Barcelona: Barcelona returned to the top of La Liga after goals from Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez sealed a hard-fought 2-0 win over Real Betis.
In what was a game that Barcelona had to win to remain top of the La Liga table, Rakitic and Suarez converted in the second half to grab all three points.
Betis defender Heiko Westermann was sent off in the 35th minute for two bookable offences and, with the hosts down to 10 men, Barcelona were able to take advantage as Rakitic scored first in the 50th minute, before Suarez’s calm finish killed the game off in the 81st minute.
Barcelona are now top of La Liga on 85 points, level with Atletico Madrid who beat Rayo Vallecano 1-0 earlier in the evening. The Catalan side lead by virtue of their head-to-head record over Atleti with Real Madrid just a point behind.
Barcelona had Lionel Messi, Suarez and Neymar all fit and starting as they looked to continue their push for a fifth league title in seven years, but they started the game slowly with Betis having the better share of the chances early on.
An attempt from Ruben Castro from just outside the box was headed over the bar by Javier Mascherano, before Bruno’s header from the resulting corner forced Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to tip the ball over his own goal.
Barcelona were unable to find their rhythm, with yellow cards issued to players on both sides in the first half, including Westermann in the 27th minute, and the booking would soon come back to bite the German.
Eight minutes later, Westermann received his second yellow card for tripping Rakitic with the Croatian sprinting forward towards the penalty box. Barcelona have seen nine opponents sent off this season, which is one more than any other La Liga team this campaign.
The sending off allowed Barcelona to dominate possession, but Betis were resolute in their defending with 10 players behind the ball. A late booking for Dani Alves summed up the scrappy nature of the first half.
The second half saw Barcelona set off immediately on the front foot, and it took them just five minutes to take the lead.
A chipped-in ball by Messi led to miscommunication between Real Betis centre back German Pezella, who tried an overhead kick clearance, and goalkeeper Adan, who misread the flight of the ball. The ball fell to Rakitic who was on hand to tap for the opening goal of the game.
Suarez was getting himself into dangerous positions, and managed a curled left-footed effort which went wide of the goalkeeper’s right post.
Betis struggled to get any possession of the ball, with Barcelona having 76 per cent of the share by the 72nd minute and soon afterwards Suarez missed a golden opportunity to score, but the former Liverpool man soon atoned for the miss.
A killer through-ball by Messi split the Betis defence open to allow Suarez to get into a one-on-one position. He took the ball in his stride and slotted it to the left of Adanl to kill the game off and put an end to Betis’ endeavour.