Lionel Messi led the way for Barcelona with a fantastic hat-trick as they beat Real Betis 4-1 at the Benito Villamarin Stadium on Sunday.
Real Betis started the stronger of the two sides, with former Barcelona man Cristian Tello coming close to finding the back of the net early on. But, the visitors soon found their feet and there was no looking back thereafter, with Barcelona going to grab the lead in the 18th minute.
Lionel Messi stepped up to take a free-kick from 25 yards out after Arthur was fouled, and the Barcelona captain made no error in finding the back of the net, with Pau Lopez helplessly seeing the ball go past his outstretched hand and into the top corner. Midway through the first half, Messi had a chance to add to his and his side’s tally, but the Real Betis custodian was equal to his effort this time.
Barcelona finally doubled their advantage at the stroke of half-time, with Messi grabbing his second goal of the night after combining delightfully with Luis Suarez, who had inexplicably missed a glorious opportunity just minutes earlier. The visitors continued to assert their dominance post the break, but had to wait till a little after the hour mark to score their third goal.
Found by Gerard Pique about 40 yards away from goal, Suarez embarked on a wonderful solo run, evading three Betis defenders before finally grabbing a goal for himself. But, Los Verdiblancos did not go down without fighting, as they started threatening a little thereafter.
Quique Setien’s men then pulled a goal back in the 82nd minute, when Loren Moron scored from outside the box, but the La Liga leaders restored their three-goal lead and rounded off the win in style as Lionel Messi left Lopez dumbfounded with a spectacular chip from the edge of the box five minutes from time.
With Atletico Madrid losing their game on Saturday, Barcelona ensured they stretched their lead atop the table to 10 points, getting a step closer to another league triumph. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ernesto Valverde’s men after a resounding performance.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 7/10
The Barcelona first-choice goalkeeper did not have much to do on the night with his gloves, apart from the odd regulation save. But, ter Stegen was mighty impressive with the ball at his feet, helping his side evade Betis’ counterpress by lobbing the ball over the home side’s front men. Could not have done anything to stop Loren Moron’s precise shot.
Sergi Roberto: 6/10
Another sub-par performance by Roberto, who struggled whenever Cristian Tello burst forward. Did not do much of note when he advanced down the right flank either. With Nelson Semedo patiently waiting in the wings for the last couple of games, the Spaniard is in danger of falling out of the starting eleven.
Gerard Pique: 7/10
As has been the case lately, Pique was equal to the threat posed by the opposition attack, expertly negotiating the counterpress by the Betis front men. So much so, that the hosts barely posed a threat to ter Stegen. Started off the move for Suarez’s goal as well, although the star striker did almost all the work for it. Either way, it was another excellent performance by Pique.
Clement Lenglet: 7/10
Surprisingly preferred ahead of Samuel Umtiti, Lenglet put in another commanding performance that might just extend his compatriot’s stay outside the eleven. Alongside Pique, the Frenchman shut shop at the back, barely letting Jese do anything. Just continues to impress at every given opportunity.
Jordi Alba: 7/10
It is not everyday that Alba is tested on the defensive front. But, the Spaniard was generally excellent at the back, except for when Moron scored – a rare moment of lapse. Linked up well in the final third and was even involved heavily in Messi’s second goal.
Ivan Rakitic: 7/10
A work horse in the middle of the park, Rakitic was typically industrious. Supported the defenders well, especially by staying wide on the right flank to thwart Tello. Going forward, he linked up well with the front men and kept things simple all throughout.
Sergio Busquets: 6.5/10
True to his nature, Busquets was unassuming in the midfield, absorbing a lot of the pressure that Sergio Canales threatened to create. But, the veteran Spaniard had his fair share of shortcomings as well. Sloppy on the ball at times, he also failed to shut down Moron for his goal.
Arturo Vidal: 8/10
An outing that drove home his growing importance in the side. Vidal countered Betis’ press with some impressive pressing of his own. Linked up brilliantly with both Messi and Suarez and deserved an assist for the chance that the latter spurned. Could have also had a goal of his own if not for some solid work by Pau Lopez. Truly an asset for Valverde.
Barcelona’s playmaker was at it once again on the night, pulling the strings from the middle of the park effortlessly and helping the visitors assert their dominance. But, he was unusually tireless in moving up and down the field as well, as and when situation demanded, which was quite refreshing to see.
Lionel Messi: 10/10
Lionel Messi’s last three games:
—Two goals, two assists
—One goal, one assist
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 18, 2019
Starting in a role that he grew accustomed to last season, Messi revelled in the fact that he was deployed centrally in a free role, using his pace to good effect against the backpedalling Betis defenders. His first goal has become more of a certainty by now, as he converted a free-kick for the umpteenth time.
The second saw him link up marvellously with Suarez but Messi had deserved the best for last – a delightful chip that even a desperately outstretched Lopez could nothing about; a goal to remember for a long time. Just continues to inspire the league leaders to comfortable wins.
Luis Suarez: 8/10
Suarez continued his strong run of form on Sunday, providing a constant threat in the final third while creating a number of openings for Messi. In fact, the Uruguayan provided the assist for his partner’s second goal with a clever back heel flick.
Should have ideally had a hat-trick of his own, if not for his own profligacies. But, Suarez capped off a fine performance with a brilliant solo goal, embarking on a superb run for almost an entire half before calmly slotting the ball past Lopez. But, his night ended in concerning fashion as he seemed to have picked up an injury that Barcelona fans will hope does not sideline him for long.
Nelson Semedo: 6/10
On for Arthur a little after the hour mark, Semedo provided a refreshing burst of energy. But, he was also rightly booked for trying to win a penalty in an illegitimate fashion, having dived in the Real Betis box.
Carles Alena: N/A
On for the last few minutes, Alena barely had any time to influence the proceedings.
Philippe Coutinho: N/A
Surprisingly benched, Coutinho was on the field for the duration of injury time.