Good evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's La Liga showdown between Real Betis
We had a seven-goal thriller - and a shock result - in the reverse fixture, and hopefully we will be in for more of the same tonight too. Barcelona will be hoping that the result isn't the same, though, as they look to capitalise on Atletico Madrid's defeat yesterday to take another step towards the title by moving 10 points clear.
Kickoff is just five minutes away, so let's have a quick look at the team news...
REAL BETIS STARTING XI:
Lopez; Joaquin, Mandi, Bartram Sidnei; Tello, William, Guardado, Canales, Lo Celso; Jese
SUBS: Robles, Emerson, Feddal, Kaptoum, Lainez, Leon, Loren
BARCELONA STARTING XI:
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Lenglet, Pique, Alba; Arthur, Busquets, Vidal; Suarez, Messi, Rakitic
SUBS: Cillessen, Semedo, Coutinho, Malcom, Boateng, Alena, Umtiti
It's a landmark night for Messi tonight as he equals a fellow Barca legend in appearances...
KICKOFF: Here we go! Betis get us underway!
It's been a nervy start from Busquets in particular, with two poor passes putting his side in trouble during the opening exchanges. Sluggish from the visitors, but it is still very early of course.
By contrast, Betis have made quite a confident start to this game. They are will try to play Barca at their own passing game and have seen the bulk of possession in these opening exchanges.
The hosts almost get in behind as Lo Celso pings a cracking ball over the defence for Tello, whose first touch is good too. The former Barca man should only have the keeper to beat, but Roberto covers brilliantly to get back and make the challenge.
Barcelona make their first bright break forward as Alba threatens to get in behind, but once again there is good tracking back and Barcelona have to make do with a corner.
Betis have not given Barcelona anything easy so far tonight. It has been an even contest in this opening 10 minutes or so!
SAVE! The first save of the night comes for Ter Stegen, but it is as easy as you like for him to collect. Tello cut inside and worked the space well, but his shot was tame and trickled into the hands of the keeper.
CHANCE! Big chance for Betis to take the lead! Joaquin pings a lovely crossfield ball out to Guardado, who does really well to turn it back into the middle. It looks as though Jese will finish it having escaped his marker, but he cannot connect with his volley properly when he really should do better.
Barca just haven't got going in this one yet. They are yet to find any sort of rhythm and Betis have probably edged it as the better team in this opening quarter of an hour.
YELLOW CARD! Guardado is the first name in the book for a challenge on Arthur, who stepped across the Betis man to earn it. Betis aren't happy, but worse could be coming as Barca have a free kick in a dangerous position...
GOAL! REAL BETIS 0-1 BARCELONA (LIONEL MESSI)
Was there ever any doubt?! Lionel Messi
steps up to the free kick and goes the goalkeeper's side, but still Lopez cannot do anything about it. The maestro puts it perfectly in the top corner - a moment of magic in an otherwise underwhelming display from Barca so far.
Messi is just from another planet. He is surely the best free-kick taker in the world, as well as the best passer, dribbler and player. Sensational.
Here is that stunning free kick, just so you can join in with the appreciation...
Barcelona are almost in here as Vidal plays a lovely ball over the top which sends Roberto through in the box. However, the full-back cannot bring it down on his chest when a better touch would have left him with only the keeper to beat.
SAVE! Barca win another free kick within shooting range and it is another fine effort from Messi, but this time Pau Lopez gets across to make the stop.
CLOSE! Crucial defending from Alba as he clears the ball away under heavy pressure from Joaquin inside his own six-yard box! It was a good team move which ended with Tello beating his man and firing a low ball right across the face of goal which was so close to being turned home.
CLOSE! Betis are really knocking on the door now! This time a cross arrives from the left and Canales attacks it really well, but it takes another fine last-ditch piece of defending to deny him.
Sidnei beats Messi to the ball and surges into the area before putting his foot through the ball, but it takes a nick on its way high and wide.
It has been all Betis in the last five minutes or so as they push for an equaliser. In truth, they are unfortunate to be losing this game - it is only a moment of Messi magic which separates the two teams.
Guardado is fortunate to escape a second yellow card here as he wipes Messi out with a mistimed challenge. Had he not already been booked that would surely be a yellow.
