Ernesto Valverde explains why he benched Philippe Coutinho

Coutinho had to make do with a place on the bench before replacing Iniesta (REUTERS/Vincent West)Ernesto Valverde said his decision to relegate Philippe Coutinho to the bench for Barcelona’s latest La Liga contest was for the good of the team.

There was surprise that the £142million signing was not in the starting XI to play Eibar as he is ineligible to play in Barcelona’s Champions League contest with Chelsea this coming week.

But rather than using Coutinho in order to give another player a rest before Tuesday, Valverde named the ex-Liverpool player on the bench before introducing him in the 60th minute.

Andres Iniesta came in for the 2-0 win which saw goals from Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba.

Coutinho in action (EPA/GORKA ESTRADA)‘I think it was best for my team to try to win,’ Valverde explained.

‘Last week Coutinho started, Iniesta didn’t, so this week Iniesta started.

‘It’s true that on Tuesday we have another match but for me the most important thing was this match.

‘On Tuesday, let’s see, I know Coutinho cannot play, but we will do something.’

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The win over Eibar followed back-to-back draws for Barcelona and got their title tilt back on track. They are now 10 points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand.

Since making his January switch Coutino has made seven appearances and scored once.

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Jurgen Klopp explains how Roberto Firmino has benefited from Philippe Coutinho exit

Jurgen Klopp and Roberto Firmino ahead of their tie with Porto (Getty)Roberto Firmino is now getting more recognition at Liverpool following the departure of Philippe Coutinho, believes Jurgen Klopp.

The Brazilian forward is enjoying a fine season having taken his tally to 20 goals in all competitions for the Reds.

It has coincided with the absence of Coutinho, who missed chunks of the first half of the season through injury and was then sold to Barcelona in January.

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Philippe Coutinho is now a Barcelona player (Getty)Liverpool manager Klopp does not believe Coutino’s exit has made Firmino better – but it has seen him come out of his compatriot’s shadow.

‘I don’t think he has stepped up but maybe it is more obvious because his situations are not overshadowed by Phil Coutinho’s situations. That’s how it is. That is all,’ said Klopp.

‘He’s a very important player and he doesn’t always have to be the standout player. As often as he can be, that’s good. I don’t think he’s underrated. Not anymore. I don’t know what other people think about Roberto Firmino. I can imagine a bit because you ask me about it. I have no idea. People with a football brain judge him right. That’s how it is.’

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Liverpool take on Porto tonight in the first-leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie.

The loss of Coutinho might be considered a hindrance to their hopes of success in the competition, but Klopp highlighted the fact the now-Barcelona player was not responsible for Liverpool reaching the knock-out stage.

‘We qualified for the Champions League without Phil, he was not involved in either of the Hoffenheim games [that qualified Liverpool for the group stage]. All the players we have here are fantastic players, it’s about really how we stick to the way we want to play. You have to cause them problems, problems and problems.’

MORE: Jurgen Klopp names the ‘strongest’ team in the Champions League – and it’s not Liverpool

Manchester United players dominate most popular shirt sales in 2018, with Alexis Sanchez top

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has hardly played this season (Getty)Manchester United players have dominated the most popular football shirts sold in 2018, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic a surprise inclusion in the top 10.

Data from SportsDirect.com reveals the top 20 names sold on the back of football shirts since 1 January.

It is perhaps unsurprising that Alexis Sanchez, who made a high profile switch from Arsenal to Old Trafford, tops the list. Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward recently revealed that the excitement around the Chilean’s arrival helped the club set a new record for shirt sales in January – three times the previous best.

Sanchez’s team-mate Paul Pogba ranks second on the list, despite him enduring a difficult start to 2018.

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Alexis Sanchez has proved popular in terms of shirt sales (Getty)Ibrahimovic is the only other Manchester United player in the top 10, with the Swede’s inclusion something of a surprise. The 36-year-old has managed to play just seven games this season due to injury. There have also been reports that he could soon be leaving for LA Galaxy.

The figures, which represent online sales through Sports Direct’s UK website, show Barcelona shirts featuring Philippe Coutinho on the back have proved popular.

Philippe Coutinho moved to Barcelona in January (EPA)Also in the top 10 is Mesut Ozil, who recently extended his contract with Arsenal.

Top 20 names sold on the back of football shirts since 1 January 2018

Alexis Sanchez – Manchester United
Paul Pogba – Manchester United
Harry Kane – Tottenham
Mohamed Salah – Liverpool
Eden Hazard – Chelsea
Philippe Coutinho – Barcelona
Kevin de Bruyne – Man City
Mesut Ozil – Arsenal
Roberto Firmino – Liverpool
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Manchester United
Alexandre Lacazette – Arsenal
Sergio Aguero – Man City
Romelu Lukaku – Manchester United
David De Gea – Manchester United
Heung-min Son – Tottenham
Virgil van Dijk – Liverpool
Dele Alli – Tottenham
Marcus Rashford – Manchester United
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Arsenal
Christian Eriksen – Tottenham

Data provided by Sports Direct, ‘the home of football’. Shop now at SportsDirect.com

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Philippe Coutinho hails ‘special goal’ after opening account for Barcelona

Philippe Coutinho celebrates after his goal against Valencia (Getty)Philippe Coutinho said it was a ‘special moment’ after scoring his first goal for Barcelona.

