Liga - Messi scores two as Barcelona beat Betis

La Liga, Camp Nou - Barcelona 3 (Messi 15' pen 86' Figueras 67' o.g.) Real Betis (Castro 68')

Liga - Messi scores two as Barcelona beat Betis

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Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates a goal against Real Betis during their La Liga soccer match at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona April 5, 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Barcelona beat bottom-of-the-table Real Betis in an easy 3-1 victory, meaning they stay one point behind leaders Atletico Madrid.

Coming off the back of a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Atletico in their midweek Champions League side, Barcelona started with a relatively strong first XI.

Due to injuries to Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, Barcelona had Pedro Pinto, Adriano and Marc Bartra in defence. Not that it mattered, as Betis offered little in attack in the first half.

Barcelona had 70% of the possession in the first 45 minutes, but perhaps because of the exertions of their last match, struggled to create many clear chances. In the opening stages, Bartra headed a corner over at the near post and Xavi had a low shot well saved by Antonio Adan in the Betis goal.

On 15 minutes, Barcelona took the lead when Alexis Sanchez used a superb piece of control to bring down a high ball, and then evaded five defenders in the box until he was tripped to win a penalty. Lionel Messi coolly sent the ‘keeper the wrong way to convert.

Betis had chances of their own, with Alvaro Vadillo curling a shot into Pinto’s arms the best of the first half, but for the most part they struggled to get out of their half.

At the start of the second half, Xavi almost made it two for the home side when he curled a free kick that just glanced off the top of the crossbar. Barcelona doubled their lead on 67 minutes through a stroke of luck when Adriano aimed a through-ball for Messi in the box, only for Jordi Figueras to slide towards the ball and send it past a wrong-footed Adan.

Betis struck back instantly, as Ruben Castro picked up a loose pass outside the box, edged to his right and then struck a low shot to Pinto’s right.

With 10 minutes left, Dani Alves was lucky to stay on the pitch with a reckless, studs-up challenge on the right wing, but the referee ignored the seriousness of the foul.

With four minutes from time, Messi had his second, from another penalty. Antonio Amaya handballed a Neymar cross, and although Adan saved the first shot, and got a touch on Messi's rebound, the ball rolled over the line.

With the away side beaten, Barcelona controlled the game by simply withholding the ball for minutes at a time. Barcelona had a late chance to make it four when a counter-attack gave Cesc Fabregas the ball on the edge of the box. He took a couple of touches to get the ball onto his right foot, and his shot from the edge of the box curled just wide of the post.

Barcelona were not impressive, but Betis were of such limited ambition and ability that they made it easy for their opponents. They might have been lucky to get the second penalty, but they were clearly the superior side.

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