January 26, 2018 / 12:53 PM / 3 months ago

Soccer-Valverde, Iniesta praise Coutinho after Barca debut

BARCELONA, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Philippe Coutinho has been tipped for a bright future at Barcelona by coach Ernesto Valverde and his new teammates after making his first appearance against Espanyol on Thursday following his club-record 142 million pound move from Liverpool.

Coutinho came on to a raucous reception from the Nou Camp when he replaced Andres Iniesta in the 68th minute of the 2-0 win over Espanyol that took Barca into the King’s Cup semi-finals.

The Brazilian playmaker was unable to add to the scoreline but offered his new supporters a taste of what is to come by nutmegging an opponent shortly after coming on, and nearly getting an assist as he provided a pass to Luis Suarez, who was denied by Espanyol’s goalkeeper Pau Lopez.

“When he is around the area you can feel the danger,” Valverde told reporters. “His dribbling ability and his eye for passing will help us a lot. It wasn’t an easy game but he has got off to a good start. Let’s see what happens next; this is just the beginning.”

Coutinho was sidelined with a thigh injury when he completed his move from Liverpool on Jan. 6 but after making his debut for the Catalans, his first start could come at home to Alaves in La Liga on Sunday.

“Coutinho will grow very quickly here with the talent he has and the environment he has arrived at,” said Iniesta. “His quality is beyond any doubt and he will really benefit the team.”

Gerard Pique added: “He has the style of a Barca player. He wants to have the ball a lot and he is similar in many ways to Andres and he will help us a lot.” (Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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