The Brazilian, who moved to the Nou Camp from Liverpool in a £142million deal last month, was on target in his side’s 2-0 victory over Valencia in the Copa del Rey.

Coutinho scored from a tight angle just three minutes after coming off the bench, latching onto a cross from his former Liverpool team-mate Luis Suarez.

‘It’s a very happy day,’ he told GOL. ‘I was looking for the goal in the first few games and today I got it and, most importantly, helped the team reach the final.’

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Luis Suarez also provided the assist for Coutinho’s first Liverpool goal (Getty)He continued: ‘It’s a special moment. It’ll be a great game and a difficult one [against Sevilla]. We have time to prepare ourselves.

‘It’s my first final and it’s a special and important moment for me, but there are a lot of moments to play before the final.’

Coutinho celebrates his goal (EPA)

Lionel Messi was the first to congratulate him (Getty)More: Liverpool FC

The win saw Barcelona advance 3-0 on aggregate to the final where they will play Sevilla.

They also made history in the process, becoming the first side to reach five consecutive Spanish cup finals.

MORE: Liverpool fans genuinely couldn’t handle Luis Suarez setting Philippe Coutinho up for his first Barcelona goal

Liverpool fans genuinely couldn’t handle Luis Suarez setting Philippe Coutinho up for his first Barcelona goal

Philippe Coutinho bagged his first goal for the club against Barcelona (Picture: FC Barcelona)Liverpool supporters were left wondering what could have been on Thursday night when Luis Suarez ran rings around Valencia’s defence to set-up Philippe Coutinho for his goal for the club.

The Brazilian moved to the Camp Nou in January for £143million after Jurgen Klopp gave in to the playmaker’s desire to move to Spain.

Coutinho’s move meant he was team-mates once more with Suarez, who made the same move to the Camp Nou in 2014.

The pair are still revered at Anfield and Liverpool fans could barely handle seeing the pair celebrate after Coutinho notched his first goal for the club after tapping in a Suarez cross.

Suarez setting up Coutinho for his first Barcelona goal.
I’m not crying, I swear.
— – (@AnfieldRd96) February 8, 2018

Suarez assisting Coutinho with his first Barca goal. Fetch me my noose.
— Nathan Watson (@nathanw94258962) February 8, 2018

MORE: Lionel Messi has shirt literally ripped off by Francis Coquelin during Copa del Rey tie for Barcelona

Philippe Coutinho reveals key reason why he pushed to leave Liverpool

Philippe Coutinho wants to win ‘big titles’ with Barcelona. (Reuters)Philippe Coutinho admits he forced his move from Liverpool to Barcelona because of his desire to win ‘big titles’.

The Brazilian completed his £142 million transfer to Camp Nou in the January transfer window and has made four appearances for his new club.

Coutinho spent five years at Anfield but failed to get his hands on a trophy during his time at the club, although he came close to winning the Premier League, the League Cup and the Europa League.

‘Everyone knows that I wanted to come to Barcelona,’ he told 8tv’s ‘Fora de Joc’ programme.

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Barcelona spent £142m on signing Coutinho from Liverpool. (Reuters)‘It wasn’t possible in the summer, but we worked so that it could be done in winter.

‘I really want to win big titles, it was one of the reasons that made me sign for the club.

‘I want to win as many as I can, I don’t have preferences.’

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Jurgen Klopp says Adam Lallana played role in decision not to replace Philippe Coutinho

Adam Lallana is back in the frame for Liverpool after an injury hit season (Getty)Jurgen Klopp has explained that the return to fitness of Adam Lallana played a role in Liverpool opting not to immediately replace Philippe Coutinho.

The Reds sold their Brazilian talisman to Barcelona for £142milllion early in the transfer window, but failed to replace him.

The decision was in part due to England midfielder Lallana coming back from injury.

‘People obviously ask “bring him in” because someone is injured and you need somebody else, but then the other one is coming again and you weaken both. It makes no sense,’ said the Liverpool manager.

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (Getty)‘You miss a player for a week and you think “okay we need another player”.

‘In this situation, you really need to stay cool. It’s more difficult when you’ve lost two games but you need to be serious still.

‘Yes, we could do something. But we need the right thing. The 100% right thing. For completely crazy money that really makes no sense. I’m not even sure that would work. And in the summer it looks different.

‘That’s how it is. To do something just to have any solution? That makes no real sense, to be honest. That’s the situation.’

Liverpool 2017/18 Fixtures

Tottenham (H) – Sun Feb 4Southampton (A) – Sun Feb 11Porto (A) – Wed Feb 14 (Champions League)West Ham (H) – Sat Feb 24Newcastle United (H) – Sat March 3Porto (H) – Tues March 6 (Champions League)Manchester United (A) – Sat March 10Watford (H) – Sat March 17Crystal Palace (A) – Sat March 31

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Lallana has started just two games this season but is understood to be in contention for this weekend’s game with Tottenham.

