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At one stage, both Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho probably didn’t see themselves playing for Barcelona this season, but they now look set to star for the club moving forward

The attacking duo have ensured a smooth start to Ronald Koeman’s tenure as manager as they played key roles in comfortable pre-season friendly wins. Over the weekend, Coutinho struck from the spot in a 3-0 win over Tarragona before he backed that up on Wednesday with a simple finish to open the scoring against Girona

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The Brazilian’s opening goal was the product of a fine team move designed by Messi, who found Francisco Trincao expertly with a through ball into the box which allowed the youngster to square a ball across goal for Coutinho. 

Just before half-time Coutinho would then pass to Messi just outside the Girona box with the Argentine scoring courtesy of a delightful, curling effort. Messi would add a third in the 51st minute courtesy of a deflection, and though Barcelona would make sweeping changes after the hour mark, Koeman’s side would stroll to a 3-1 win. 

Despite both playing just 63 minutes on Wednesday, Coutinho and Messi dominated statistically in the final third to give Barca real hope of a flourishing partnership this season. Messi attempted a game-high five take-ons to show he’s lost no confidence, while Coutinho created a game-high three chances that included his assist. 

In both friendlies, Koeman has deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation that has seen the attacking four routinely swap positions – a principle their Dutch manager hinted will be key for how he wants to play. “My opinion is to have the best attack we can put on the pitch and some players, they can occupy different positions,” Koeman said after the Girona win. 

“That is why we changed. It will be more difficult for the opponent if we change positions. Like Coutinho can play on the left, can play in the middle. Like [Antoine] Griezmann can play on the right, can play in the middle. Messi can play the nine, the winger inside, and it’s a good thing to have those kinds of possibilities.” 

Coutinho returns to Camp Nou high on confidence after winning the Champions League with Bayern Munich and arrives in a Barcelona team that relied too heavily on Messi last season. The club legend told Goal recently that one of the reasons he wanted to leave was in order to allow new players to shine, but though he remains, there’s no reason he can’t share the spotlight with someone like Coutinho. 

Rivaldo has previously declared that Coutinho’s initial struggles at Camp Nou came down to Messi taking “all the credit and responsibility”. In the wake of recent events, however, and based on their encouraging pre-season displays, there should be real hope around Barcelona that the duo can both star for the club this season as Koeman looks to ensure the side bounces back from recent nightmares. 


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