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'Coutinho is not assessed fairly'

  /  autty

Former Barcelona assistant coach Juan Carlos Unzue has praised Philippe Coutinho, claiming that the Brazilian should not on at the receiving end of criticism from the Blaugrana's supporters.

The 51-year-old also discussed the Champions League quarter-final return leg against Manchester United, as well as Barcelona's style of play.

Unzue spoke to MARCA in an interview conducted at the World Soccer Congress, which was held in Barcelona.

How did you see the first leg?

In the first 20 minutes, [Barcelona] were almost totally dominant as a consequence also of the attitude of United, who were playing more defensively, being stronger in the midfield and closer to their goal, looking for fast transitions and spaces for [Marcus] Rashford, [Romelu] Lukaku and company. They realised that it was not the most effective way to play against Barcelona.

Were you surprised by the turnovers in play at Old Trafford?

I do not know if those turnovers came as a result of the change of the opponent's attitude to push higher and pressure, or because of the feeling that they were leading the match in a very comfortable way. There were two or three simple turnovers that we are not used to seeing from players of that quality. I want to think that it was a bit more because of the rival's change of attitude because I understand, from the outside, that after what happened in Rome last year, or after what they saw [from United's game] against Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona knew that they should not make mistakes in those simple passes. For that reason, it was a bit surprising.

Do you think Barcelona are in danger, considering what happened in Paris, United's young players and the fact at they are competing to finish in the top four in the Premier League?

Manchester United - no matter what form they are in - they are a big team. The best thing that has happened to Barcelona, more than the 1-0 win in the first leg, is what happened against PSG. Margins are fine, but the result itself is in Barcelona's favour. At the same time, it keeps you alert because it's a small advantage [in terms of the scoreline] and because you have a rival with some players who can be decisive.

Philippe Coutinho has been criticised for his inconsistency this season. What can he bring to the team?

I disagree with how Coutinho is assessed this season. He had an unhappy spell. It coincided a bit with [Ousmane] Dembele's outbreak, but for me he has not been assessed fairly. We must not forget that he is a world-class player, who is doing many things for the benefit of the team, even if they are not important in the eyes of the general public. He is threatening in many situations, something that makes the opponent uncomfortable. He is generating spaces so that [Lionel] Messi, Luis Suarez and company have more spaces to do damage and show off their qualities. Coutinho is very altruistic, a team player, doing things that the viewer perceives as less important, but from the inside we know that it is important.

Do you see Barcelona as the favourites to win the Champions League?

If you qualify to the semi-finals, it will be very tough as always. Let's not forget that in these types of two-legged competitions, errors are paid and there are [errors] in all matches. Look at United, how they took advantage of two errors in Paris and won the tie. Barcelona, for the form in which they are in and for the players they have, they are one of the favourites. Everything looks like if they win the tie, the semi-final will be against Liverpool, another team of a very high level. As every year, whoever wins the Champions League will have made a huge effort and will deserve it.

Some say that Barcelona are changing their style...

I think the style [at Barcelona] is not being lost. We do see a percentage of possession as high as it was at other times, but I also say that we are left with very concrete images of the past. During the time of [Pep] Guardiola, who was criticised almost for not attacking, I remember that we were going to play at certain stadiums and the players that Pep used were not, perhaps, [Sergio] Busquets or [Andres] Iniesta but [Seydou] Keita or Yaya Toure, who were important players, but who didn't have the characteristics of other teammates. And that's a virtue. You have to know how to choose the players well and also the moment [to do it].

Nor can it be compared to Guardiola's first term, where Messi played more on the wing and now appears in a central role ...

It's what I say: you have to know the momentum of each player. Ten years ago, Messi played on the wing and that's another way to play; that determines the rest of the team and you have to find a balance. What Valverde does is balance the team, and nobody can tell me that the first 25 minutes at Old Trafford didn't remind the Barcelona supporters of before, having possession and playing in the opponent's half. It is true that it was hard for them to create occasions.