Chinedu EzeIfedigbo April 14, 2018

 

When Barcelona signed Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool in January, instead of last summer they claimed they got him on the cheap. They may have saved money but did the fact that he arrived cup-tied cost them their place in the Champions League?

Coutinho’s two assists helped Barceona beat Valencia 2-1 and take another huge step towards the title. His first pass for Suarez to open the scoring was one of the best of the season.

He could still win a league and cup double this year with Barcelona. How differently their Champions League adventure might have ended if he had been on the pitch and not ruled out because Barça could not force him out of Anfield before the season started.

Luis Suarez put Barcelona ahead with his 27th goal of the season across all competitions

Luis Suarez put Barcelona ahead with his 27th goal of the season across all competitions
Suarez is delighted after his finish opened the scoring for Barcelona against Valencia

Suarez is delighted after his finish opened the scoring for Barcelona against Valencia
Barcelona were especially eager to return to winning ways after their surprise Champions League exit against Roma

Barcelona were especially eager to return to winning ways after their surprise Champions League exit against Roma
Coutinho produced a splendid display as he set up both of Barcelona's goals and also played some slick passes

Coutinho produced a splendid display as he set up both of Barcelona’s goals and also played some slick passes

MATCH STATISTICS AND LA LIGA TABLE

 Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto (Semedo 90), Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Coutinho (Dembele 79), Busquets, Paulinho, Iniesta (D. Suarez 84), Messi, Suarez.

Subs not used: Cillessen, Alcacer, D. Suarez, Gomes, Dembele, Vermaelen.

Booked: Pique

Goals: Suarez 15, Umtiti 51

Valencia: Neto; Vezo, Garay, Gabriel, Gaya; Carlos Soler, Kondogbia, Parejo, Guedes (Pereira 69); Rodrigo (Zaza 80), Mina (Vietto 71).

Subs not used: Maksimovic, Lato, Murillo, Domenech.

Booked: Kondogbia, Gabriel.

Goals: Parejo (pen) 87

Defender Samuel Umtiti celebrates having doubled Barcelona's lead against Valencia early in the second half 

Defender Samuel Umtiti celebrates having doubled Barcelona’s lead against Valencia early in the second half 
This was the first time that Umtiti has scored for Barcelona this season and it gave his side confidence to see out the win

This was the first time that Umtiti has scored for Barcelona this season and it gave his side confidence to see out the win
The centre-back rises high to score with a header after latching onto a precise delivery from the impressive  Coutinho

The centre-back rises high to score with a header after latching onto a precise delivery from the impressive Coutinho
Daniel Parejo scored a late penalty for Valencia but it proved to be nothing more than a consolation for the visitors

Daniel Parejo scored a late penalty for Valencia but it proved to be nothing more than a consolation for the visitors

We could now be talking about the Coutinho semi-final with Liverpool facing Barcelona instead of the Salah semi with Mohamed Salah against his old club.

Coutinho’s pin-point corner was headed in by Samuel Umtitii to ensure Barcelona took all three points. They now need just two more wins and a draw to be crowned domestic champs.

What was striking about their line-up to face Valencia was the absence of the player they did manage to buy last summer – Ousmane Dembele. It seems Ernesto Valverde has very little faith in a player who could end up costing as much as 145m euros.

The Barcelona players congratulate Suarez after he opened the scoring with a fine strike

The Barcelona players congratulate Suarez after he opened the scoring with a fine strike
Barcelona set a new La Liga record having gone 39 games unbeaten and they are closing in on winning the league title

Barcelona set a new La Liga record having gone 39 games unbeaten and they are closing in on winning the league title

He played just five minutes in the two legs against Roma and he was on the bench again. It’s enough to suggest they would cut their losses this summer if they had a buyer.

One player who probably will be on the move this summer is Valencia’s Goncalo Guedes. He is on loan from Paris Saint Germain and has played so well this season that the French want him back, Valencia want to keep him, and Manchester United are following the situation.

He started very brightly with a curling shot that Marc Andre ter Stegen pushed away for a corner.

Barcelona’s first chance fell to Suarez but he miskicked from Andres Iniesta’s cross.

Lionel Messi wasn’t amongst the scorers against Valencia but he still provided a significant threat to the Valencia defence

BARCELONA’S REMARKABLE RUN

Barcelona have now gone 39 games without defeat in La Liga, which is the longest unbeaten run in the history of the division:

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On 15 minutes, however, he made no mistake. It was a goal made in South America, via Liverpool. Coutinho saw a pass where it didn’t look like one was possible and eluding former Arsenal centre-back Gabriel Paulista, Suarez finished with the most subtle of pokes past Neto.

Guedes was still asking questions of Barcelona. He tested Ter Stegen and then had a shot deflected for a corner by Gerard Pique.

Valencia had not been affected by the goal and on 23 minutes Rodrigo couldn’t believe he had not equalized.

His shot was part blocked by Umititi and part palmed away by Ter Stegen. The keeper had made the mistake that led to the chance but his save more than made amends.

Jordi Alba, taking on Valencia's Carlos Soler, regularly sought to push forwards from left-back and support the attack

Jordi Alba, taking on Valencia’s Carlos Soler, regularly sought to push forwards from left-back and support the attack
Barcelona midfielder Paulinho controls the ball under pressure from Goncalo Gudes and Gabriel of Valencia

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho controls the ball under pressure from Goncalo Gudes and Gabriel of Valencia

The atmosphere remained flat with the empty seats dotted around the Camp Nou and Messi’s slightly bowed head matched the gloomy weather. The rain had eased up before kick-off but Messi was playing without spark and he put one late wide free-kick straight out of play.

Valencia started the second half well and again Rodrigo should have equalized. Umtiti slipped and was robbed by Santi Mina. The ball ran to Rodrigo but his shot was cleared off the line.

Just seconds after the French defender had almost cost his team their lead, he doubled it. Coutinho was again the provider. His corner from the right was met by the centre-back who powered his header past Neto.

With half an hour left there was applause for Dembele as he started to warm-up – it seems the supporters want to see him on the pitch more than Valverde.

With 20 minutes left Messi finally cracked a smile. Jordi Alba dropped an intelligent cross on to his left-foot and with a volley as he fell backwards he just missed Neto’s top right-hand corner. His smile broadened further when he teed-up Iniesta but the midfielder’s volley was saved by Veto.

Coutinho finally made way for Dembele but the Frenchman’s ten minutes brought Valencia back in the game. He brought down Jose Gaya and Dani Parejo squeezed his penalty under Ter Stegen’s dive to narrow the final margin to 2-1.


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