Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde won't try to change Luis Suarez's aggressive style despite suspension risk

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Luis Suarez could miss the Copa del Rey final through suspension.

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde says he will not attempt to curb Luis Suarez‘s aggression ahead of Thursday night’s Copa del Rey semi-final second leg, despite Suarez being one yellow card away from being suspended for the final should his team prevail over Valencia.

Suarez, who has earned eight yellow cards across all competitions, missed last year’s final through suspension as well, not featuring in Barcelona’s win over Deportivo Alaves for their only trophy of the season.

“I’ve spoken with Luis Suarez about his character on the odd occasion,” Valverde said. “The aggression he has in attack, with how he looks for space and goals, is good for us, even if sometimes it can lead to a booking or something.

“But now we’ve got a semi-final to play. Suarez is experienced and he knows how to look after himself. We’re going to give everything to win. We will worry about the future later.”

Suarez has scored nine goals across all competitions in 2018, and thus he would be a big miss if Barcelona were to reach the final and he were to be suspended.

For now, the striker is concentrating on closing the tie against Valencia, with Barcelona holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg at the Camp Nou last week.

“It’s a minimal advantage that we have because there are 90 minutes left,” Suarez had said after the first leg.

“Valencia at home are always stronger and even more so in a Copa semi-final.”

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Valencia v Barcelona key battles with Lionel Messi and Rodrigo Moreno the main figures

Alex Rea 8/02/2018
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Marcelino and Ernesto Valverde

A Luis Suarez strike is the dividing line between Barcelona and Valencia as the two sides head to the Mestalla Stadium for the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final clash on Thursday.

The runaway La Liga leaders hold a slender advantage and will be hoping to keep alive their trophy treble hopes with safe passage through to the final.

However, Los Che displayed their resilience in the first leg and having been resurrected by boss Marcelino, will provide arguably Barca’s toughest test of the season so far.

With that in mind, we look at the key battles which could form the central narrative for the last-four tie.

RODRIGO MORENO V SAMUEL UMTITI

Marcelino’s success is built on defensive rigidity within a 4-4-2 framework using pace on the counter to create chances.

When Ivan Rakitic was brought off in the first leg, Los Che looked to break the lines but found their path blocked by the tower of strength Umtiti.

The Frenchman, alongside Lionel Messi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, has been one of Barca’s outstanding performers this season and the 24-year-old produced a monstrous display in the first leg (two blocks, two interceptions, two tackles and 58 passes)

At the Mestalla, however, Rodrigo Moreno has already plundered against Barca this season, opening the scoring with a close-range strike in the corresponding league fixture.

Marcelino’s penchant for technical players has brought the very best out of the 26-year-old this season and with Yerry Mina set to debut, Umtiti will be expected to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring the forward doesn’t add to his 12-goal haul this season.

GEOFFREY KONDOGBIA V LIONEL MESSI

Kondogbia missed the first leg through injury but returned for Sunday’s La Liga defeat to Atletico Madrid and was superb.

It’s difficult to comprehend the midfielder’s absence from the France squad but with this season being his first real show of consistency after years on the move, the 24-year-old is finally beginning to fulfill his promise.

Another player revived by Marcelino, no one at Valencia has made more tackles (59) or blocked more passes (21) than Kondogbia with the Inter Milan loanee registering second for interceptions (31), successful dribbles (28), headers won (31) and passes made (976) for Los Che in the league this season.

Simply put, he’s been a colossus in every area of the game, screening the defence well, breaking up play, retaining possession under pressure and picking intelligent passes.

It’s at this juncture we introduce the man who needs no introduction. The list of superlatives to describe Lionel Messi run as long as his achievements but the Argentine’s blurred role of playmaker/goalscorer has elevated him to a new level this season.

In Valverde’s 4-4-2 he’s been handed a free role to create from deep then attack the box and his venomous ability to effectively stroll before snapping into action means Kondogbia will have to be at full concentration to limit his impact.

EZEQUIEL GARAY V LUIS SUAREZ 

Suarez’s slow start after an injury ravaged pre-season was mistakenly analysed as a marker of his decline.

At 31, the Uruguayan’s powers of persistence married to his unnerving ability to find a finish were believed to be on the wane but he is once again proving he’s arguably the best centre-forward on the planet.

He’s scored 13 goals in his last 12 games across all competitions and plundered the crucial winner at Camp Nou in the first leg – his ninth in nine against Los Che making them his favourite opponent in a Barca shirt.

The visitor’s three-pronged avenue of creation – Messi through the middle, full-backs Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba out wide – ensures the supply line to Suarez is well stocked and it will be on the returning Ezequiel Garay to marshal the forward.

Suarez is a yellow card away from missing the final and the fear of a booking could play into Garay’s gameplan, however.

After all, it doesn’t take much to wind up Suarez and his enthusiasm is half his style, curbing that could suppress Barca.

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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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