Philippe Coutinho savoured a “special moment” after his first goal for Barcelona helped them reach their fifth consecutive Copa del Rey final.
Coutinho opened the scoring in a 2-0 win at Valencia that sent Barcelona through 3-0 on aggregate, the Brazilian netting four minutes after coming on at half-time for his fifth appearance since his £142million switch from Liverpool last month.
He was quoted on Barcelona’s Twitter feed as saying: “I feel happy to have scored my first goal for Barca and have helped the team get to the final.
“It’s a special moment.”
Coutinho’s goal came when he slid to get his right leg to a cross from Luis Suarez, who also produced the assist when Ivan Rakitic struck in the 82nd minute.
Barcelona will face Sevilla in the final, aiming to win the Copa del Rey for a fourth successive season and a 30th time overall.
Boss Ernesto Valverde said in quotes reported on AS: “Barca are used to reaching and playing the finals. In my case, not so much.
“I feel very happy as it is the fifth consecutive final that the players of this team are going to play, something very complicated to repeat and repeat.
“We thought it would be very difficult and that’s how it was, but we’re going home with the final ticket in our pocket.”
When asked how Gerard Pique was after the defender came off in the final 10 minutes, Valverde said: “In the end he noticed an overload and we decided that the best thing of all is that the player rests.”
Valencia boss Marcelino said as he gave his reflections on the game: “I think they (Barcelona), in general, were superior. We had our opportunities.
“I think that in the first half we deserved to go level, but we did not do it and then their goal (Coutinho’s) decided the tie.”
The sides meet in the second leg of their semi-final showdown at the Mestalla on Thursday evening with Barca carrying a 1-0 lead into the game courtesy of Luis Suarez‘s lone strike at the Nou Camp last week.
Coach Marcelino knows the hosts are up against it if they are to beat the Catalan giants, who last lost in Valencia in March 2008, but is confident they have what it takes to push the runaway LaLiga leaders all the way.
He told Valencia’s official website: “We are expecting a long game, a very tough game, and hopefully after the 90 minutes we will be able to say that we are in a Copa del Rey final.
“Emotionally, it is going to be an intense game, but we need to play with our heads and our hearts. We have to be clever. If we don’t defend well, we won’t go through. I am asking the fans to help us defend.
“We should be humble because we know that we don’t have a team that can dominate Barcelona for 90 minutes. Our plan is to defend well, but to attack better than in the first leg and get into the final stages with the possibility of going through.
“I prefer to avoid extra-time.”
Valencia will run out having lost each of their last five games in all competitions, one of them a 2-1 defeat at Alaves in the last round, although they ultimately prevailed on penalties.
However, they needed a late equaliser from defender Gerard Pique to spare their blushes against derby rivals Espanyol – the only team to have beaten them in the meantime – in the league on Sunday.
Lionel Messi was used only as a second-half substitute at the weekend as Valverde made six changes, and Marcelino interpreted that as an indication of Barca’s focus on the cup-tie.
He said: “This shows that Barca want to get to a final and not throw the game away, and also that they respect us a lot.”
Valverde is expecting a more progressive approach from Valencia on their own pitch and admits his team is unlikely to be able to rely on its slim advantage alone to progress.
He told a press conference: “Each team will be loyal to its style, but Valencia will try to be more aggressive in attack because of the result from the first leg. Both teams will go for it.
“Taking into account the attacking potential of Valencia, more so playing in Mestalla, I have the feeling that to get through, we will have to score.”
Sanchez, who joined United from Arsenal last month, faced being tried over the fraud of 983,000 euros ($1.21 million) linked to image rights during his time at Spanish giants Barcelona, according to details of the deal seen by AFP.
Prosecutors said the 29-year-old Chilean forward had failed to declare any proceeds from the exploitation of his image rights in 2012 and 2013 and had also failed to declare that he was the owner of a company set up in Malta, Numidia Trading Limited, which owned the rights.
Appearing by video link from London, Sanchez admitted he had “made an incorrect tax payment” and that he had settled the issue with tax authorities.
He was sentenced to two eight-month suspended jail sentences to run consecutively, although prosecutors have called for the sentence to be lifted after two years if he does not re-offend.
Sanchez scored 47 goals in 141 appearances for Barcelona before leaving in 2014 to join Arsenal.
He is rumoured to be the highest paid player in the Premier League following his move to United, reportedly earning around £500,000 ($710,000, 571,000 euros) a week before tax.
Sanchez is one of a number of high-profile players to have fallen foul of the tax authorities in Spain.
In 2016, Barcelona midfielder Lionel Messi was sentenced to a 21-month jail sentence that was eventually reduced to a fine of 2.1 million euros.
The former Barcelona and Liverpool player Javier Mascherano has accepted a one-year suspended jail sentence over a 1.5-million-euro tax fraud.
In potentially the largest case, Spanish authorities are currently investigating World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid for tax fraud amounting to 14.7 million euros.