Lionel Messi scores flawless free-kick to give Barcelona lead at Betis

Lionel Messi scores flawless free-kick to give Barcelona lead at Betis

Suarez, who will go for tests on an ankle injury on Monday, scored a fine individual third for Barca before Betis pulled a goal back through Loren. They'll have the chance to build their La Liga lead after Atleti slipped up with a 2-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

Eighth-placed Betis refused to buckle, though, and they caused more than a few problems for the Barca defence as they sought to level.

Messi opened the scoring in the 18th minute with a brilliant 25-yard free-kick before linking up well with Luis Suarez to make it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time.

The goal came from arguably his most hard chance of the lot too as he dribbled his way through three Betis defenders, leaving them in a heap behind him before slotting his finish into the bottom corner.

After Messi's final strike, a brilliant chip from the edge of the box which went in off the underside of the bar, the home fans at the Benito Villamarin Stadium rose as one to hail the five-time Ballon d'Or victor.

Messi said: "They were great goals, but the important thing was getting the three points".

Loren scored a late consolation for Betis after a pass from fellow substitute Diego Lainez, but Barca's lead atop LaLiga increased and Messi was left to celebrate another record after completing his treble with a outrageous chip that clipped the crossbar as it beat Lopez.

What does it mean?

Barcelona is playing in unbelievable form right now and once again have a chance to win triple crown this season, LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League.

During the week Messi scored twice and provided two assists as Lyon were routed 5-1 at Camp Nou in the Champions League. The Argentina attacker - set to make his worldwide return after nine months away - hit those heights again as he took his LaLiga tally to 29 goals.

The third Messi strike, which killed off any late hopes of a Betis comeback, drew an ovation from the home supporters which the Argentine worldwide says he has never previously experienced.

But Canales, uncapped but named in Luis Enrique's Spain's squad this week, lost his nerve and knocked the ball wide with a terrible touch, not even managing to get a shot away.

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