Messi hat trick guides Barcelona past Real Betis

Nearly immediately he made amends though, with a slalom run through Betis's defence, leaving former Barca centre-back Marc Bartra on the floor, wishing it would swallow him, before tucking home.

Lionel Messi sprinkled his genius thick and heavy over the Benito Villamarin's pitch on Sunday, but his final contribution was transcendent.

Messi added a second goal in stoppage time of the first half, doubling Barcelona's lead ahead of the break.

Betis were looking every bit as threatening as their visitors, though, and it took some fine last-ditch defending from Barcelona to keep them at bay shortly before the half-hour mark as they peppered the box with risky crosses. "I'm very grateful to them and happy for the victory, which was very important", Messi said.

With 10 games to go Barcelona are closing in on the title.

Arthur was bundled to the ground on the edge of the D and Messi beat former Espanyol goalkeeper Pau Lopez with a stunning strike from the resulting set piece.

Barcelona's last league loss was 4-3 at home to Betis in November.

Ernesto Valverde's team has also reached the final of the Copa del Rey_ a competition it has won four years in a row_ and will face Manchester United in the quarterfinals of the Champions League next month.

Barcelona great Messi has been stealing the headlines in Spain this season. Worse things have happened before.

Messi, on 29 league goals, continued to run the show in the second half and the Betis fans were able to appreciate another remarkable display from the best player in the history of the sport. "There are still lots of points in play and we have to keep playing like this". "Valverde read the game well and tactically we were ideal".

He scored the second goal for Barcelona in the 45th minute thanks to a superb assist he got from Luis Suarez.

The Catalan club have confirmed he will undergo further tests on Monday to determine the severity of the injury, but he will not join up with Uruguay during the global break this week.

"Almost every week (Messi) plays at such an incredible level", said Betis coach Quique Setien.

  • Angelo Rivera