Barcelona went into tonight's clash with Real Betis desperate to rediscover winning form and restore their healthy advantage in La Liga.
The visitors were in no mood to accommodate and took a shock 2-1 lead into the break, with goals from Dorlan Pabon and Ruben Perez coming either side of an Alexis Sanchez strike for the hosts.
David Villa equalised early in the second half for Barca, before substitute Lionel Messi made his mark from the bench.
Messi quickly smashed home a free kick to give his side the lead, before securing all three points with his 60th goal of the campaign late on.
Look back at an important result for Tito Vilanova's side with Sports Mole's minute-by-minute commentary below.
7.30pmGood evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole for tonight's La Liga clash between top of the table Barcelona and Real Betis.
7.32pmTEAM NEWS: I will waste no time in bringing you the team news from both sides, and the headlines are once again dominated by the omission of Lionel Messi. He takes up his place on the bench, with David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and Cristian Tello starting up front. Betis, meanwhile, leave Joel Campbell on the bench as Dorlan Pabon, Jorge Molina and Ruben Castro all start. Full team news coming right up...
7.39pmBETIS SUBS: Vadillo, Sevilla, Campbell, Carlos, Fabricio, Varela, Caro
7.40pmOnce again, then, there is no Messi for Barcelona, but they still have plenty of quality throughout their squad. The likes of Xavi and Iniesta will, as ever, pull the strings in midfield, and Villa is more than capable of finishing any chances that fall his way, as are Alexis Sanchez and Tello.
7.42pmAs for Betis, they will be looking towards top scorer Ruben Castro for any chance of a shock at the Nou Camp this evening. The 31-year-old has 16 goals in 29 appearances for Betis so far this season, and he will need a few more if they are to finish in the top six.
7.44pmBarcelona could take another big step towards securing the title this evening. Real Madrid surrendered the chase quite a while ago, but Barca are yet to complete the formalities. A win today would put them 11 points clear with four games left, however, so they would potentially be just one game from regaining the title.
7.46pmIt is tough to decide whether this is a good time to play Barcelona or not. It all depends on how they react to the thrashing they received at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League. A 7-0 thrashing against a team some proclaimed to be the greatest of all time could either inspire the Barca players or really deflate them. They also failed to win the league match sandwiched between those two heavy defeats, which means that they are without a win in three.
7.48pmLooking solely at league form, however, Barcelona are in very good shape. They have only lost once in their last 13 games, and that was a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid.
7.50pmPREDICTION: We're 10 minutes from kickoff at the Nou Camp, which means that it is time for my prediction. I think that Barcelona will go into this game eager to prove a point. They may have had their crowns taken an unofficial kings of Europe, but they will be keen to show that they still dominate Spanish football. I will go for a 4-1 win to the home side.
7.52pmLooking at Betis, they have hit a relatively poor spell of form right at the wrong time. They have won just once in their last six games and are without a win in three.
7.54pmThat spell of form has left them seventh in the table, four points behind Malaga in sixth. A win today would close that gap to one point, but realistically they won't be expecting to beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp. A draw would close the gap to three points with four games left, which I'm sure manager Pepe Mel would take if you offered it to him now.
7.56pmIn terms of recent history, Barcelona have the edge. Betis have only won one of the last seven meetings The last time Betis won at the Nou Camp in the league, however, was way back in 1998.
7.58pmUnsurprisingly, the pre-match talk is all about Lionel Messi. It just shows how good the Argentinian is that a team including the likes of Xavi and Iniesta look so different without him. He is still struggling with his fitness, and Vilanova is right not to risk him in what should be a fairly comfortable game for the hosts.
8pmBetis' record away from home is very impressive this season, so they will be confident of getting something out of this one. Only the top three have amassed more points on their travels than Betis this season.
0 minKICKOFF: Here we go! Betis get us underway. Can they spring a shock? How will Barcelona react to their Champions League exit? We'll find out over the next 90 minutes!
2 minOh my word what a start for Betis! They take the lead at the Nou Camp after less than two minutes, and it is shocking defending from the home side. One header splits open the entire defence as Song misses it and Alba leaves Pabon to run through on goal,and he makes no mistake to slip it past Pinto. Really poor defending on Barcelona's part.
4 minBarcelona are just looking to get into their usual rhythm after that early setback. Alba makes his way down the left and sends a cross into Villa at the near post, but Mario is across in time to deflect it behind for a corner.
6 minThe one criticism of Barcelona is that their defence often looks shaky, and that can be levelled at them again in these early stages. They need to sign another centre-back to come in when Carles Puyol is injured.
9 minNormal service is resumed for Barcelona. Alba, Xavi and Iniesta knock the ball about down the left before the latter takes it upon himself to attack the defence. He puts a fine cross in with his left foot, and Alexis gambles to get in front of the defender before putting a good header into the corner.
