La Liga leaders Barcelona continue their charge towards the treble this season with a first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final tie against the resurgent Valencia side.
Coutinho not a Machine
Ernesto Valverde was rather illustrative when talking about Barcelona’s latest signing Philippe Coutinho who made his Barcelona bow in a 2-1 win over Alaves last time out. The Barcelona boss argues that players – Coutinho included – are not machines to fit right into the mechanism and work impeccably, asking for patience with his newest recruit.
Former Liverpool star made a modest contribution in his first-ever match for Barcelona and could be given a more prominent role this time around when the Catalans go head-to-head with Valencia. The Camp Nou outfit have been enjoying a successful run in all competitions of late – with the exception of a 1-0 loss at Espanyol in the previous round of the Copa del Rey which had no effect to the aggregate 2-1 triumph. Leo Messi and Luis Suarez saved Barcelona from leaving the competition earlier than planned, following the first-leg deficit and are once again expected to lead the line against Valencia.
Philippe Coutinho could be in for his first-ever Barcelona start, whereas the hosts will be without Thomas Vermaelen who is unfit. Ousmane Dembele is still injured and will not be able to help his team.
Are Valencia slowing down?
Los Che have had an impressive campaign until only a couple of weeks ago. Guided by former Villarreal boss Marcelino, Valencia continued their rise back to prominence and even stood in second in La Liga back in December, just five points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona.
Their form suffered a slight slip with Los Che suffering consecutive league defeats. Having first been blown away with a 2-1 La Liga defeat at Las Palmas, Valencia endured a major blow with a devastating 4-1 home loss to Real Madrid last weekend. Still sore from Los Blancos battering, Valencia travel to Barcelona for yet another stern test. Marcelino’s men scraped through the Copa del Rey quarter-final tie against Alaves, sealing their place in the semis following a penalty shootout that sorted the winner after a 2-2 aggregate result. Valencia seem to be going through a bit of a mini-crisis and their chances at Camp Nou will have been given a fresh blow knowing that they are most likely be without one of the most influential players this season – Goncalo Guedes.
The Portuguese winger was forced off early in Valencia’s La Liga clash against Real Madrid and could sit through the match at Camp Nou. Los Che will welcome defender Gabriel Paulista who returned to training on Monday.
Barcelona head into the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final tie against Valencia in much better spirits than their rivals. The Catalans are keen to continue their treble charge and are expected to lay a marker in the first leg following a fine spell of form recently.
Top pick: Barcelona/Barcelona 1.73 (8/11) @Coral
Alternative pick 1: Barcelona to win both halves 1.54 (8/15) @Unibet
Alternative pick 2: Both teams to score – yes 1.67 (4/6) @Betfair