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01st May 2019

John Barnes says Philippe Coutinho is natural heir to Messi at Barcelona

Former Liverpool winger John Barnes has said Coutinho is the natural successor to Lionel Messi at Barcelona ahead of Wednesday's Champions League tie

Reuben Pinder

Not sure many would agree with this take

Barcelona welcome Liverpool to the Camp Nou tonight for the first instalment of a hotly anticipated semi-final between two footballing juggernauts. The tie will see Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez play against their old club for the first time since they left Merseyside in 2018 and 2014 respectively.

Coutinho’s short time at Barcelona has not been as glittering as many expected when he signed for a staggering £142m just over a year ago, while Suarez has led the forward line expertly, forming a prolific partnership with Lionel Messi.

But despite Coutinho’s teething problems at Camp Nou, former Liverpool and England winger John Barnes, speaking exclusively for bookmaker comparison platform, has said he still sees the Brazilian as the natural heir to 31-year-old Messi.

“Coutinho won’t come back to the Premier League, he’ll stay at Barcelona. When you have a player like Lionel Messi, who dominates the attacking and is the focal point, that is what Coutinho also does,” he explained.

“Messi is now 31 and he won’t be around for much longer, so Coutinho is the natural successor to that role. Messi is still the main man now, so Coutinho hasn’t had the same impact. He’s still a fantastic player and he’ll take over the mantle, but at the moment Messi is still king.”

Barnes also claimed that the south American duo will receive a friendly reception from Liverpool fans in the return leg at Anfield, because “they didn’t leave in bad circumstances and were two fantastic players. Liverpool are a much better-balanced team without them because they were the stars of the team, which in many ways held the team back, because it was all about them.”

In the first leg, Barnes believes Liverpool can cause Barcelona problems with their aggressive pressing, which has proven to be such an effective tactic for the side placed second in the Premier League.

“The only way to stop Messi, is stop him as a team, you can’t look to one individual,” he said.

“You have to play as a team to make sure he doesn’t get the ball in the wrong areas. They’ve also got Coutinho, Suarez and [Ousmane] Dembele, so they’ve got to stop all the great players. Midfielders will have to track back and stop the space around Messi, but the Liverpool midfield work that way.”

“Liverpool will play an attacking game, so I think the forwards will cause them problems because their back four isn’t the strongest. If Liverpool are brave enough to try and win the ball high up the field and commit people forward, it will give them problems.”

Liverpool go into this tie with immense confidence and form, but there are no guarantees at this stage in the competition. Last season’s finalists face a tough challenge in nullifying Barcelona, who have already wrapped up their 26th LaLiga title.