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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Barcelona set to continue where they left off as they await Coutinho arrival

With Liverpool's attacking midfielder reported to be set for a move to Camp Nou, Primera Liga leaders prepare for weekend clash

The question of Philippe Coutinho moving to Barcelona is more ‘when’ than ‘if’. Phil Noble / Reuters
The question of Philippe Coutinho moving to Barcelona is more ‘when’ than ‘if’. Phil Noble / Reuters

Barcelona look ominously good even before they sign Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool, with a deal set to be announced on Saturday night.

Having missed out on him in the summer the Catalan side do not appear to have made the same mistake this time, with media in both England and Spain claiming that a deal of a reported €160 million (Dh707m) for the 25-year-old attacking midfielder, who cost Liverpool only £8.5m (Dh42.3m) from Inter Milan in 2013, is being finalised.

Coutinho is clearly being acquired now with a look to the future by Barcelona for the seasons ahead as they try and give him, with the club in a strong position currently, time to bed in to his new surroundings ahead of bigger challenges ahead in the future.

Having played for Liverpool in the group stages of the Uefa Champions League, he is ineligible to help Barca try and win the tournament for a fifth time in 13 years when the competition restarts next month, with Barca up against Chelsea in the last 16.

Plus Barca are in a comfortable position in the league, with a six-point advantage, with a game in hand, over Atletico Madrid at the top.

The Catalan league leaders return to the Primera Liga action on Sunday at home against 16th-placed Levante, who have won only three of their 17 league matches this season after being promoted in the summer.

They held an open training session attended by 12,000 mainly young fans on Friday to highlight their relaxed state.

Beating Real Madrid away in their final league game before the Christmas break was crucial and they are clear favourites to be champions.

Madrid are 14 points behind Barca, though they have a game in hand.

The season is not yet at the halfway stage, but Barca have been Spain’s best side by a distance. They have scored 45 goals in 17 games, nine more than Valencia.

Even more impressive has been Barcelona’s defence, which has only conceded seven goals. They have done that after losing Neymar against their wishes and without their record signing Ousmane Dembele, who made a return in Thursday’s Copa del Rey game at Celta Vigo, the first leg of which finished 1-1.

Barca’s goal was scored by Jose Arnaiz, usually a left winger for Barca B but now a star in the Copa del Rey this season with three goals from his three shots on target in the competition.

Arnaiz is 22, two years older than Dembele, who has been out for four months after signing from Borussia Dortmund. Dembele came on for 19 minutes in Vigo. Both are expected to feature against Levante and the youthfulness is welcomed given several of Barca’s stars are in their 30s.

Dembele’s skills impressed the fans watching Friday’s training session and he is primed to be a Barca star, but so was Alexis Sanchez, Bojan and Giovani dos Santos. Even Pedro, an exceptional attacking player, wanted to leave Barcelona in order to play regularly.

There is no question of Barca’s record signing not being given plenty of chances and he showed his immense potential at Dortmund last season.

As well as the interest in Coutinho, Barca have also looked at the Gremio midfielder Arthur, while the futures of Andre Gomes and Gerard Deulofeu at Camp Nou are in doubt.

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Gareth Bale, left, has had to deal with fitness problems so far this season. Denis Doyle / Getty Images
Gareth Bale, left, has had to deal with fitness problems so far this season. Denis Doyle / Getty Images

Three hours after Barca play, Madrid are away at Celta Vigo, the team who knocked them out of the Copa del Rey last season and stopped them matching Barcelona’s six trophies in a calendar year.

Still, five out of six was a record for Madrid – the Spanish, European and world champions.

They returned to action with a 3-0 cup win in chilly Soria against Numancia, with Gareth Bale scoring the first goal of 2018 for Madrid.

Bale needs a good year after too many injuries last season and Madrid, the best team in the world in 2017, start their 2018 league campaign at a massive disadvantage.

It is tough at the top.