Real Betis defeated by another Messi masterclass

Lionel Messi

The final game of the La Liga weekend encapsulated the meaning of how some things can be worth waiting for.

With Barcelona featuring in the last game on Sunday evening, at Real Betis, we all knew we could be about to witness something special from the greatest player on the planet.

Lionel Messi did not disappoint.

The Barcelona number 10 brought his La Liga tally to 29 goals for the season with another sublime hat-trick as Barcelona won 4-1 at Real Betis.

What are Barcelona going to do about Philippe Coutinho?

As Barcelona celebrated their third goal against Rayo Vallecano, the TV cameras looked to the Barcelona bench. There, a little crouched over in thought, was Philippe Coutinho. He’d barely even sat down having been taken off in the 81st minute by the time Barca scored a wonderful goal in the 82nd minute. It was the sort of goal they would have struggled to score with the Brazilian on the pitch.

Coutinho has become a misfit at Camp Nou. He was Barcelona’s record signing last year, arriving as the player to replace both Neymar and Andres Iniesta simultaneously. No pressure. Now, though, the Brazilian playmaker can’t even force his way into Ernesto Valverde’s strongest team.

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Saturday, when Coutinho was handed a rare start against Rayo, was a chance for him to prove his worth. Instead, the Brazilian floated through the game without making much of an impression. It was only when he was taken off that Barcelona started to play the sort of football their fans have come to expect from them.

Far from being the solution to a problem, as he was billed when he first arrived just over a year ago, Coutinho has become a problem himself. The role he is being asked to perform is very different to the one he conducted so well over the course of his time at Liverpool and there are few signs that he will adapt and tailor his game effectively to earn a place at Barcelona.

Coutinho frequently finds the space he would often occupy filled by Lionel Messi. Rather than imposing his own game on Barcelona, as he did at Liverpool, Coutinho is being asked to fit around others. Ousmane Dembele is much more effective on the left side of the attacking three and there appears to be no place for Coutinho in the midfield unit either.

So what can Barcelona do to solve their Coutinho problem? There have been rumours that the Brazilian could be sold at the end of the season, with Manchester United among those reported to be interested in signing the 26-year-old. That would require Barca to take a big financial hit, though, on a player they splurged £146 million on not so long ago.

Beyond that, Coutinho might have to wait until Messi fades and becomes the midfield pass-master he is predicted to become before he can claim a place in Barcelona’s attack. Waiting around for Messi, arguably the game’s greatest ever player, to fade doesn’t sound like the most solid of plans.

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Valverde has to rest Barcelona’s big hitters now

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After another dominant El Clasico performance, and with the Champions League once again the priority, Ernesto Valverde must start tinkering with his squad.

His ‘safety first’ approach will need to take a back seat in a handful of the next few league games as Barca go for it in the European competition.

Though the Catalans can still conceivably be caught in La Liga, both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are far enough behind for the Blaugrana to have a blip and still remain as leaders. Continue reading

Messi on fire as Barcelona win at Sevilla

Lionel Messi

There was no looking past the world’s best player on Saturday afternoon as Lionel Messi put on another masterclass to help Barcelona win 4-2 at Sevilla.

The home side actually went ahead through a well-taken finish from Jesus Navas but Messi equalised with a sublime left-footed volley just minutes later.

Sevilla were in the lead again at half-time, however, after Gabriel Mercado scored three minutes before the break. Pablo Machin’s side were good value for their 2-1 lead at that stage.

Machin’s half-time team-talk probably consisted of something like “keep Messi quiet and we can win this”.

Barcelona will have a Luis Suarez-sized problem in the near future

With every birthday observed by Lionel Messi, an existential crisis creeps nearer for Barcelona. What will the Catalan club do when their greatest ever player, possibly the greatest ever player in the history of the sport, finally calls it a day? It’s a future that nobody at Camp Nou wants to comprehend, but with Messi now into his 30s the horizon is approaching.

