Philippe Coutinho dazzled on his Barcleona debut as a second half substitute helping his team into the Copa del Rey semi-finals in a 2-0 win over Espanyol.
Barcelona already led thanks to goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi when he entered the fray but it would be wrong to say the hard work had all been done because Quique Sanchez Flores’ side knew a late goal would send them through on away goals and they pushed Barcelona to the last kick.
It had taken Suarez just eight minutes to cancel out Espanyol’s first-leg 1-0 lead. Jordi Alba was down injured on the near touchline as Barcelona poured forward down the right and when Messi found Aleix Vidal he crossed and Suarez threw himself at the ball flashing a bullet header past Pau Lopez in the Espanyol goal.
On 24 minutes Messi’s sheer force of will brought about the second goal. He went hunting for the ball high up the pitch, he forced an error, won possession, and his shot deflected in off of Naldo and past Lopez.
Coutinho was enjoying it all from the dug-out as Barça dominated the first 45 minutes. For all of their sparkling football though, rivals Espanyol still only needed to score once to go through.
Barcelona needed a third goal just to make sure and when it didn’t come in the first 15 minutes after the restart Paulinho stripped to come on. Flores moved next bringing on veteran Sergio Garcia who stamped down on Suarez’ left ankle and was booked.
Coutinho finally came on, to a huge roar, on 68 minutes replacing Andres Iniesta. His first touch was from a pass from Messi. His next four passes, all of them simple ones, were received by booming ‘oles!’ from the Camp Nou. His first dribble then saw him upended but Messi blasted the free-kick over.
Coutinho then set-up Suarez but Lopez saved brilliantly and then threw himself at Rakitic’s shot from the rebound.