Philippe Coutinho's Barcelona debut could be on Thursday, Ernesto Valverde reveals
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 20/01/18 7:59pm
Philippe Coutinho could make his Barcelona debut against former club Espanyol in next week's Copa del Rey second leg at the Nou Camp.
Barcelona finally brought one of the biggest transfer sagas of the past year to an end earlier this month after agreeing to pay a club-record £146m fee to Liverpool for the Brazilian playmaker.
A thigh injury sustained prior to his move has kept Coutinho sidelined, but he could make his Barcelona bow against the club for whom he featured 16 times while on loan from Inter Milan for a few months in 2012.
Espanyol hold a surprise 1-0 lead from Wednesday's first leg but Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde, while hoping to include Coutinho in his matchday squad for the first time, is hesitant to ink in the 25-year-old's name for Thursday's return fixture.
"I'm reluctant to put an exact date on a start for Coutinho, but the progress of the injury is very positive," Valverde said in quotes published on AS.
"He had a small muscular problem in his quadriceps which is a particularly sensitive zone when striking the ball with power, but I hope he's soon with us.
"Thursday is possible and I hope that today he can train with the rest of the squad."
Valverde has more pressing concerns as he and Barcelona switch their attentions back to La Liga, with the Catalan giants eight points clear at the top of the standings.
The league leaders will look to extend that gap over second-place Atletico Madrid to 11 points when travelling to Real Betis on Sunday evening, live on Sky Sports Football, while Real Madrid - who are 19 points behind Barca - are also live on Sky Sports Football when hosting Deportivo La Coruna earlier in the day.