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Coutinho the likely fall-guy in Valverde's big game plan

The Barça boss is likely to stick with the formula that he has used in must-win games this season with Paulinho to come in for the Brazilian against Valencia.

Coutinho the likely fall-guy in Valverde's big game plan
Alberto EstévezEFE

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has a few selection headaches ahead of the Copa del Rey semi-final return leg against Valencia on Thursday, not least in central defence where he will be without Gerard Piqué and Thomas Vermaelen and short of options following Javier Mascherano’s move to the CSL.

Vermaelen suffered another injury during the victory at Betis and is not training with the squad while Piqué picked up a problem in the heated derbi barceloní and could be out for a month. That means that Yerry Mina will make his debut for Barcelona in a finely-poised match in Mestalla alongside Samuel Umtiti, who will also be missing for the league match against Getafe next weekend due to suspension. Another problem for Valverde but one that can wait until then to be resolved. On Thursday, Umtiti will be required to guide Mina through his baptism of fire in Valencia with the likes of Simone Zaza, Luciano Vietto, Rodrigo and Santi Mina likely to target the new arrival.

Valverde will probably restore Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba to the full back positions after resting them in the RCDE Stadium in favour of Nelson Semedo and Lucas Digne but the back-ups have tailed off form-wise recently.

Coutinho likely to miss out in favour of Paulinho

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In midfield Andrés Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets are undisputed starters and with Leo Messi and Luis Suárez occupying the attacking roles in a 4-4-2, that leaves space for only more midfielder and it is there that Valverde has a tricky choice to make. Philippe Coutinho became the second most-expensive player in history when he joined Barcelona in January but Paulinho, who arrived with considerably less fanfare last summer, has made the fourth midfield spot his own in the big games this season with some excellent performances and a healthy amount of goals.

That will leave Coutinho occupying a place in the bench alongside Paco Alcácer, who started in Cornellà.

Valverde is well aware of Valencia’s capabilities and with a slender one-goal advantage heading to Mestalla will not tamper with the formula that has seen his side to the top of the Liga table, the semi-finals of the Copa and into the Champions League knock-out stages while losing only one game so far this season.


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