Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is adamant that Philippe Coutinho will not be leaving the Camp Nou this summer despite rumoured interest from Manchester United and Chelsea.
Coutinho joined Barca from Liverpool for £142million in January last year but the 26-year-old has not had the same kind of impact as he had during his time with the Reds, resulting in speculation of a move away.
Bartomeu, however, has made it clear Coutinho is part of manager Ernesto Valverde’s plans – unless a club triggers the midfielder’s release clause, rumoured to be a staggering £355million.
Speaking to Spanish television station TVE, Bartomeu said: “Coutinho is an excellent player and he has the coach’s confidence.
“He has a contract with us and he will remain at the team, unless they (another club) meet his release clause.”
Bartomeu has also rejected suggestions his club will move to bring Neymar back to the Camp Nou less than two years after he joined Paris Saint-Germain for a world record fee of £200million.
Barca used the money to purchase Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund, with Bartomeu hailing the forward.
Bartomeu added: “It’s not possible for Neymar to come to Barcelona as we have another sporting project with Dembele and Coutinho. We are happy with what we have.
“Dembele is a good professional player. He is a young guy who arrived at a huge club and that’s not easy, but he has adapted and he is much better than Neymar.”
Former Barcelona star David Villa claimed that Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time.
Barcelona currently have an nine-point lead in La Liga over Atletico Madrid and are well primed to qualify for the Champions League semi-finals. They face Manchester United on Tuesday in the quarter-final second leg, holding a slender 1-0 win advantage.
Messi has been central to Barcelona’s success, scoring 43 goals across all competitions and proving the side’s talisman time and again.
He will turn 32 in June but Villa, who played alongside the Argentine forward at Barcelona from 2010 to 2013, does not see him slowing down.
“Leo Messi is the greatest player of all time,” Villa said in an interview with Reuters.
“Barcelona owes its success to his evolution: a direct style of passing play based on possession.”
Villa did admit that he did not have the chance to watch the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff, but having watched Messi in every game, the Spaniard believes the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is the best.
“Obviously with the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff, I didn’t have the chance to watch them like I used to see Messi every day, in every game,” he added.
“But, in my opinion, Messi’s the best.”
Barcelona welcomed a new generation into their starting XI on Saturday.
Ernesto Valverde rested the first-team against Huesca to have them fresh for the crucial Champions League quarter-final tie against Manchester United. Lionel Messi, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto were omitted from the squad whereas Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez served suspension.
This meant that some of the youth players from Barcelona B were presented an opportunity to prove their worth in a La Liga game.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the only sure-fire starter who was named in the first XI. Barcelona B players Riqui Puig, Moussa Wague and Jean-Clair Todibo made their La Liga debut on Saturday. We take a look at how they performed.
Passes (Success rate): 48 (92%)
A good interpretation of space is clearly one of the best attributes of Puig’s game. The diminutive figure in Barcelona’s midfield was attracting the press, then setting team-mates into the clear with well-judged passes throughout the game. The 19-year-old completed 44 of the 48 passes he attempted, most of which were vertical in nature.
Puig’s small frame automatically makes him vulnerable in a physical duel. But physicality is secondary when you are technically gifted. Players like Andres Iniesta and Messi have dominated the game despite their relatively small frame.
But Puig’s physicality is such a huge disadvantage that it does not allow him to spread his wings in midfield. The youngster was unable to finish off promising runs as he was constantly bullied off the ball. This is something Puig must work on to improve his game.
Moment of the game
Puig set up Ousmane Dembele with a peach of a pass that would have made Iniesta proud. However, the Frenchman failed to capitalise.
Passes (Success rate): 49 (88%)
Successful dribbles: 3
Tackles won: 2
Moussa Wague did not commit any mistakes in defence and looked solid throughout. He linked up well in attack and caused threat on the wing.
The right-back, who played as a wing-back, has the potential to be a starter for Barcelona in two seasons or so and despite his quality, Nelson Semedo should consider his position to be under threat.
At times the Nigeria international showed lack of confidence going forward, especially in the first half. Although the 20-year-old impressed with his dribbles, he could have done a lot better had he trusted himself rather than opting for the safe option.
Wague does have the quality to take players on the wing and should do it more often.
Moment of the game
Ezequiel Avila was through on Barcelona’s goal in the dying moments of the game and Wague – who was always second favourite to the ball given Avila’s head-start – managed to nick the ball with an inch-perfect last-ditch tackle.
Passes (Success rate): 68 (96%)
Tackles won: 8
Aerials won: 2
Todibo was one of the best players on the pitch on Saturday. The 19-year-old was rock solid in defence and prevented Ter Stegen from being called into action very often.
The Frenchman won all the eight tackles he attempted and was not once dribbled past. David Ferreiro and Moi Gomez had a tough time dealing with Todibo and he really could be battling for a spot in the squad in the next couple of seasons. A good game against Huesca may not convince Barca to abandon their pursuit of Matthijs de Ligt, but may give them pause for thought.
Todibo hardly put a foot wrong and didn’t display any clear signs of weaknesses. But if one were to raise the bar and nit-pick, it would be in regards to his decision-making.
At times Todibo was caught out of position as he tried to venture forward. Jeison Murillo covered for the Frenchman and ensured that any danger was steered clear of Barcelona’s area.
This, however, should not present huge concern and Todibo can comfortably master the positioning aspect of his game once he enjoys more minutes.
Moment of the game
Todibo did not have any particular stand-out moment on the game, but the defender was solid throughout the 90 minutes and put in a shift he should be proud of.
Calling out the youngsters for not getting the job done at Huesca would be harsh as they did put in good shifts and had impressive debuts. In fact, veteran attacker Kevin-Prince Boateng deserves the majority of the blame as he was plain awful.
Despite the draw, the fixture worked in Barcelona’s favour as they got to rest tired legs for the United clash and provided the youngsters with a morale booster.