‘Best in history’ Messi lauded by Barcelona colleagues Coutinho & Busquets

Philippe Coutinho and Sergio Busquets hailed the performance of the “amazing” Lionel Messi in Barcelona’s crushing 6-1 La Liga victory over Girona.

The Argentina international set up Luis Suarez for an equaliser after Girona had taken a third-minute lead, and netted twice himself, the second an inventive free-kick steered under the opposition’s defensive wall at Camp Nou.

Coutinho, a January arrival from Liverpool, also supplied an assist for Suarez before getting on the scoresheet, and the Brazilian is already revelling in a productive relationship with his superstar team-mates.

“Leo is amazing,” he told Movistar.

“He fooled everyone with his goal. It’s incredible how good he is. Each game we understand each other better, with him, with Suarez, he’s very important for us. 

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“Bit by bit I’m learning and I have a lot of work to do.”

Holding midfielder Busquets echoed the sentiments of Coutinho, saying of Messi’s contribution: “He always makes the difference and that’s what makes him the best player in the world and in the history of football.”

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Ousmane Dembele could not find the back of the net himself but did tee up Suarez for the Uruguayan to complete his hat-trick, and Coutinho expects the young France international to hit his stride soon. 

“Barcelona play unique football,” he said.

“Dembele is a great player, I’m sure that with time and work we will learn. We want to do the best we can.”


Coutinho & Dembele took step forward in Barcelona win, says Valverde

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde was proud to see Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele contribute to his side’s 6-1 win over Girona on Saturday and feels the pair are progressing well.

Valverde started Coutinho, Dembele, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez together for the first time and he was buoyed by the efforts of this season’s two blockbusting signings.

Coutinho opened his La Liga account with an excellent long-range strike, while both he and Dembele set up Luis Suarez on his way to a hat-trick, with Lionel Messi netting twice.

And while Messi and Suarez took most plaudits for turning the result around after Girona’s early opening goal, Valverde feels things are coming together with Dembele and Coutinho.

“When a player scores as Coutinho did he gains more and more confidence, which is what a player is always looking for,” he told reporters.

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“They are players who have to help us and who are already doing it, each with their own characteristics.

“Dembele has a more extreme profile, he brings more depth [to Barcelona’s play] but he has had problems with injuries and skipped that period of adaptation. That’s why he’s still getting used to the team.

“Coutinho plays very well in the inside game. I think both have taken a step forward today.”

As well as his goal scoring heroics, Suarez’s actions towards the end of the game became the subject of debate.

Some observers alleged Suarez was trying to get a yellow card that would have resulted in a suspension for Thursday’s trip to Las Palmas, clearing his disciplinary slate for Atletico Madrid’s crunch visit to Camp Nou next weekend.

Referee Javier Alberola showed leniency with Suarez but Spain left-back Jordi Alba will miss the Las Palmas game after he was carded for bringing down Pablo Maffeo.

Asked about the events during the final minutes, Valverde said: “They are moments of the game and the referee decides.

“I have nothing to say about that. If we have a setback due to an accumulation of bookings, another player will play. We’ll decide what we do.”


Coutinho & Dembele start to show they belong alongside Messi & Suarez

A night of celebration for Barcelona at Camp Nou. The Blaugrana went behind somewhat carelessly in the first few minutes, but proceeded to lay on an exhibition in attacking football after that. And it was not only Lionel Messi this time, either.

The Argentine was at the forefront of all of Barca’s best play, threading inconceivable passes through to his team-mates from seemingly impossible angles, one after the other.

Thanks to the five-time Ballon d’Or winner and his partner in crime Luis Suarez, Ernesto Valverde’s side were back in it almost as soon as they had gone behind, the Argentine setting up the Uruguayan for a well-worked leveller.

Messi then added two incredible goals of his own, dancing around the area until he found an opportunity to shoot for the first and slotting a low free-kick under the wall for his second of the evening to make it 3-1.

This was mesmeric Messi at his brilliant best and the Camp Nou crowd roared in appreciation. However, things were proving a little more difficult for the club’s two expensive new forwards – Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho.

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That would soon change, however, as the former Liverpool connection of Coutinho and Suarez combined to make it 4-1 before the interval, the Brazilian claiming his very first assist for the Catalan club since moving from Anfield last month.

Dembele was there amid the celebrations, yet there was a look on his face that seemed to say, “We’ve scored four and I haven’t done much…” In truth, he had not, but he did improve in the second half and ended up bagging an assist himself with a fine run and cross as Suarez completed his hat-trick.