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Philippe Coutinho returns to Liverpool to say ‘thank you’ to former club after Barcelona transfer

Philippe Coutinho wants to thank his former club after agreeing to let him join Barcelona (Picture: Getty)Barcelona midfielder Philippe Coutinho has organised a farewell party with former club Liverpool on Tuesday night where the Brazilian wants to say a ‘proper goodbye’ to his former club.

The Brazil international completed a £142m move to the Camp Nou earlier this month after spending four years at Anfield.

Coutinho was a huge favourite on Merseyside but he departed for Barcelona with an injury and was unable to say goodbye to his team-mates on the terms that he had wished.

The 26-year-old made it clear to Barcelona during negotiations that he wished to return to Merseyside to thank his former club for all they had done for him once he had settled in Spain.

Coutinho made his debut against Espanyol last week (Picture: Getty)According to Sport, Coutinho travelled back to England today and will host a farewell dinner with Liverpool staff and former team-mates on Tuesday night.

Coutinho made his Barcelona debut against Espanyol last week and made his first league start against Alaves in a 2-1 win on Sunday.

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Liverpool made a great start to life without Coutinho by beating Manchester City 4-3 at Anfield in the club’s first game without the Brazilian but results since have collapsed.

The Reds lost 1-0 to relegation-threatened Swansea City on Monday night and were knocked out of the FA Cup after a 3-2 home defeat to West Brom on Saturday.

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Liverpool will not sign a replacement for Philippe Coutinho during the current transfer window

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (Getty)Jurgen Klopp has ruled out Liverpool signing a replacement for Philippe Coutinho this month.

The Reds permitted one of their most influential players to join Barcelona in a £142million move early in January.

The Brazilian’s exit was followed with a win over Manchester City, which hinted the club would cope with his departure. However a shock defeat to Swansea and an FA Cup exit at the hands of West Brom have caused concerns around Anfield.

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Coutinho left for Barcelona (Getty)Despite that, Klopp says he will find a solution to replacing Coutinho from within his current squad.

‘Philippe Coutinho is not to be replaced in this transfer window,’ he said ahead his side’s clash with Huddersfield on Tuesday. ‘We have to stop thinking about it. It’s not about replacing anybody. It’s about using our own opportunities, tools, players, tactics, all that stuff.

‘The solutions is not out there in the transfer market at the moment. There is not something out there for us to get because we think first of all we have to use our players.’

Thomas Lemar is among those to have been linked with Liverpool (Getty)Liverpool have been linked with Thomas Lemar, Javier Pastore and Riyad Mahrez during the current transfer window. It remains possible Liverpool could sign any one of those players in the future, but it won’t be this month.

‘We have to use our players,’ said Klopp. ‘Long-term we will do a lot [in the transfer window]. In the short-term, I don’t think we will do a lot.

‘We need results to reach our targets but the solution is not out there in the transfer market.’

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Philippe Coutinho finally makes Barcelona debut – but it wasn’t comfortable

Philippe Coutinho in action on his debut (Reuters)Philippe Coutinho has made his Barcelona debut following his £142million transfer from Liverpool.

The Brazilian was named among the substitutes for the Copa del Rey clash with local rivals Espanyol on Thursday. In the 68th minute he was called into action, much to the delight of the Nou Camp crowd.

Coutinho, who arrived at the club injured, will have been relieved to finally see some actual action after all the fanfare surrounding his move.

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Changing of the guard

Coutinho replaced Iniesta (Getty)

It was met with huge cheers (Getty)Barcelona were trailing 1-0 from the first-leg but first half goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi gave Barcelona the advantage. Still, with away goals coming into play, the game was in the balance when Coutinho was brought on. This definitely wasn’t a case of the club’s record signing being given an easy introduction.

Wearing the No.14 shirt, it felt like a symbolic substitution as he came on for Andres Iniesta – the midfield maestro it’s hoped Coutinho can replace in the long-term.

How did he get on?

Coutinho was made to wait for his chance (Getty)His first touch came from a pass from Messi and the few after that were greeted by huge cheers.

Less than two minutes after being on the pitch his trickery drew a foul which provided Barcelona with a free-kick on the edge of the Espanyol box. But unlike his time at Liverpool, it wasn’t Coutinho stepping up to take it – instead that duty went to Messi who fired over. That’s be something the new arrival will have to get used to.

Playing in an advanced left-central position, Coutinho very nearly had an assist to his name in the 75th minute. Slipped through by Messi, he squared the ball to Suarez who was only denied by a good save from Pau Lopez.

Coutinho in action (Getty)More: Liverpool FC

But a party atmosphere turned with 10 minutes to go when Espanyol came close to scoring – a reminder that one goal from the visitors to the Nou Camp would send Barcelona crashing out.

Coutinho did his best to calm things whenever he had the ball, displaying tidy footwork and keeping things simple. In the final minute he was helping to keep the ball in the corner. Not exactly glamorous but it helped as Barcelona held on for the victory and moved them into the semi-finals of the competition.

He wasn’t on for long, but Coutinho ‘s skill and style made him immediately look very much a Barcelona player.

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