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SPANISH PRIMERA DIVISIÓN

2017/2018 Season

POS TEAM W D L PTS
1 Barcelona 28 9 1 93
2 Atletico 23 10 5 79
3 Real Madrid 22 10 6 76
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BarcelonaBarcelona
Real SociedadReal Sociedad
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Coutinho thanks Suarez for again assisting on first goal at new club

After booking their return to the Copa del Rey final, the ESPN FC crew reflect on Barcelona's evolution since their Spanish Super Cup loss against Real Madrid.

Philippe Coutinho was delighted to score his first Barcelona goal as the Catalans beat Valencia to set up a Copa del Rey final against Sevilla in April and thanked Luis Suarez for once again setting up his first goal at a new club.

Coutinho was left on the bench for Thursday's semifinal second leg at the Mestalla, but came on at half-time and just four minutes later he opened the scoring.

Ivan Rakitic added a second goal late on as Ernesto Valverde's side, who have now lost just one of their last 36 games, progressed to the final with a 3-0 aggregate win.

Both of Barcelona's goals were set up by Suarez, who didn't add to his tally of 16 goals in his last 17 games but did cause problems for the Valencia defence throughout the 90 minutes.

"My first goal for Liverpool was also set up by [Suarez]," said Coutinho, recalling his first Premier League goal against Swansea City on Feb. 17, 2013. "I hope I can help him and Leo [Messi] to score goals, too. They have been great since I got here and they've helped me fit in from the start.

"I feel really happy because I have been looking for that first goal since I got here -- and finally I've got it," Coutinho told Gol TV after the game.

"More importantly, though, it was able to help the team reach the final. For me, it will be my first final [with Barca] and it's an important moment.

"It's a special thing to reach a final and I am sure it will be a great game, but also a difficult one, like all finals are. But we have time to prepare for it. Before then we have a lot of games, so that's where our focus is now."

Barca coach Ernesto Valverde may take some of the credit for Coutinho's first goal for the club after taking the decision to bring him on for Andre Gomes at half-time.

Lionel Messi, left, congratulates Philippe Coutinho after the new arrival scored his first goal for Barcelona.
Philippe Coutinho scored his first Barcelona goal after coming on a second-half substitute.

"I saw that the change was clearly needed," Valverde said in his postgame news conference. "We had to change things around in attack. Andre was helping us with his strength, but I could see that we lacked a little something to do more with the possession we had in the final third.

"I usually wait a little longer to make a change, but I could see this one clearly."

It will be Barca's fifth Copa del Rey final in as many years and the 40th in the club's history. They've won the last three and have lifted the trophy 29 times in total, more than any other Spanish club.

However, despite the consistency with which they excel in the competition -- they haven't lost a two-legged knockout game since 2013 -- Valverde says reaching the final is still significant for the club.

"Knowing the demands that there are at Barcelona, it's important to reach finals," the coach added. "We've beaten some tough rivals to get there: Celta, Espanyol and Valencia. I am really happy.

"Barca have played in a lot of finals, this is the fifth in a row in this competition for this group of players. It's not easy to repeat and repeat [success] like that.

"But it's only the second final I have reached. I am not so used to them -- I hope to have more luck than in the first one [when his Athletic Bilbao side lost to Barca in 2015]."

Valverde will hope the decision to play Gerard Pique, who injured his knee against Espanyol at the weekend and was a doubt for the game, won't end up clouding what was otherwise a good night.

The defender was seen grimacing and holding the injured knee at times during the match and was eventually substituted, allowing Colombian Yerry Mina to come on for his debut.

"Pique felt fine and we decided to risk him," Valverde explained. "At the end, he felt some discomfort and we reached a point where we decided not to risk him anymore, so we changed him."

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.

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