Thursday , October 18 2018

Alaves furious as Barcelona survive scare – Coutinho struggles

BARCELONA, Jan 29, (RTRS): Alaves players were left furious after their 2-1 defeat by Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Sunday, believing they should have been awarded a late penalty.

John Guidetti’s strike put the Basques ahead but late goals by Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi turned the game around before Samuel Umtiti handled Munir El Haddadi’s shot in the dying stages.

The forward, on loan at Alaves from Barcelona, smashed the ball towards goal but it struck Umtiti’s arm and the visitors furiously demanded a penalty, but referee Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva did not give it.

They would have been lucky to get one, given the last time a penalty was awarded against Barcelona in La Liga was almost two years ago, in February, 2016.

Guidetti scored on that day for Celta Vigo in a 6-1 defeat and in 74 league matches since Barcelona have not had a spot-kick given against them, but have earned 32 of their own.

Alaves defender Victor Laguardia highlighted the fact the referee was the same official who failed to award Barcelona a clear goal against Valencia when Lionel Messi’s strike crossed the line.

“He was far away from the play but it was very clear. The referee is the same one from the Mestalla,” Laguardia said.

“Now they are at peace, the two of them, Barca and Iglesias Villanueva.”

Guidetti was also in no doubt that Alaves should have been given the chance to level from the spot.

“I spoke to my teammates and it’s a very clear handball. For me, video-refereeing is necessary in Spain,” he said.

The VAR (video assistant referee) system is set to be used in Spain next season according to La Liga president Javier Tebas, although it has not been officially announced.

However, even with technology in place there will still be room for debate and Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde insisted that although the ball struck Umtiti, it was not a penalty.

“(They) complained that there was a handball. I see it from a Barcelona perspective, of course, and I think that it was involuntary.

“I asked Umtiti and bar cutting off his hand we don’t think there’s anything else he can do about it. For me it’s involuntary, but everyone will see it from their own point of view.”

Barcelona hung on to earn three points which kept them 11 clear at the top of La Liga.

Record signing Philippe Coutinho will need time to settle into the Barcelona side after he made a quiet La Liga debut in a win against Alaves, Valverde said.

All eyes were on the 142-million-pound ($200.87 million) playmaker but he was substituted in the second half for striker Paco Alcacer as Barca chased the game after falling behind.

Coutinho, playing on the right of midfield, linked up well with his new teammates but failed to make a significant impact on his full debut at the Nou Camp after making his first appearance as a substitute in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Espanyol in the King’s Cup.

“Players aren’t machines that you can just put in a factory and start to work right away,” Valverde told reporters in defence of Coutinho.

“I thought he played well, he was always asking for the ball. He has important skills, the other day he played 20 minutes, today he played a little more, he’s growing into the team little by little.”

Coutinho’s former Liverpool teammate Suarez also backed the Brazilian.

“It’s always difficult to make your debut at the Nou Camp in the league,” Suarez said. “He played very well, trying to run the game and the team is happy with what he did.”

Gerard Pique says he does not regret his comments mocking Barcelona’s rivals Espanyol after eliminating them from the King’s Cup last week, stoking up tAlavesoccerhe rivalry ahead of another visit to Cornella on Sunday in La Liga.

Barcelona beat Espanyol 2-0 at the Nou Camp last Thursday to qualify for the semifinals (2-1 on aggregate) and Pique repeatedly referred to the visitors as “Espanyol de Cornella” when speaking to the media afterwards.

The defender was referring to the location of the club’s RCDE Stadium, which is on the outskirts of Cornella, where Espanyol moved in 2009 after playing at the Olympic Stadium in the city of Barcelona.

Espanyol made a formal complaint about Pique’s comments and the Spanish football federation’s anti-violence committee are investigating the matter.

However, speaking to reporters after signing his new Barcelona contract which keeps him at the club until 2022, Pique played down on his comments.

“I don’t regret it (making his comments) and I don’t think today’s the day to talk about it. On Sunday we will play there and in the mixed zone I will give you the headlines if you want,” said Pique.

“I am not saying this to upset people, I am just stating a fact. Espanyol play in Cornella.”

Pique has never been shy of speaking his mind and previously it may have cost him the chance to be one of Barcelona’s four club captains.

With Javier Mascherano’s departure to Hebei Fortune, Pique is expected to be chosen as a replacement for the Argentine.

“I have always seen myself as a captain,” added Pique. “Now I see it differently. I am different in the sense I get involved more with things and make more noise. I understand the dressing room prefers another profile of player.

“I try to be an example, but everyone has defects and in some respects I am not an example. I am how I am. I think I have improved in some areas, but I will keep being myself.”

Pique’s commitment to the Barcelona cause is never in doubt and the 30-year-old says he would rather retire than play for another club side.

“It was Barca or nothing. I don’t want to be anywhere else that isn’t here,” Pique explained. “I am not motivated to play for another club. I play football to play for Barca. If I was at another team, I would have retired from football.”

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