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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Watch: 'Players are not machines': Barcelona manager Valverde pleased with Coutinho's display against Alaves

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has leapt to the defence of new record signing Philippe Coutinho after the Brazilian's underwhelming Primera Liga debut on Sunday.

Barca were trailing Alaves from the 23rd minute, when John Guidetti put the visitors ahead, until Luis Suarez struck the equaliser with 18 minutes remaining. Lionel Messi then duly stepped up to put a free-kick in the top corner after 84 minutes to ensure a hard-fought win for the Primera Liga leaders.

The game also marked the league debut of Coutinho following his move from Liverpool, and while the playmaker exerted plenty of energy, he struggled to influence the game. Coutinho then made way for Paco Alcacer on 66 minutes.

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Read more:

Camp Nou comes alive to support Barcelona in Copa del Rey triumph

Valverde thrilled by Messi: He is the best player there is and there ever will be

How Barcelona have bounced back under Ernesto Valverde

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"Yes, it's true football players are not machines, like they come to a team and they contribute from the very beginning," Valverde said in his post-match press conference. "But I saw him playing very well, participating a lot in our possession. He wanted the ball. With his skills, and the more minutes he gets he will get used to our system."

The victory on Sunday ensured Barca have maintained their nine point lead at the top of the Primera Liga table after second-placed Atletico Madrid overcame a stubborn Las Palmas side to win 3-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid offered a timely reminder of their quality with a 4-1 thrashing at Valencia on Saturday, and while Barca hold a significant advantage in the title race, Valverde insists nothing is being taken for granted.

"Yes no doubts about it - it's a difficult period of time in the season," the Spaniard said. "We have a lot of matches. A lot of tension. We played Copa Del Rey on Thursday. Now La Liga and then next week the semifinal of the Copa.

"It is difficult to keep their minds up. If you are playing well it always seems easier, but if the opponent is doing well it is very tough. The league is very tough."

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