10 minFor all of their defensive frailties, Barcelona are scintillating in attack. Tello is released by a brilliant ball which finds him the wrong side of Chica. His cross is too far in front of Villa, however, and the danger passes.
12 minIt has been a good reaction from Barcelona since going behind so early on. They have dominated possession, as expected, and look likely to create something every time they attack. There are more goals in this one!
14 minThe hosts are getting a lot of joy down the left flank at the moment. Tello and Alba are just too fast for Chica, and he is up against it every time Barcelona come forward.
15 minCHANCE! That is a good chance for Betis to regain the lead. A quick break catches Barca short at the back and a cross is put into the head of Jorge Molina, who nods his effort narrowly wide.
16 minChica again loses out to Tello on the left as the youngster flicks it inside the full-back before giving it to Alexis on the edge of the box. The ball flicks up onto the Chile international's hand resulting in a Betis free kick, but it is another example of Barcelona making ground down that left wing.
18 minAnother patient attack from Barcelona results in Xavi clipping a ball towards Alexis at the back post. The winger has drifted offside, however, and Betis will have a chance to clear their lines with this free kick.
20 minIniesta and Xavi are starting to run this game now, and they have an almost telepathic connection in the centre of the park. Each one looks for the other when they get the ball and, more often than not, they have a pass on.
21 minAlves clips a clever, defence-splitting ball through the middle towards Villa, but the striker appears to pull out of the challenge with the onrushing keeper. I think he would have got to that one if he went for it.
22 minCHANCE! Betis are suddenly left with a three-on-one situation in defence, but somehow Barca don't capitalise. Alexis finds Villa in acres of space on the edge of the box and he has time to take a touch and calmly slot the ball past Adrian. Instead, he tries to curl it first time and the keeper gets down to make a pretty comfortable save.
23 minCHANCE! That is three big chances in quick siccession for Villa, but he has made a mess of all of them! This time it is exhibition football from Barca as Iniesta dinks the ball in to Xavi, who decides to tee Villa up despite being clean through on goal himself. It is lovely football, but Villa blasts it well over the bar when he should have scored. They may have been guilty of doing a bit too much there.
25 minSAVE! Barca are starting to queue up for shots at goal at the moment. The ball sits up nicely for Xavi on the edge of the box and he unleashes a volley, but doesn't quite catch hold of it and it is easy for Adrian to collect.
27 minCHANCE! Despite Barca creating more chances, Betis are getting sights of goal every time they come forward too. Castro has loads of space on the left to put the ball into the middle, and Salva is left unmarked to shoot. His shot takes a deflection on the way through, though, and Pinto beats it away.
28 minVilla gets in behind the opposition defence again, and this time he at least tests the opposition goalkeeper. He takes a touch, which makes his angle tighter, but he still manages to squeeze a good effort towards the near post, but Adrian makes the save.
29 minCHANCE! It is chance after chance at the moment. Tello throws a couple of step-overs before taking it past two men and crossing to Villa, who is presented with yet another golden chance. Adrian is again on hand to make a decent save, but Villa really should have scored there. He should have had at least a hat-trick already!
31 minI must say that Barcelona would be comfortably ahead in this game with Messi on the pitch. Villa is one of the best finishers of his generation, but he just hasn't got his shooting boots on today and he looks to be getting more frustrated with every missed chance.
33 minCLOSE! Barca are attacking at will in this match, but they can't find a goal. Tello again makes headway down the left before pulling it back to the edge of the box where Iniesta is waiting. The Barca midfielder hits it first time, but a deflection takes it just wide.
35 minYet another chance falls for Barcelona, but yet again they don't make the most of it! Alba sends a cross towards the back post and Alexis peels off his man to collect. He chests it down but then slips and can't get up in time to keep it in.
36 minTello decides that he has had enough of the intricacy of Barcelona's play and goes for goal from range. It isn't a bad effort, forcing Adrian to make the save, but the Betis keeper was never really troubled by that one.
38 minHow Barcelona are not ahead in this match I don't know. They have had plenty of chances to take the lead since drawing back level in the 10th minute, with the left flank proving particularly fruitful for the hosts. Tello is enjoying himself out there, and Chica just can't deal with him.
40 minPlay opens up for Alba about 25 yards from goal, but the full-back never looks fully comfortable with it. He still goes for goal, but he is leaning back and the ball flies high and wide. Barca are being forced into more long shots now.
41 minOFF THE BAR! My word, it just isn't happening for Barca! A terrible header from Chica falls straight to Tello, who cuts inside before firing a powerful strike towards goal. It crashes off the underside of the bar and bounces down onto the line and out. The replay suggests that it may well have gone over the line, but it would have been impossible to call in normal time.
