Suarez and Barca boss back Coutinho after first Barca start

Emmett Rice
January 30, 2018

Barcelona escaped a scare on Philippe Coutinho's first start as Lionel Messi struck with a trademark free-kick to drag the La Liga leaders back from a goal down to beat Alaves 2-1 and restore their 11-point lead at the top.

However, Alaves were left feeling aggrieved as they were denied a late penalty when Samuel Umtiti handled the ball in the area.

With just over five minutes remaining on the clock, the 30-year-old was offered the opportunity to slot the ball past helpless goalkeeper Fernando Pachecho from a 20-yard free-kick, and although arguably the greatest player to have ever lived recently claimed his motivation is exclusively team based, he will take great pride in securing another personal milestone. "I think it's involuntary, but each one can see it from their point of view".

Overall, though, Valverde was relieved to pick up the three points after spending nearly 50 minutes behind chasing the Basque side.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde's final change saw Coutinho come off after a disappointing full debut moments before Suarez was kept out by Pacheco following a superb Messi pass. "We're in a tough phase of the season, with a lot of games close together, midweek, weekend, and that leads to lots of wear and tear. We've seen the game turned upside down and we've managed to keep it going, and this comes from going back to the fans who are very encouraging, not just for today, but always". If you get the first goal and are in front, it's easier but if not.

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"Yes no doubts about it - it's a hard period of time in the season", the Spaniard said.

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

With Philippe Coutinho making his La Liga debut at the Camp Nou, Alaves took a surprise lead when Barcelona were caught by a quick counter-attack with the former Manchester City forward, John Guidetti, racing clear to fire past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

"But I thought he looked good".

"It's another step. The other day he played 20 minutes and now a bit more".

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