Messi masterclass sees Barça move 10 points clear
The Argentine bagged his 33rd LaLiga hat-trick in a Barcelona shirt as the Catalan side were too strong for Quique Setiens's Real Betis.
Lionel Messi was lauded by opposition supporters on Sunday after he scored an outstanding hat-trick in Barcelona's 4-1 win at Real Betis, which put the Catalans 10 points clear at the top of the La Liga table with 10 games remaining.
With nearest challengers Atletico Madrid falling to a 2-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao the previous day, Messi got Barca off to an ideal start by drilling a free kick into the top corner of the net in the 18th minute.
The Argentine put Barça further at ease with another strike at the end of the first half, finishing off a backheeled pass from Luis Suarez as the two South American forwards carved their way through Betis's defence.
Uruguay forward Suarez had missed several clear chances to score but he finally got his reward for a lively performance with a goal in the 63rd minute, dancing past four Betis players on a dazzling run which began in his own half.
Loren Moron pulled one back for Betis in the 82nd minute but Messi replied with a sumptuous first-time lob in off the crossbar to complete his treble and the Betis supporters responded by chanting the Argentine's name and bowing down to him.
It was an utterly dominant performance from the La Liga leaders which avenged their 4-3 loss at home to Betis in November and took them on to 66 points after 28 games, while Atletico have 56 and third-placed Real Madrid have 54.
There were worries for Barça at the end of the game, however with Suarez having to receive treatment on the sidelines after hurting his ankle.
Real Betis 1-4 FC Barcelona: as it happened
Barcelona have been presented with a gilt edged opportunity to take a step closer to retaining their LaLiga crown as the travel to Andalusia and face Real Betis in the provincial capital. Their task this evening being made that little bit easier after closest pursuers Atletico Madrid capped a grey week as the followed their Turin Champions League exit with a LaLiga defeat away in Bilbao on Saturday evening.
Betis go into the game with coach Quique Setien coming under pressure with elimination to French club Rennes in the Round of 16 of the Europa League leading to the first calls for his head further compounded by a dip in form in LaLiga and elimination from the Copa del Rey at the hands of Valencia. The Andalusian side lie eighth in the table and the Cantabrian coach is under pressure to deliver a European place for the club.
Barcelona still have a hat-trick of titles in sight, alive in the Champions League where they face Manchester United in the quarter final stage and looking forward to a Copa del Rey final at the end of May where their opponents will be Valencia, Valverde's men currently hold a 7 point cushion at the summit of LaLiga.
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