January 20, 2018 / 6:34 PM / a year ago

Coutinho nears Barca debut after training with team

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has said Philippe Coutinho could make his debut for the club in Thursday’s King’s Cup quarter-final second leg against Espanyol after the Brazilian joined his new team mates for training on Saturday.

Coutinho joined Barca from Liverpool for a club record 142 million pounds ($196 million) on Jan. 6, but was unable to train immediately as he was carrying a thigh injury, with the club saying on his arrival that he would be out for around 20 days.

The midfielder is not expected to travel to Sunday’s La Liga game at Real Betis, but Valverde said the player’s recovery had gone smoothly and that he could be playing for his new side in less than a week.

“I am reluctant to put an exact date on when injured players will return, but the evolution of the injury has been very positive,” Valverde told a news conference on Saturday.

“It was a minor thigh problem, which is a sensitive zone when you’re striking the ball, so you have to be careful with it, but he’s doing well. I don’t know if he will be back next week, but we hope he’ll be back soon. Thursday is possible.”

Coutinho spent six months on loan at Espanyol from Inter Milan in the latter half of the 2011-12 season.

Triple cup holders Barca trail their cross-town rivals in the tie after losing the first leg away from home 1-0.

However, they could further tighten their grip at the top of La Liga if they beat Betis, which would give them an 11-point advantage over Atletico Madrid, who were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Girona on Saturday.

Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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