Barcelona striker Luis Suarez has jumped to the defence of Philippe Coutinho and blamed injuries in the wake of the 2018 FIFA World Cup for any struggles his team-mate has had this season.
Coutinho was expected to impress at the Camp Nou this season—his first full campaign at the club—but hasn't had nearly the impact many would have expected.
Suarez spoke to Sport's Didac Peyret and touched on Ousmane Dembele's improvements this term as another factor: "He came from the World Cup, where he was a starter, but later had an injury and that made it difficult for him. Ousmane was playing well and he accepted that without any issue. But now I believe he's in a good moment, adapting to the system and doing what the coach is asking of him."
The Brazil international scored twice in Wednesday's 6-1 Copa del Rey win over Sevilla and was handed the opportunity to convert their first after Lionel Messi won a penalty, having failed to score in his previous nine league appearances.
It's clear from that action that Coutinho still has the backing of a player like Messi, per BBC Sport's Mootaz Chehade:
Mootaz Chehade @MHChehade
After struggling at Barça for the past months, Messi has yesterday handed the good luck ribbon given to him by a reporter at the World Cup to Coutinho and gave him his penalty as well to help him regain his form and score a brace. The type of leader every team needs. https://t.co/fxPFaxYPJq
Sportswriter Ben Hayward also provided comments from Coutinho, who conceded things weren't going his way:
Ben Hayward @bghayward
@DianaKristinne @kevvwill Maybe yes. Coutinho said: "I was trying everything and almost nothing was coming off. Lionel gave me chance to take penalty and that helped my confidence to build. There was nothing prepared, was very kind of him. The gesture shows what a great person he is."
The Brazilian has not spent as much time playing in attacking midfield at the Camp Nou and has instead been a more cemented fixture on the wings when he does play.
His movement between playing out wide and a more central role has been the centre of much debate surrounding Coutinho's place at Barca, but Suarez continued to say he doesn't feel it's an issue:
"I don't think it's because of his position because he's used to playing there. With Brazil he plays there and when I was with him at Liverpool too. Afterwards he changed his position a little but he knows how to play and can make the difference in matches.
"Yes, he goes through patches, but so do all of us. There are moments where, and I know because it's happened to me, that two or three moves don't work out. 'Ah, nothing is going my way. I need to do it better.' And that's the worst at times. But I believe Philippe has played in Europe for many years and he's shown the quality of footballer he is. I think you've been unfair with him. Especially after what he gave the club in his first six months here."
ESPN FC's panel discussed Coutinho's struggles this season:
Dembele's evolution this season hasn't helped Coutinho's chances. While the latter has scored eight goals and recorded five assists in 30 appearances, Dembele has scored 13 goals and contributed five assists—but in three appearances fewer.
Coutinho recently celebrated the anniversary of his arrival at the Camp Nou, and Suarez is relaxed over his team-mate eventually coming good in Barcelona colours.