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Barcelona restored their five-point lead at the top of La Liga with a 3-0 win over Eibar at the Camp Nou on Sunday.
Manager Ernesto Valverde handed Philippe Coutinho a recall to the starting XI, and the Brazilian set up Luis Suarez for the opening goal on 19 minutes.
Barcelona turned on the style in the second half as they cruised to a comfortable win. Lionel Messi tucked away the second for his 400th La Liga goal:
400 – Lionel Messi has become the first player in @LaLigaEN history to score 400 goals. Extraordinary. https://t.co/DVCNv3TXtv
Suarez then prodded home his second of the night on the hour after some quick thinking by Sergi Roberto to seal victory.
Coutinho Still Has Future At Barcelona
Valverde opted to give Coutinho a first La Liga start of 2019 against Eibar, preferring the Brazilian to the in-form Ousmane Dembele.
The Brazilian has lost his place in the starting XI to Dembele due to injury and a lack of form, leading to speculation he could leave in the January transfer window.
Coutinho is said to be unhappy with his lack of game time and would consider a move to Manchester United, according to Mundo Deportivo (h/t Richard Fay at the Manchester Evening News).
It was a surprise to see him handed a start, but it paid off as the 26-year-old put in an influential display in a comprehensive win for the Spanish champions:
Coutinho linked up well with Suarez to send the Uruguayan away for the first goal, his first La Liga assist since October.
He seemed to grow in confidence throughout the match and also offered a reminder of the flair he possesses:
🇧🇷 @Phil_Coutinho with the Samba Skills! 🎩
It was a much-improved display by the former Liverpool man that should improve his confidence after a tough spell. He proved he still has plenty to offer Barcelona, and the club will hope he can kick on from here.
Barcelona Will Rue Letting Cucurella Leave
Marc Cucurella is on a season-long loan at Eibar from Barcelona and put in a bright performance to show his parent club what they are missing.
The 20-year-old has been a hit at Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side, and they have confirmed they would like to sign him permanently.
Sporting director Fran Garagarza told Catalunya Radio’s Tot Costa (h/t Sport), that his team “would pay the option to buy.”
Cucurella told Sport‘s Albert Roge that he’s enjoying life at Eibar and would be happy to stay for another year.
The 20-year-old is known as a full-back but has played further forward to great effect. He had a hand in all three Eibar goals in their La Liga win over Real Madrid:
Meanwhile, Barcelona are short of options at left-back after seeing Lucas Digne leave for Everton in the summer transfer window.
While Jordi Alba remains first choice, his back-up this season has been Barcelona B’s 18-year-old Juan Miranda. The inexperienced youngster has struggled at times:
Barcelona may well look to strengthen the left-back position in the summer, but if they let Cucurella slip their fingers it may be a decision they will come to regret.
Valverde Must Start Semedo Over Sergi Roberto
Sergi Roberto has started both of Barcelona’s La Liga games in 2019 over Nelson Semedo since returning from injury and looks to be Valverde’s preferred option at right-back.
It’s a tough call on Semedo, who shone while Roberto was out injured and looked to have cemented the full-back spot.
Defence has been Barcelona’s weakness this season, with 20 goals conceded in La Liga so far. Atletico Madrid, Alaves, Getafe and Valencia have all conceded fewer goals than the Spanish champions.
Semedo’s spell in the team saw Barcelona tighten up defensively, and he played his part in a run of clean sheets against Villarreal, Espanyol and Celta Vigo.
Roberto’s preferred position is in midfield, and it often shows. He has frequently been caught out of position this season, and Eibar’s best moments all came down their left side.
The 26-year-old is the weak link in the Barcelona defence, and while Semedo does not offer the same attacking threat as Roberto, he does make the backline far more secure.
Barcelona face Levante in the second leg of their Copa del Rey last 16 clash at the Camp Nou on Thursday. Valverde’s side go into the game 2-1 down after the first leg. Eibar return to action against Espanyol in La Liga on Monday, January 21.