The team looked stagnant without the ex Liverpool man
FC Barcelona’s 29-game unbeaten run came to an end as Espanyol defeated them 1-0 in the Copa del Rey. Ernesto Valverde’s heavily rotated side were OK, but they lacked cutting edge.
With Luis Suárez and Ivan Rakitić on the bench, and Andrés Iniesta and Ousmane Dembélé injured, Barça’s lone route to goal seemed to be Lionel Messi. For once, he was off his game. He wasn’t bad, but he was far from his best. Suárez and Rakitić failed to affect the game once they came on, as well.
Aleix Vidal has pace and industry but little else, and while Paulinho can often finish plays, he’s not the greatest at starting them. Denis Suárez has shown flashes but he’s too inconsistent to rely on. Sergi Roberto often seemed the most likely route to goal, which is unfair for a right back. (He created the play that ended in a missed penalty, for one.)
Enter Philippe Coutinho. Signed from Liverpool, the Brazilian was badly missed in that Espanyol game. His ability to shoot from outside the box, as well as deliver the killer ball, would make a big difference.
Unfortunately, Coutinho isn’t illegible for the UEFA Champions League, but at least then, Barcelona might be able to have Iniesta and perhaps Dembélé back for at least one of the two matches against Chelsea. Iniesta should be fit soon, though right now, Dembélé is expected to be available for the second leg only.
But in the future, Barcelona will not have Iniesta. His retirement looms. And that is exactly why the Catalans moved heaven and earth for Coutinho.
Unfortunately, Coutinho won’t be available for the second leg of the Copa tie against Espanyol. Iniesta should be though. and giving Luis Suárez, Rakitić, Alba, and, of course, Messi 90 minutes at Camp Nou could be enough to overcome that.
For the really tricky games though, Barcelona will certainly be handicapped if they do not have either Iniesta or Coutinho. Valverde has organized the team well and Messi is always a source of inspiration, but against the top teams, it could be difficult.