Philippe Coutinho is amazed by genius of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta and reveals reason for joining Barcelona

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Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho is revelling playing alongside Barcelona icons Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.

The Brazilian completed a sensational €160million switch from Liverpool in January and is settling into life with his new club after two La Liga starts.

The 25-year-old always made clear his desire to join the Catalan giants when interested first emerged in the summer of 2017.

Now with the opportunity to train and line-up alongside a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and a World Cup champion, Coutinho says he is living in a dream land.

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

“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.”

Coutinho’s versatility to play in midfield and in a forward trio is one of his best assets but it’s created debate as to where his long-term future in the Barca XI resides.

Many anticipated he would eventually replace the aging Iniesta but the pair have started together with the club-record buy operating on the right of a front three.

And Coutinho says he is happy to play anywhere with ambitions of adding to his medal collection.

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

“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.”

Barcelona are in Copa del Rey action Thursday as Ernesto Valverde’s side look to book their place in the final, carrying a 1-0 advantage into their trip to Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium.

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Yerry Mina to make Barcelona debut and more talking points ahead of Valencia Copa del Rey clash

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Barcelona take on Valencia in the second-leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final clash on Thursday night under the lights at the Mestalla (12:30am+1).

The away side carry a slender 1-0 advantage into the fixture, and with a treble still very much on for Ernesto Valverde’s side this term, he will expect no let-up from his players as they look to secure a spot in the domestic cup final and retain the title which they won against Alaves last term.

Here, we look at three Blaugrana talking points ahead of the last four meeting:

YERRY MINA TO MAKE BARCELONA DEBUT

Yerry Mina is set to be thrown into the cauldron of the Mestalla for his Blaugrana debut. Barcelona, so far, have been pretty cautious over the Colombian and allowed the man from Palmeiras time to find his feet in Catalonia. But, with Gerard Pique out injured along with Thomas Vermaelen, the 23-year-old is a certain starter in Valverde’s XI on Thursday night. He is the only other natural centre-back in the ranks and although Valencia away will be far from a walk in the park, it’s the perfect time to blood him alongside Samuel Umtiti.

Two other options are deploying either Nelson Semedo or Sergio Busquets in one of the central positions or selecting youngster David Costas, which would be a real gamble. Expect Barca to give Mina a go and Umtiti can guide him through the process. Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto will take up the full-back berths in a defence which has only conceded five goals in 10 matches since the turn of the year.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 04: Yerry Mina of FC Barcelona looks on from the bench during the La Liga match between Espanyol and Barcelona at RCDE Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Yerry Mina was an unused sub for the clash against Espanyol at the RCDE Stadium.


PHILIPPE COUTINHO IS READY FOR ANOTHER 90 MINUTES

After playing the full match – his first 90 minutes in a Barca jersey – during Sunday’s draw at Espanyol, the Brazilian showed he is now up to full speed fitness-wise and played well in treacherous conditions in Catalonia. Spanish media were quick to pounce on Coutinho, though, suggesting that his creativity was too little on the left flank and his influence was scarce when he floated inside. Pretty harsh. The former Liverpool man made more key passes (3) and crosses (7) than any other Barcelona player as well as putting in a shift defensively against his dogged former club, and also made three tackles.

While Barca had to dig deep in that game and were without the mercurial Lionel Messi for the best part of 60 minutes, Coutinho’s energy levels were never in doubt. With that in mind, he’ll start in a front three alongside Messi and Luis Suarez with Paulinho, Andres Iniesta and Busquets making up the midfield against a combative Los Che outfit. Given Coutinho is cup-tied for this month’s Champions League clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (February 20), the 25-year-old will be used regularly up until then.

Barcelona's Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho runs during the Spanish league football match between RCD Espanyol and FC Barcelona at the RCDE Stadium in Cornella de Llobregat on February 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PAU BARRENA (Photo credit should read PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images)

Coutinho showed class in awful conditions to get the ball down on the deck.