Before that, Coutinho had gone one better by blasting home a long-range effort to claim Barcelona’s fifth of an extraordinary evening.

By the end, it was three for Suarez, two for Messi, one for Coutinho – and six of the best for Barca.

Barca Girona score

The football, at times, was extraordinary and Dembele grew into the game as well. Having been left on the bench for the full 90 minutes in the Champions League against Chelsea on Tuesday, he had a point to prove and showed signs here that he can become the great player that Barcelona believe they bought.

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The France forward is still only 20 and has time on his side, although with Coutinho cup-tied in the Champions League, his adaptation this season after two injuries and a tough time so far could be the key to Barca’s hopes in the continental competition.

On this evidence, that process has started already and, with Messi and Suarez in this mood, Barca’s breathtaking football made a mockery of suggestions after the game at Stamford Bridge that this team is tired and predictable.

Valverde’s side are surely anything but that, and with Coutinho and Dembele starting to show that they belong alongside Messi and Suarez, these are exciting times again at Camp Nou.


Barcelona 6 Girona 1: Suarez treble and Messi masterclass settle Catalan clash

Lionel Messi dazzled on his way to another career record as Luis Suarez hit a hat-trick in Barcelona’s 6-1 demolition of Girona.

Messi notched a superb brace and has now scored against 36 opponents in Spain’s top flight – more than any other player in the competition’s history.

Ninth-placed Girona have made waves in their debut LaLiga season and Pablo Machin’s side drew first blood at Camp Nou through Portu, the forward adding to goals against Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia this term.

Barca’s response was brilliant, with Messi running through his full repertoire to put their Catalan neighbours in their place and move on to 30 in all competitions this season.

A 10-point lead over Atletico Madrid – who face a tricky trip to Sevilla on Sunday – was essentially secured by half-time, but Philippe Coutinho spectacular first league strike for the Blaugrana and Suarez’s treble gave the home faithful further reason to revel.

It was the first time Messi, Suarez, Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele were named in the same starting XI by Ernesto Valverde, but there is little doubt over who remains the master.

Ivan Rakitic picked the wrong moment to get involved in the showboating spirit of Barcelona’s all-star line-up when his ill-advised backheel led to Girona’s third-minute opener.

Girona scythed forward on the break and, although Aday Benitez appeared to have overrun the ball, hesitation between Barca centre-back Samuel Umtiti and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen allowed Portu to steal in and finish well from a narrow angle.

The home side responded instantly – Messi rolling a typically perfect throughball for Suarez to slot home.

The Argentinian superstar soon clicked into virtuoso mode with some sumptuous passing and, when Suarez returned the favour of his earlier assist, Bernardo Espinosa scampered back to head Messi’s chip off the line.

Bono’s efforts were not so robust after half an hour as Messi twisted back inside Jonas Ramalho and Juanpe. The resulting shot was struck firmly enough but the Girona goalkeeper should have done better than parrying into his bottom right corner.

Barca’s talisman seemed determined to turn Bono’s night into an ordeal and he clipped a cute free-kick under a jumping defensive wall to make it 3-1.

Girona kept coming and Ter Stegen saved sharply from Anthony Lozano’s header, but a blistering break orchestrated by Messi allowed Coutinho to tee up Suarez for a simple finish.

There was no let-up from Valverde’s side and Rakitic and Dembele combined for Suarez to hit the outside of the post in pursuit of his hat-trick after 54 minutes.

Dembele shifted inside Espinoza to come agonisingly close to a confidence-boosting goal before Gerard Pique was allowed to rest for the final half hour, having again hobbled through portions of the action.

Coutinho brought Camp Nou to its feet with a trademark curler from 25 yards midway through the second half.

Bono finally bested Messi by tipping his latest free-kick away from the top corner and touched a late header from substitute Thomas Vermaelan on to the bar.

But he had to pick a ball that now belongs to Suarez out of his net one last time in the 77th minute – Dembele charging down the right channel and crossing for the Uruguay striker to do the rest.

Barca finished the game with 10 when, after making all three substitutions, right-back Nelson Semedo limped off with an apparent hamstring injury.


Coutinho dropped for the good of Barcelona – Valverde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Firmino looking to help fill Coutinho void for Liverpool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firmino Salah

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionel Messi Philippe Coutinho Barcelona

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

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

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


Coutinho, Dembele and Mina not ready to star for Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barca Getafe score

Ousmane Dembele Barcelona Levante LaLiga

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

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

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

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

Yerry Mina Barcelona Getafe LaLiga

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ivan Rakitic Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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


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.”