Barcelona stay top, JUST, with win over 10-man Betis

Barcelona stay top, JUST, with win over 10-man Betis

Barcelona maintained their position at the Primera Division summit after second-half goals from Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez lifted them to a 2-0 win at 10-man Real Betis.

Rakitic made the most of a calamitous defensive error from the hosts to put Barca ahead early in the second half after Heiko Westerman was sent off for Betis for a second booking in quick succession.

The top-flight's leading scorer Suarez then grabbed a 35th league goal of the season, finishing off a sumptuous pass from Lionel Messi in the 81st minute.

Barcelona were obliged to beat Betis after title rivals Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid won their games earlier in the day.

Despite a lacklustre performance, Luis Enrique's side top the table with 85 points, ahead of Atletico due to their superior head-to-head record with both teams one point clear of third-placed Real.

Betis had been practically guaranteed survival after beating Las Palmas in their last home game but their pride was wounded by a 2-0 defeat at local rivals Sevilla the previous week.

Barca meanwhile were rejuvenated after ending their four-game winless streak by hammering Sporting Gijon 6-0 and Deportivo 8-0, yet struggled to repeat those dominant performances, even after Betis were reduced to 10 men.

There was little football to savour in a first half which witnessed seven bookings and six shots, just one on target for each side.

Pique was carded for a studs up challenge and Messi was cautioned for protesting the decision.

Westerman's first booking came in the 28th minute for tugging Messi's shirt, and he was off seven later for a late challenge on Rakitic, and disappeared down the tunnel without a word of dissent.

Despite their insipid first-half display, a Barca goal looked inevitable in the remaining 45 minutes with an extra man, although it arrived due to a comical mix up from Betis.

Messi lofted the ball into the box and defender German Pezzella went flying up to try and clear it acrobatically, as goalkeeper Antonio Adan attempted to punch it away. Neither player made any contact with the ball, allowing Rakitic the simplest of tap ins into an empty net.

Going ahead did not make it any easier for Barca to go on and put the result beyond doubt, however, and the home side's defence held firm until Messi released Suarez inside the area, but Adan blocked with his legs.

The Uruguayan got his redemption though, latching onto a ground pass from Messi and tucking the ball under the legs of Adan.

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