Football

Valverde, Suarez jump to Coutinho's defence

Record signing Philippe Coutinho will need time to settle into the Barcelona side, said coach Ernesto Valverde after the new signing made a quiet La Liga debut in a 2-1 win over Alaves yesterday morning (Singapore time).

All eyes were on the £142-million-pound (S$262.6 million) playmaker but he was substituted in the second half for striker Paco Alcacer as Barca chased the game after falling behind to John Guidetti's 23rd-minute opener.

The Catalan giants eventually mounted a comeback with goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi to maintain their 11-point cushion at the top of La Liga.

Alaves were the only team to win at the Nou Camp in last season's league and looked set to overshadow Coutinho's first start for Barca.

The Brazilian, playing on the right of midfield, linked up well with his new teammates but failed to make an impact on his full debut at the Nou Camp after making his first appearance as a substitute in last Thursday's 2-0 win over Espanyol in the Copa del Rey.

"Players aren't machines that you can just put in a factory and start to work right away," Valverde said in defence of Coutinho.

"I thought he played well, he was always asking for the ball. He has important skills. The other day, he played 20 minutes, today he played a little more, he's growing into the team little by little."

Coutinho also received backing from former Liverpool teammate Suarez.

"It's always difficult to make your debut at the Nou Camp in the league," Suarez said. "He played very well, trying to run the game and the team are happy with what he did."

Barcelona equalised soon after Coutinho made way for Alcacer in the 66th minute.

Suarez rifled in from a narrow angle after an Andres Iniesta cut-back in the 72nd minute, before Messi's spectacular free-kick from outside the box 12 minutes later. - REUTERS

Football