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Philippe Coutinho’s form and Leganes’ double bid in spotlight for Barcelona

Barcelona have a chance to avenge their shocking 2-1 defeat to Leganes earlier in the season as the two sides face off at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

The La Liga leaders put in a listless performance in September, a match which Leganes entered as the team at the very bottom of the division. But two quick-fire second half goals and some dogged defending earned them an historic win.

Here are three things to keep an eye on as Ernesto Valverde’s men look to avoid a repeat.

THE COUTINHO QUESTION

Ousmane Dembele’s form has meant that the questions over his future at the club have transferred to Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian has been at Barcelona for just over a year, but there is already speculation of an exit, with former club Liverpool and, sensationally, their rivals Manchester United having been linked with a move.

The bare stats are that Coutinho has managed six goals and five assists in 26 appearances across all competitions this season. It doesn’t measure up to Dembele’s output, as the Frenchman has managed twice the number of goals and the same number of assists.

Dembele offers more of a cutting edge and end product up front, and his form has established him as the first-choice third attacker alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

And though Coutinho was brought in with the thinking that he could in some way replace Andres Iniesta, he is not the metronomic passer the Spaniard was, and, similar to Dembele, has an individualistic streak that Barca do not appreciate from their midfielders. Plus, for a midfield spot, he’s in competition with Arthur, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic, and Sergio Busquets – not a selection contest he’s going to win.

He has a lot to prove on Sunday – if and when he gets on the pitch.

LEGANES HAVE BLUEPRINT FOR ANOTHER UPSET

Here are some of the key stats from Leganes’ win in September: they had just 22 per cent of the ball, but actually managed more shots – 10 to nine, shots on target, six to five, and key passes, seven to six.

That speaks both to the home side’s efficiency in attack, doing more when in possession despite seeing so little of the ball, and to their defensive organisation. Despite Barcelona having a good 40 minutes after Leganes’ second goal, they rarely looked like finding an equaliser as the home side kept them at bay over the latter part of the second half.

In the meantime, they also subjected Barcelona to an aerial bombardment, forcing the Catalans into 20 defensive aerial duels. Though Gerard Pique and company won the majority of them, that pressure may have told – Pique himself was at fault for the Leganes winner, giving away the ball to Oscar Rodriguez deep inside his own half, with the striker slotting home easily.

The blueprint on Sunday will be much the same. Barcelona will dominate possession, and possibly with home advantage do a better job of creating chances. But Leganes can take heart from their early-season victory – and plot a sensational double.

VALVERDE’S TRICKY BALANCING ACT

Barcelona have a tough run of fixtures coming up. After Sunday’s game, they face Sevilla in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, with the first leg on Wednesday and the second leg a week later. In between those games is a trip to Girona, who managed a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou earlier this season, a fixture Valverde’s men could easily have lost after going down to ten men in the first half and falling behind early in the second.

And February sees league fixtures against Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, and Real Madrid, the last three away from home, plus the two legs of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Lyon.

This fixture may be the only chance Valverde gets to rest some of his star players ahead of that daunting run. With European glory the holy grail this season – as in any season – and some of the other league fixtures too difficult to afford squad rotation, Valverde could be excused for trying to take advantage of the opportunity.

Though the September loss will also play on his mind, a starting XI which had some star players missing – Dembele and Messi, perhaps – would not be a surprise.

####Credit to Sport360####