A FRESH LIONEL MESSI SHOULD SEE BARCELONA TO VICTORY

It’s always an unusual sight to see Messi sat on the bench. And yet, there he was, for 59 minutes, watching on as the rain just kept pouring down at Espanyol. But, of course, when he entered the fray on Sunday he was always going to make an impact and that he did when he assisted Pique’s late equaliser with his 10th assist of the season to help Barca maintain their 22-match league unbeaten streak.

A little bit of a rest, as Valverde has hinted at in recent weeks, should mean the 30-year-old club legend is more than ready for Thursday evening. It was a wise decision, given he had played a full part in Barca’s past six matches. In fact, with two low-key La Liga matches coming up: Getafe at home on Sunday (February 11) and Eibar away the following Saturday (February 17), Messi will definitely get 90 minutes here and could be spared for one of those two matches with a firm eye on Chelsea in less than a couple of weeks time.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 04: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona fights for the ball with Victor Sanchez (C) and Sergi Darder (L) of RCD Espanyol during the La Liga match between Espanyol and Barcelona at RCDE Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Lionel Messi should be fresh after a rare bit of rest.

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Gerard Pique is integral part of Barcelona's set-up and fans are fretting over his injury

Andy West 6/02/2018
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Gerard Pique due for a rest?

Gerard Pique is rarely out of the headlines, but few of those actually acknowledge what a good player is he or the importance of his role for Barcelona.

The central defender’s cheeky sense of humour and his determination to speak his mind lands him in all sorts of trouble.

Whether it’s winding up Real Madrid fans, being harangued by supporters of the Spanish national team or mocking his club side’s local rivals Espanyol, Pique always seems to be upsetting someone, somewhere.

And that’s a shame, because it can prevent us from appreciating his talents as an outstanding central defender who is just as comfortable with the ball at his feet as he is when attacking it in the air.

Now, though, Pique’s sporting ability may actually get some recognition following the news that he suffered a knee injury during Sunday’s feisty local derby draw with Espanyol.

Initial reports claimed he would be out of action for a month, meaning he would miss at least the first leg of the upcoming Champions League meeting with Chelsea.

And although concerns over the scale of the damage have now eased, the nervousness with which Barca fans are awaiting precise news over his condition shows just how integral he is to the team’s success.

Without Pique, manager Ernesto Valverde would be forced to partner the equally outstanding Samuel Umtiti with either Thomas Vermaelen, who is currently in the latter stages of recovery from his latest injury, or new signing Yerry Mina, who has not yet played for the club.

Neither of those options would fill fans with much confidence ahead of their team’s attempts to stop Eden Hazard and co, and Pique’s marshalling of his team’s defence – which he was even able to display in the flooded debris of Sunday’s local derby – will have a major role in Barca’s quest to secure their second league, cup and European treble in three years.

His importance is even greater now that long-serving and always reliable Javier Mascherano has now departed for China, and Barca really need Mina or Vermaelen to become a trusted first-choice deputy in the centre of defence, because at the moment neither of them are.

One thing that won’t change, we can be sure, is Pique’s habit of creating controversy – even when he doesn’t really deserve it.

Sunday’s game at Espanyol, for example, was followed by a passionate post-match dissection of Pique’s celebration of his equalising goal, with one TV show in Spain even debating whether or not he should have been sent off for his ‘be quiet’ gesture towards the home team’s fans.

As Pique noted after the game, considering the abuse he has ritually received from Espanyol fans over the last few years – much of which are obscene chants about his partner Shakira – putting his finger calmly to his lips is hardly the worst thing in the world for the defender to have done.

Indeed, his celebration was nothing compared to the actions – in the very same game – of Espanyol forward Sergio Garcia, who has been accused of (and has hardly rushed to deny) hurling racist abuse at Umtiti.

Garcia’s half-baked ‘apology’ on Instagram basically comes across as an admission that he did act in a racist manner towards Umtiti, who had to be forcibly restrained – by Pique, notably – from accosting his abuser on the pitch.

Yet it appears that no action will be taken against Garcia, because Spanish football authorities have a habit of sweeping such matters under the table. Unlike telling fans who are hurling obscene abuse to be quiet, which is apparently a major problem.

Priorities, it seems, need to be reconsidered.

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