Barcelona looking for Coutinho improvement in 2019

Barcelona head into 2019 as La Liga leaders, with Ernesto Valverde chasing a second successive league title since taking over.

They lead rivals Atletico Madrid by three points, but the former Athletic Bilbao boss knows his players will have to go up a gear if they are to compete domestically and in Europe in the second half of the season.

Many of the squad are having solid, but unspectacular seasons, with the individual brilliance of Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele often making the key differences in recent weeks.

One player that Valverde is certain to be counting on in the New Year, is Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho, after a low key start to 2017-18, for the former Liverpool man.

After signing in the 2018 January transfer window, Coutinho took time to catch fire with the Catalan side – waiting until the end of February for his first La Liga goal.

However was up and running quickly after, finishing 2017-18 with seven goals in his last six games.

After playing an important role in Brazil’s run to the quarter finals, he returned to Barcelona, apparently ready to start the season as one of the first names on Valverde’s team sheet.

However he was given an extended break following the World Cup, and came off the bench, and scored, in Barcelona’s first game of the season.

From there his form was patchy, completing 90 minutes just three times before the end of October, although he did get on the score sheet in the 5-1 demolition of Real Madrid at the Nou Camp.

Coutinho was often the player to be sacrificed first if Valverde was seeking to chase a game, or shut up shop for the closing fifteen or twenty minutes.

Since that goal against Los Blancos, Coutinho has not scored for Barcelona, and his role in the team has become less and less secure.

The main reason is tactical, in that Valverde has at times preferred the axis of Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal, alongside Sergio Busquets, or even the industry of Sergi Roberto.

Coutinho, who was signed as the long term successor to club legend Andres Iniesta, has looked like a player without a role at times this season, with a change of shape likely to be his best option for a regular starting spot.

However his performance levels need to increase, as does his output in attacking situations, as he is the perfect link between midfield and attack in this Barcelona side.

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