Philippe Coutinho returned to the Barcelona starting line-up for the first time in a month on Thursday night and manager Ernesto Valverde has told him what he must to do keep hold of his place.
The Brazilian last started for Barca in their Champions League clash with Tottenham on 11 December, and last started domestically against Villarreal on 2 December.
On his return to the starting XI, Coutinho scored a penalty in his side’s 2-1 defeat to Levante in the Copa del Rey, his sixth goal of the season in all competitions.
Now Valverde has told the former Liverpool man that he must ‘fight’ to regain a regular place in the first team, citing Ousmane Dembele as an example to follow.
‘When Dembele wasn’t playing, everyone was asking me about him,’ said Valverde after the Levante game.
‘Now Dembele’s playing and Coutinho isn’t and the reverse is happening. When you do not play and you are not happy, you have to fight to change the situation. Today was a match for that.
‘Coutinho is a great player who has given us a lot and will give us a lot. I will say the same about Dembele. It’s a repetitive question with interchangeable names.’
The 26-year-old arrived at the Nou Camp from Liverpool in January 2018 for £105m and started 16 La Liga games in the second half of the season, scoring eight goals.
This campaign Coutinho has started just nine of Barcelona’s 18 league matches, scoring four La Liga goals in the process.
When there was intense speculation over Coutinho leaving Liverpool in May 2017, manager Jurgen Klopp warned his player that the grass may not be greener elsewhere.
‘Stay here and they will end up building a statue in your honour,’ Klopp said.
‘Go somewhere else, to Barcelona, to Bayern Munich, to Real Madrid, and you will be just another player.
‘Here you can be something more.’