This is something that is frequently discussed among the Catalan press, and in the stands of Camp Nou. When Philippe Coutinho arrived from Liverpool last season, maybe believed it was a sign that Barcelona were already preparing for a time when Messi’s forces might fade. Others saw Coutinho as an Andres Iniesta replacement, though.

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However, Barcelona will soon have another key figure to replace and there has been very little chat about that. Luis Suarez is now 32 years old and there have been signs of decline in his game of late. The Uruguayan has just one goal in his last eight appearances and has yet to score in the Champions League this season.

Of course, there will be those who argue that this is typical of Suarez. He is a streaky player and thrives on momentum. He will, at some point, regain his form before the end of the season and help Barcelona to yet another Liga title and maybe even their first Champions League title in four years. That argument is perfectly feasible.

But this is about more than just form. A yard of pace has disappeared from Suarez’s game. His touch has deserted him in recent months and injuries are becoming more frequent. What’s more, the 32-year-old is taking longer and longer to regain match sharpness whenever he returns from an injury. There have been times when he has even looked slightly overweight.

Barcelona must come up with a succession plan now. They seemingly had one when Antoine Griezmann was a target. The Frenchman would have been the perfect replacement for Suarez in the long term. However, Barca dropped their interest in Griezmann and haven’t been strongly linked with another striker of his type since. Replacing Messi might well prove impossible. Suarez, however, can be compensated for. On the basis of recent activity, though, Barca don’t have a plan for when their Uruguayan striker either fades or retires.

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Time for Barcelona to banish away day blues

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Here we are on the cusp of Barcelona’s biggest couple of weeks of the 2018/19 season.

At the time of writing, the match against Lyon is a few hours away, the first of four huge games for the Catalans, all away from home.

Following the trip to France, Ernesto Valverde’s side travel to Sevilla in La Liga before a double header against Real Madrid in the space of 72 hours. Continue reading

Barcelona’s incentive to end Real Madrid’s season

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There was a 50 percent chance of it happening, and once Valencia and Real Betis had been drawn out of the Copa del Rey hat, it meant that, yes, we were going to see a two-legged El Clasico semi-final.

Moreover, the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu precedes a league match between the two teams at the same venue just 72 hours later.

It’s the first time in Barcelona’s history that they will have played two consecutive games at the Bernabeu, and given their recent record there, the Blaugrana will be entirely confident of continuing their run of victories. Continue reading

Is a Copa exit a blessing in disguise for Barcelona?

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Wednesday night sees the completion of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals for 2018/19, and there’s little doubt that the fare on offer at Camp Nou will be required viewing.

Barcelona are 2-0 behind to Sevilla, and though they managed to turnaround a deficit in the last 16 tie against Levante, the Andalusian side is a different proposition entirely.

They’re also about as far removed from the team that were hammered 5-0 by the Catalans in last year’s final as it’s possible to be. Continue reading

Barcelona search for striker bringing no rewards

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Barcelona have made no secret that they are on the lookout for a new striker this month to provide competition for their established number nine Luis Suarez. Munir El Haddadi left the Camp Nou to join Sevilla in a €1m deal earlier this month, leaving Suarez as the only recognised senior striker at the club.

Barca are said to have rejected the opportunity to sign Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata while Fernando Llorente now appears more likely to stay at Tottenham. A host of other names have been linked to the Catalan giants, including Girona’s in-form striker Cristhian Stuani  and Carlos Vela, currently at Los Angeles FC. Continue reading

Barcelona chase experienced attacking trio

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Barcelona have been linked with an eclectic mix of strikers in the January transfer window, as Ernesto Valverde looks to bolster their La Liga challenge.

The Catalan side are in pole position to retain their title, with a five point lead at the top of the table, however they have been linked with moves to add experience to their attack.

La Blaugrana are reportedly interested in a deal for Uruguay international Cristhian Stuani from local rivals Girona, Premier League duo Olivier Giroud and Fernando Llorente.

Continue reading