Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were both at their brilliant best as Barcelona beat Real Betis 4-1 at the Benito Villamarin tonight and moved 10 points clear at the top of LaLiga.
The Argentine hit a stunning hat-trick and the Uruguayan netted the other as Ernesto Valverde’s side made light of a potentially tricky trip to Seville.
Barca had lost their home game to Betis 4-3 earlier on this season and Quique Setien’s side competed well early in the game and Sergi Roberto made a goal-saving tackle from Cristian Tello in the opening minutes.
But Barca, playing with a 4-4-2 formation in the absence of the injured Ousmane Dembele, were pressing high up the pitch and the Catalans won a free-kick just outside the Betis box after 18 minutes.
Messi stepped up and curled the ball into the corner past Pau Lopez, the former Espanyol goalkeeper supposedly covering that side of the goal but powerless to prevent the Argentine’s effort.
It was Messi’s 25th free-kick goal in LaLiga in the past eight seasons and he scored again in added time at the end of the first half.
This time, it was a fine finish from the Argentine again, but the goal was made for him by Suarez as the Uruguayan put his team-mate through with a back-heeled reverse pass which took all the Betis defenders out of the equation and left the five-time Ballon d’Or in to fire past Pau.
That seemed set to thwart any hopes of a Betis revival and every time the home side attacked in the second half, Barca broke. Suarez should have made it 3-0 when he ran on to a pass from deep by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but blasted wide when it looked easier to hit the target.
He did make it 3-0 shortly afterwards, though, running at the Betis defence and beating several players before firing into the corner for a much more difficult goal.
Betis pulled one back after 82 minutes when substitute Diego Lainez teed up Loren Moron and the striker beat Ter Stegen with a fierce effort from the edge of the box.
But Barca had their three-goal advantage back after 85 minutes when Ivan Rakitic laid the ball off for Messi and the Argentine beat Pau with a delicate but extraordinary chip from just inside the box which went in off the crossbar.
It was a wonderful way to bring up his hat-trick and and it means Barca are now 10 points clear at the top of LaLiga after Atletico lost to Athletic Club on Saturday. Bets, meanwhile, drop to eighth.
The only downside for Barca was the sight of Suarez limping heavily at full-time, sparking potential injury fears for their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester United.
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“I cannot remember anything like this before and I’m very grateful for the fans’ reaction. I’m very grateful to them and happy for the victory, which was very important.
“We were playing against a team that treats the ball very well but the coach read the game perfectly from a tactical point of view.”
That’s 51 career hat-tricks for Lionel Messi now. 39 goals this season.
90+3 mins: Almost a fourth at the last! Messi on the stretch rattles the post.
90 mins: There’ll be three minutes added on here.
GOAL! | Real Betis 1-4 Barcelona | Lionel Messi 85′
GOAL! | Real Betis 1-3 Barcelona | Loren Moron 82′
77 mins: Showboat time for Barca as Messi clips to the edge of the box from a corner, which Rakitic chests down, but then strikes into the crowd.
Got there eventually…
GOAL! | Real Betis 0-3 Barcelona | Luis Suarez 63′
61 mins: And another one!
It’s a Ter Stegen kick out of the hands that Bartra completely misjudges, setting Suarez in on goal, but again he drags his finish inches past the far post.
60 mins: Should be three!
Absolute genius from Messi again, cushioning through to Suarez, who then rounds the ‘keeper. He should just knock it across goal for Alba to tap in, but he tries to find the net while off balance from a tight angle and can’t do it.
56 mins: What has Canales just done?
I’ll tell you, he’s made a run down the left and is a good couple of yards offside, so near enough stops, but remarkably the flag doesn’t go up.
So he strides on again, in on Ter Stegen, and then pokes the ball wide with his standing foot as he’s about to shoot.
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