BARCELONA — Ernesto Valverde says Philippe Coutinho can make Barcelona even better after watching his side extend their unbeaten streak to 27 games in all competitions with a 3-0 win over Levante on Sunday.
Barca and Liverpool reached an agreement for Coutinho to move to Camp Nou on Saturday, with sources confirming to ESPN FC the cost of the transfer could rise to €160 million including add-ons, making the Brazil international the club’s record signing.
Coutinho, 25, arrived in Barcelona late on Saturday and will be officially presented on Monday, but he was not at Camp Nou as goals from Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Paulinho secured a routine win against Levante.
The victory restored Valverde’s side’s nine-point lead in La Liga and the Barca coach warned the chasing pack that Coutinho will improve his side in attack.
“I think he’s a player that can add a lot of things to the team,” Valverde said in his postgame news conference.
“He scores goals, creates goals […] offensively he’s a player that can improve us. It’s a big signing for us. We hope that he will help us and that he has a lot of luck because his luck will be our luck, too.”
Valverde’s problem is now fitting Coutinho into an attack that already features Messi, Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, who made his first start in nearly four months against Levante, lasting 65 minutes.
“I have seen [Coutinho] play right, left, through the middle, in attack and in midfield for Liverpool and Brazil,” Valverde added. “He has that versatility and we will look to take advantage of it.
“So we will see [where he plays], but I don’t think he will be playing in goal!”
Coutinho replaces Dembele as the club’s record signing. The France international joined from Borussia Dortmund in the summer for an initial €105m but was making just his fifth appearance for the club on Sunday after returning from a ruptured tendon.
“It was his first game starting [since the injury] and we were really happy with him,” Valverde said of the 20-year-old.
“He played in a position [on the right] which we knew he could do well in. He has a good touch, bags of pace and we are happy to have him back. He needs to catch up after a long injury layoff, but he looked good and he can get even better.”
Barca took the lead through Messi’s 16th league goal of the season after the Argentina international combined with Jordi Alba and doubled their advantage before half-time when Suarez slammed home via a deflection after good work from Sergi Roberto.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two smart saves in the second half to keep Levante out before Paulinho wrapped things up in stoppage time with a tap-in after Messi had done the hard work.
“When there’s a ball in the area or a rebound, he’s always there to put it in,” Valverde said about Paulinho, who now has seven goals since joining the club in the summer.
“He has that quality. He adds a lot in attack and we’re delighted with him.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.