first half before trying a different tactic to put his side ahead in the second. Some sublime close control and a deft finish added late gloss to the scoreline.

With Suarez and Dembele off the boil and Coutinho only introduced off the bench, it fell on Messi to become the main creator and goal threat for his side, and only the woodwork denied him a hat-trick.

Boot up the backside: Dembele frustrates again

Dembele looked ready for an explosive start to the season when he blasted in the winner in the Supercopa de Espana, but this was another forgettable outing at Camp Nou for the forward.

He squandered two decent first-half chances with poor finishes after failing to pick out Messi in a two-on-one situation, and his runs in the final third too often ended in possession being gifted to Alaves.

What’s next?

Next up for Barca is a trip to Real Valladolid next Saturday, the promoted side having held Girona to a 0-0 draw in the first match back in LaLiga.

Alaves also play in a week’s time, with Real Betis the visitors to Mendizorrotza looking to bounce back from a humbling 3-0 home loss to Levante.


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.


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.

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“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.


‘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.”


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.