Coutinho Strike Not Enough as Barca Downed in Copa del Rey

Philippe Coutinho scored a crucial away goal but Barcelona have it all to do to avoid a surprise exit from the Copa del Rey after losing 2-1 to Levante on Thursday in the first leg of the last 16.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Marc Andre ter Stegen were among several key players rested at the Cuitad de Valencia, where Levante took advantage as Erick Cabaco and Borja Mayoral gave them a two-goal cushion.

Coutinho, however, making his first start in almost a month, converted an 85th-minute penalty to leave Barca in touch heading into next week’s second leg at the Camp Nou.

After missing much of November through injury, Coutinho has struggled to regain his place in Ernesto Valverde’s preferred starting line-up but 90 minutes, and a goal, will have done his confidence no harm.

The hosts took the lead after just 185 seconds as Ruben Rochina’s in-swinging cross from the left met the head of Cabaco, who climbed above Sergio Busquets and headed in.

Barca were struggling to cope with the aggression of their opponents and in the 18th minute they were two down. Emmanuel Boateng’s reverse pass set Borja free, who nipped between Murillo and Chumi.

Murillo tried to make the block but Borja’s shot beat both him and Jasper Cillessen, before nestling in the far corner.

Valverde had turned to his bench as Sergi Roberto and Clement Lenglet came on for Miranda and Chumi while Denis Suarez, linked with a move away from the club this month, was given 23 minutes to instigate a comeback.

He did the job, a weaving run inside from the right drawing a clumsy challenge from Coke. Coutinho made no mistake.

Earlier, Sevilla put one foot in the quarterfinals after winning 3-1 away to Athletic Bilbao.

Mikel San Jose pulled Bilbao level at San Mames after Nolito’s opener but second-half goals from Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder mean Sevilla will be strong favourites to go through.

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