42 minGOAL! Barcelona 1-2 Real Betis (Ruben Perez)
43 minWow! What a strike that is! After a barrage of Barcelona attacks throughout this half it looks like Betis will take the lead into the break. The ball is worked back to Ruben Perez, who takes a touch before lashing a thunderbolt past Pinto and into the top corner from 30 yards out. That is a truly special goal from the midfielder, and what a way to get your first for the club.
45 minYELLOW CARD! Adriano becomes the first man in the referee's book for a poor tackle on Igiebor. The Barcelona man raked his studs right down the back of his calf there.
8.50pmThe referee brings an end to a very strange half of football. Betis made the best possible start by taking the lead inside two minutes, but from then on Barcelona dominated. They found the equaliser through Alexis soon enough, but since then they have not been able to convert any of the plethora of chances they have created. Then, just before the break, Ruben Perez unleashed a magnificent effort from 30 yards out that gave Pinto no chance and sends Betis into the break with an undeserved lead.
8.52pmDavid Villa has been the man most guilty of wastefulness in front of goal. The Spanish striker has squandered at least four really good chances for the hosts, which is very out of character for him. On a couple of occasions, Barca have been guilty of trying to walk the ball into the net, but they have presented Villa with good enough chances to make that possible.
8.54pmThe stage could well be set for a certain Argentinian maestro to enter the match. There is no doubt that he would have had a couple of goals to his name had he started this match, even allowing for the fact that he is not fully fit. If Barca are still not winning by the hour mark, I'd expect Messi to come on.
8.56pmBetis' first goal was really poor from Barcelona defensively. They were asleep from kickoff, and one header from the halfway line beat the entire defence and allowed Pabon clean through on goal to finish. They could do nothing about the second goal, however, as Perez hit a world class strike from range.
8.58pmBarcelona's goal was decent from their points of view. They don't often score headers, but with crosses like Iniesta's Sanchez couldn't really miss. The midfield maestro embarked on a clever run down the left before clipping the ball into the box. Sanchez did well to get in front of the full-back, and made no mistake with his finish.
9pmBarca's main point of attack has come down that left flank today, and Chica is really struggling to deal with Tello. The Barcelona winger has had the better of the Betis full-back for the entire match so far, and Pepe Mel will have to address that problem in the second half if he wants to hold on to the lead.
9.02pmIt was from Chica's poor header that Tello hit the woodwork in the first half. His shot came off the underside of the bar and bounced on the line and out. The linesman was probably right not to flag for a goal as, even after watching a number of replays, I can't decide whether it was over the line or not. There is no way he could have been 100% certain that it was a goal.
9.04pmBETIS SUB: Betis are making a change at half time, bringing on Benat for Jorge Molina. It wasn't the sub we were perhaps expecting, but Benat is the star of the show for Betis.
45 minKICKOFF: We're back underway at the Nou Camp as Barcelona get this match restarted.
47 minAn interesting point here: Madrid play twice before Barcelona's next match, which means that a defeat today could see Barca's lead reduced to just two points by the time they next play. Suddenly the league will look very different and the pressure will be on Barca.
48 minSanchez zips a through ball towards Villa, but the Spanish striker's run is blocked off by a clever bodycheck from Amaya. It just hasn't been Villa's night so far tonight.
50 minAdriano does not look like a natural fit in centre-back. The likes of Mascherano and Song have filled in for Puyol and done a decent job, but it just isn't the same as having a specialist centre-back playing, and Adriano is certainly not one of them.
52 minAdriano is again forced to track back towards his own goal and he sends a heavy pass back towards Pinto, who scurries across his area to reach it in time before passing it to Pique.
53 minSanchez shows brilliant close control to take the ball past his man and into the box, but his cut back towards Xavi on the edge of the box is intercepted. Meanwhile, a certain Lionel Messi looks set to enter the field of play imminently.
54 minYELLOW CARD! Ruben Perez becomes the second player to be booked in his match for a late tackle.
55 minDavid Villa finally scores! Just as Messi was warming up to come on, Alves makes his way down the right and sends a cross to Villa, who sends a diving header through the legs of Adrian. That wasn't very well defended by Betis, it must be said. It looked like there was miscommunication between the keeper and his defence.
57 minBARCELONA SUB: That is Villa's last action of the match, though. His celebrations are cut short when he sees his number signalled by the fourth official, and on comes the great Lionel Messi.
58 minMario comes right through the back of Alves on the edge of the Betis box, and Barcelona have a free kick in a very promising position here. Messi and Xavi are standing over it...
60 minI'm running out of superlatives for this man. It doesn't matter if he comes on as a sub or if he starts a game, he always scores. That is the 21st league game in a row that Messi has scored in, what a phenomenal record. He steps up to the free kick and curls it over the wall and perfectly into the top corner with one of his first touches. Just magnificent. He last failed to score in a league game that he played in at the start of November.
62 minSuddenly, just like that, Barcelona are in the lead. Messi can't take all the plaudits, of course, but when he is on the pitch the fans and the team look a lot more comfortable and assured.
