Barcelona went a step closer to defending the La Liga title with a 1-0 win at Real Betis on Saturday evening after managing to hold off the pressure from Atlético and Real Madrid who both won 1-0 earlier on the same day.
With games at home to Espanyol and away to Granada, the Catalans are most likely returning the league title back to Catalonia barring any slip-ups.
The news that their rivals had both done the needful earlier on added to the pressure on Barcelone to do likewise, but it soon became apparent that Betis were not going to give the points up easily.
With Dani Alves the only change from the side that beat Sporting 6-0, other than a cross from Jordi Alba that was shot wide by Iniesta, there wasn’t much to worry Betis keeper Adán until Neymar Jr drove a powerful strike straight at him on 29 minutes.
But aside from an early flurry that came to nothing, Betis were causing no trouble at the other end and the chances of that changing took a major dent when Heiko Westermann was booked first for a foul on Leo Messi and seven minutes later for another on Ivan Rakitic. Luis Enrique’s men would be playing the last 55 minutes of the game against ten men were unable to capitalize on the advantage as Betis held on for 0-0 at half time.
It only take five minutes after the restart for Barcelona to pounce after Lionel Messi lobbed the ball delicately into the area and Rakitic was able to benefit from the confusion between Pezzella and his goalkeeper to get on the end of it and slot home.
After the lead, Barcelona continued to push in search of a second to avoid any late scares. Almost all the play was deep in the Betis area, but although the passing was comfortable, the finishing was less so, and the scoreline refused to budge – not even when Luis Suárez was ideally positioned to score from just a few metres out.
As the game moved into the final quarter of an hour, ten-man Betis, who hadn’t had a shot on goal since the break, started to look resigned to defeat. And their lack of ambition seemed to have taken the urgency out of Barcelona game too.
But Barca have never been a team to settle for grinding out 1-0 wins, and indeed there was another goal to come. Messi calmly stroked the ball through the Betis defence on 81 minutes and Suárez was there to extend his lead in the Liga goalscoring charts by making it 2-0.
There was no way Betis were going to come back now, and the only remaining concern came when an injured Claudio Bravo called to be substituted by Ter Stegen in the final minutes.
It may not have been the most spectacular of matches, but at this stage of the season, it’s the results that count, and a 2-0 win at Betis will do very nicely indeed.