Philippe Coutinho
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 29: Philippe Coutinho of FC Barcelona runs with the ball during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on September 29, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde insists Philippe Coutinho remains a great player but must fight for his place in the club’s starting lineup.

Coutinho started a domestic match for the first time since the first week of December last year and scored from the penalty spot as a much-changed Barcelona side lost 2-1 at Levante in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie on Thursday night.

The former Liverpool Man’s goal gave the Copa Del Rey holders reason for optimism ahead of the second leg next week, having fallen two goals within the first 20 minutes of the first half.

Ousmane Dembele also played the entire duration of the game like Coutinho and Valverde insists he was satisfied with both players while encouraging them to press for continued opportunities.

“When Dembele wasn’t playing, everyone was asking me about him,” Valverde told reporters, according to FourFourTwo.

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“Now Dembele’s playing and Coutinho isn’t and the reverse is happening. When you do not play and you are not happy, you have to fight to change the situation. Today was a match for that.”

“Coutinho is a great player who has given us a lot and will give us a lot. I will say the same about Dembele. It’s a repetitive question with interchangeable names.”

Valverde also defended his team selection, after leaving out Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba, saying:

“I picked the best team I thought we could pick.”

“It served us to evaluate players in some tough moments, like in a LaLiga game. I know it’s a risk, but you have to take risks a lot of the time.”

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