Madrid, 11 November
Barcelona shrugged off the loss of Lionel Messi to another hamstring injury to beat Real Betis 4-1 and move three points clear at the top of La Liga.
Messi limped off with an injury for the third time this season yesterday after pulling up with a hamstring problem as he tried to accelerate just 20 minutes in.
However, any worries Barca could struggle without their star man were extinguished by two goals in as many minutes when Neymar rolled home Cesc Fabregas’s pass before Pedro Rodriguez’s wonderful individual effort doubled the advantage.
Fabregas added the third from Martin Montoya’s cut-back and the former Arsenal captain doubled his tally when he headed home 11 minutes from time before Jorge Molina’s stoppage time penalty pulled a goal back for Betis.
And Barca boss Gerardo Martino was happy with how side responded after a difficult opening half hour.
“In the first half hour we played the game where Betis wanted us to play,” he said.
“Their pressing was quite intense, but we then started to find spaces in behind their defence.
“The same thing happened at the beginning of the second-half and the fact they got a goal was deserved for their performance, but overall I think we played a very intelligent match.”
Despite lying bottom of the table, it was Betis who started the brighter as Barca were thankful to Victor Valdes for making fine saves from Molina and Juan Carlos.
Messi was then replaced by Andres Iniesta but even in his absence Barca began to exploit Betis’s high defensive line and both Neymar and Pedro should have scored but their weak efforts were held by goalkeeper Guillermo Sara.
The opener arrived on 35 minutes as Fabregas sprung the Betis offside trap from Alex Song’s pass and squared for Neymar to roll home his fifth Barcelona goal.
Moments later Pedro ran from inside his own half before curling a fine finish high past the helpless Sara.
Betis also started the second period strongly and Nono rattled the post with a drive from distance.
However, Barca were still getting in behind the Betis defence at will and after Neymar twice failed to beat Sara when one-on-one with the keeper, Montoya squared for Fabregas to tap home the third on 63 minutes.
Fabregas also had his fifth goal of the campaign when his downward header crept in off the inside of the post, but he too had to be withdrawn late on with a knee injury.