CLOSE! Betis come close again as Jese drills narrowly wide of the far post after another positive run from Tello down the left. The hosts are more than playing their part in a really entertaining contest here.
The referee is trying to let this game flow, which may be frustrating some of the players but is also making for a very good spectacle. It has been a great game to watch so far.
Barcelona's pass accuracy is down at around 74% at the moment, which is much lower than they would hope for. There have been quite a few misplaced passes on either side, which is also improving things for the neutral as it is making for an end-to-end game.
Guardado really is walking a disciplinary tightrope here. He has just caught Rakitic on the ankle and, while the referee does not award a foul, the replay shows that it was another claim for a second yellow card.
CHANCE! It really should be 2-0 to Barcelona! Ter Stegen picks out Alba with a sensational pass forward and it is eventually worked to Messi. The goalscorer has one defender in front of him but instead chooses to give it to an unmarked Suarez. The Uruguayan has time, space and really should score, but his finish is tame and easy for the keeper in the end.
CHANCE! Better from Suarez this time as he bundles his way forward down the right channel, making his way into the area before seeing his effort blocked by Bartra.
Alba breaks in behind Joaquin down the left channel, but the Betis veteran does well to keep with him and make things more difficult. Alba does still manage to get a cross in, but it is cleared behind for a corner.
There will be one minute of added time at the end of this first half.
GOAL! REAL BETIS 0-2 BARCELONA (LIONEL MESSI)
Messi has his second, Barcelona have their second and it may well be game over just before half time!
It is a lovely goal as Messi feeds the ball in to Suarez, who bides his time before returning the favour with a brilliant backheel into the path of the Argentine. Messi is the wrong side of the defence and pokes his finish past the keeper to double his tally and his side's lead!
HALF TIME: REAL BETIS 0-2 BARCELONA
The half-time scoreline is harsh on Real Betis as Barcelona take a 2-0 lead into the break courtesy of a couple of moments of magic from the champions elect.
Betis have more than played their part in an entertaining contest and if they get the next goal then they could well drag themselves back into the match, but for now it looks as though Barcelona will be going 10 points clear.
Lionel Messi has unsurprisingly been the star of the show, and until the very end of the half it looked as though a piece of his individual genius would be all that separated the two sides.
Barca won a free kick just outside the area and Messi picked out the top corner perfectly, leaving Pau Lopez no chance despite going on the goalkeeper's side. Ordinarily a goalkeeper should never be beaten on his side from a free kick, but this one was so good that it is hard to blame him.
Messi doubled both Barcelona's lead and his own personal tally with the final action of the first half, although the magic on that occasion came from Suarez.
The Uruguayan collected a pass from Messi before waiting for his strike partner to get into the box and then producing a superb back-heel into his path. From there Messi did the rest with a confident finish to significantly increase the size of Betis's task just before the interval.
This one is not quite over yet - Betis have shown enough to suggest that they can get back into this game with Barcelona not at their best despite their two-goal lead.
The goal just before half time could be a killer for the home side, though, and it would take an almighty comeback for them to rescue anything from this game now. Another 4-3 anyone?
KICKOFF: Barcelona get us back underway for the second half at the Estadio Benito Villamarin!
SHOT! Suarez has come flying out of the blocks at the start of this second half and he engineers a chance for himself down the left channel here, only to slam his finish into the side-netting.
Good response from Betis now as they apply some pressure on the Barca defence. The visitors deal with it, but Betis will not stop playing their way here.
Shouts from the Betis fans for a free kick in a similar position to the one Messi scored as Lo Celso goes down, but the referee says no.
YELLOW CARD! Seconds later they do earn a free kick, though, as Lenglet steps across Joaquin to stop a mazy run into the box. Yellow for Lenglet.
Barca have the chance to break as Arthur drives forward before looking for Messi, but the pass is off target and the attack eventually breaks down.
CHANCE! Dreadful from Canales! He is played in behind down the left flank and looks certain to be offside, but the flag stays down. In the end he is caught in two, three, four minds and just pokes the ball out of play - although the flag does then go up and it would have been ruled out with VAR anyway.