64 minThat was Messi's 65th goal of the season for club and country, by the way. He won't match last season's tally, partly because of his current injury, but it is still an unbelievable record.
66 minThis one isn't over yet, however. Betis have shown that they can be very dangerous on the counter attack and Barcelona will be eager to get a fourth to give themselves some breathing space.
66 minTello throws two step-overs before taking the ball past Amaya, who brings him down right on the edge of the box. It is another free kick in a dangerous position, and the usual suspects - Xavi and Messi - are standing over it once more. This one is more suited to Xavi, you'd think, but nothing is beyond Messi it seems.
68 minBETIS SUB: Joel Campbell, currently on loan from Arsenal, comes on for Igiebor, who went down hurt when lining up in the wall. Very strange.
69 minOFF THE BAR! It is Messi who takes it, and he almost produces another spectacular goal. He fires it towards the keeper's side this time, but Adrian can still get nowhere near it as it smashes against the angle. Fantastic effort.
70 minBetis almost find an equaliser, but are denied by some fine defending. The ball is knocked back towards Pabon inside the six yard box, but Adriano is out to snuff his shot with a fine block.
72 minJust sublime. We've seen the individual brilliance from Messi, but this one is a fine team goal. Messi gives it to Iniesta, who flicks a clever backheel through to Alexis, who is just onside. Messi has continued his run and Alexis squares the ball to the Argentinian, who is never going to miss such an easy tap-in. He has only been on the pitch for 15 minutes, but Messi is now on a hat-trick!
74 minCHANCE! Iniesta chips a superb aerial through ball to Alexis, who is onside as he races on to the ball. He tries to lift the ball over Adrian on the half volley, but the Betis keeper makes a good save to deny Barcelona a fifth.
76 minThings are looking very comfortable for Barcelona right now. It didn't look like it would be like that for much of the match as they struggled to find their shooting boots, but the introduction of Messi has changed everything.
78 minBARCELONA SUB: Alexis Sanchez is given a good reception by the home fans as he makes way for Thiago. The Chile international has had a good game this evening.
80 minBetis looked so full of life in the first half, but their energy has been sapped by the tiki-taka style of Barcelona in this second half. They looked dangerous going forward in the first half and were bouyed by every chance Barca missed, but they haven't had a sniff in the second 45 minutes so far.
81 minThat is a chance by Messi's standards! Alves plays a fine through ball into the Argentinian, who is adjudged to be just onside by the linesman. He is forced a little wide, however, which makes the angle too acute for a shot. Instead, he looks for support in the middle, but his pass to Xavi is cut out.
83 minMessi is looking very sharp and he definitely wants a hat-trick tonight. I wouldn't bet against him getting one either. The way things are going, he should get at least one more chance in this match.
86 minBARCELONA SUB: Alex Song makes way in Barcelona's final change of the day, and he is replaced by Sergio Busquets in the middle of the park.
88 minAlves bombs down the right with a typically industrious run, but when trying to find Messi in the middle he woefully over-hits his cross. His delivery from the wide areas hasn't been great tonight.
89 minPique makes a lung-bursting run forward, but when the ball looks like it could break to him he is already on his way back!
90 minWe will have three minutes of added time at the Nou Camp. Can either side get another goal in this match?
90+2 minCHANCE! Messi comes so close to adding a spectacular third and finishing this match in style. He turns on the gas to take the ball past three Betis defenders, but Adrian stays on his feet as the little magician tried to chip the ball over him, allowing the keeper to punch it away.
9.54pmAll in all, everything ended quite comfortably for Barcelona. The hosts found themselves behind at the break despite dominating the first half. David Villa was guilty of missing a host of chances, while Pabon and Perez cancelled out Alexis Sanchez's goal.
9.56pmVilla did finally get his name on the scoresheet in the second half with a diving header, but he was substituted immediately afterwards to be replaced by Lionel Messi, and from then on the Argentinian ran the show. He scored a sublime free kick moments after coming on and added a second to put the game beyond doubt, finishing off a fine team move. Messi could have got an hat-trick late on, but Adrian saved from the Argentinian after he had dribbled past three Betis defenders.
9.58pmSo, where does that leave these two in the league? Well, Barcelona now sit 11 points clear of Real Madrid with just four games left to play. Madrid must now win all of their remaining games, but Barca will have the chance to secure the title when they face Atletico Madrid next Sunday. As for Betis, they remain seventh in the table, four points off sixth-placed Malaga.
10pmRight, that's just about it from me tonight! Thank you for joining Sports Mole for tonight's match as Barcelona took a giant step towards regaining the Primera Division title, with a little help from Lionel Messi. I will leave you with Sam Hughes's match report, and be sure to stick around for any reaction which will be on site soon. From me, though, it's goodnight!