Coutinho's Barcelona misery goes on as Messi returns in style

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Lluis Gene
The ex-Liverpool star has been a big disappointment since joining the Blaugrana a year ago and he once again failed to shine in the win at Girona

Another win for Barcelona, another goal for La Liga top scorer Lionel Messi, another wayward performance from Philippe Coutinho.

There was little new as the champions beat Girona 2-0 at Montilivi, not Miami - where La Liga wanted this game to take place - maintaining their five point lead on Atletico Madrid at the top of the table.

Barcelona missed the skill and speed of Ousmane Dembele, but the Frenchman’s injury pain is, in theory, Coutinho’s gain, and the Brazilian started another match up front with Messi and Luis Suarez.

Instead of grasping the opportunity with both hands, Coutinho missed two one-on-one chances and at times was more of a hindrance than a help.

With Dembele available Coutinho would be stuck on the bench. The playmaker is in a black hole of bad form and low confidence, which manifested itself in his weak effort when sent through on goal by Messi after 15 minutes.

Barcelona were already leading after Nelson Semedo drilled home a loose ball and Coutinho should have made things comfortable for the champions.

Messi produced one of his eye-of-the-needle passes to send Coutinho in on goal and the Brazilian attempted a low effort which Bono kept out.

If he was in good form Coutinho might have opted for something different, or even finished in the same way but with more conviction.

MESSI GIRONA BARCELONA LALIGA

It was a limp attempt from a player who seems to be sinking under the weight of his €160 million (£142m) transfer fee and the demand that he become Barcelona’s new Andres Iniesta.

That was the plan when Barcelona signed him from Liverpool a year ago, but after a decent start to life in Catalonia, he has failed to take off.

Operating on the left of the attack there were a couple of occasions where it just seemed like Coutinho was in the way, the third-wheel, as Messi and Jordi Alba tried to link up on the left.

The connection between Messi and Alba has long been a source of Barcelona joy and as they tried to combine in the second half Coutinho had to scurry out of the way.

With Girona down to 10 men, Dembele’s absence was even more of a pain for Barcelona. The winger would have been able to stretch the hosts’ defence and take advantage of the extra space after Bernardo Espinosa’s red card.

Coutinho was not involved in Barcelona’s second goal either, with Suarez playing through Alba, who squared for Messi.

The Argentine maestro beat Girona goalkeeper Bono with a delectable chip, celebrating his return to the starting-line up with a trademark strike.

The forward’s minutes are being managed carefully by Ernesto Valverde this season, in a bid to keep him fresh for the sharp end of the season.

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Messi was on the bench last weekend against Leganes and only appeared for the final half hour, while he was rested completely for the 2-0 Copa del Rey quarter-final defeat by Sevilla on Wednesday.

The No 10’s contributions were crucial as Barcelona triumphed in the derby, with Coutinho spurning another fine chance after being played in by Suarez at the end, taking it round Bono but seeing his effort blocked.

With Messi delivering so consistently, Barcelona can afford to have a couple of players misfiring, but Coutinho is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. One that can be shoved aside, albeit not resolved, when Dembele returns.

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