We're approaching the hour mark now and Betis are still holding their own in general play - they are just lacking the moments of genius which Barca have.
Joaquin drives into the box again for Betis before lifting a cross to the back post, but it is nodded behind for a corner with Tello lurking.
CHANCE! How is this not 3-0 to Barcelona?! Messi slides the ball through for Suarez inside the area and he takes the ball around the keeper, but is forced out wide and cannot squeeze the ball in. Alba is waiting for a tap-in, but Suarez's attempted shot/cross misses him.
CHANCE! Suarez misses another brilliant chance here! Ter Stegen's ball forward is flicked into the path of the Barca striker, who has all the time in the world to decide what he wants to do with it. Messi is getting up in support, but you cannot blame Suarez for going for goal himself - except when he slides it past the far post like he does here! That should have been a third!
GOAL! REAL BETIS 0-3 BARCELONA (LUIS SUAREZ)
GOAL! Third time lucky! Suarez puts those two missed chances behind him and scores a stunning solo effort to put his game to bed! He dribbles past three Betis defenders, leaving them in heaps behind him, before slotting his finish into the bottom corner.
BARCELONA SUB: Change for the visitors after that goal as Arthur is replaced by Nelson Semedo.
YELLOW CARD! Dreadful from Semedo. The full-back gets forward on Messi's pass and goes around the keeper but then delays his fall until he sees the ball is beyond him. Terrible dive, and a rightful yellow card.
REAL BETIS SUBS: Double change for the hosts as Emerson and Diego Lainez replace Joaquin and Lo Celso.
Beautiful football between Messi and Suarez and the latter eventually tries another back-heel through, but this time Bartra reads it and mops up possession.
It hasn't quite been a vintage performance from Barcelona, but they have had flashes of brilliance which have been enough to decide this game. They haven't had all their own way, but they are cruising to a 10-point lead here.
CHANCE! Another sight of goal for Suarez as he collects the ball inside the area and drills a low strike towards goal, but he doesn't catch it right and the keeper makes the save.
Third and final change for Betis as William is replaced by Loren Moron
How about this for a stat? Incredible from Messi...
Betis have a free kick in a good crossing position here as they look for a consolation...
A dangerous delivery is driven into the box and Loren flicks it on, but it hits Bartra last and loops over the crossbar.
GOAL! REAL BETIS 1-3 BARCELONA (LOREN MORON)
GOAL! Betis do have the consolation - surely too late to spark a comeback? Tello gets down the left and plays a low ball into the box which Alba can't deal with. Lainez tries to work space to shoot but instead settles with teeing up Loren, who curls his finish into the top corner.
SAVE! Barca almost restore their three-goal lead straight away as Pau Lopez tips the ball over from Vidal's fine curling effort. Very good save!
GOAL! REAL BETIS 1-4 BARCELONA (LIONEL MESSI)
GOAL! Hat-trick for Messi, and this is another absolute beauty! The maestro chips the keeper from inside the area while the goalkeeper was only a yard off his line! It completes his hat-trick in stunning fashion!
Even the Betis fans stood up to applaud Messi there. They are as in awe as the rest of us for this Messi display.
Trouble for Suarez here as he goes down and looks in some pain here. He is struggling to stand now and it looks like he may be forced off.
BARCELONA SUB: Sure enough there is the change as Philippe Coutinho replaces Suarez.
There will be three minutes of added time at the end of this match.
OFF THE POST! Messi almost has a fourth! He collects the ball inside the area and pokes it goalwards, but it comes off the inside of the post!
FULL TIME: REAL BETIS 1-4 BARCELONA
You run out of words to describe that man Lionel Messi. Yet another hat-trick tonight, and this one will go down as one of his best.
An incredible performance from the Argentine fires Barcelona 10 points clear at the top of La Liga, and surely the title is all theirs now. Betis fought valiantly, and in the end the final score is probably harsh on them, but they came up against the greatest player of all time on top form tonight.
Right, that is all we have time for this evening!
Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole for tonight's match as Barcelona march on towards the title courtesy of a Messi masterclass against Betis. I will leave you with our match report, and be sure to stick around for reaction too.
From me, though, it is goodbye for now!