Lionel Messi came off the bench to help Barcelona to a54-2 win over Real Betis, scoring two and setting up another.
There was no sign of Messi in the starting lineup, leading to speculation over whether the Argentine was injured, being rested or had been dropped due to his recent underwhelming form.
Barca started well and took the lead after 22 minutes when Ousmane Dembele controlled an Antoine Griezmann pass, shifted the ball on to his left foot and unleashed a ferocious strike into the back of the net.
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Griezmann had the opportunity to double Barcelona’s lead after Ansu Fati was felled inside the area by Aissa Mandi, but the French forward saw his penalty kick saved by Real Betis goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo.
This opened the door for the visitors to find a way back into the match, with Toni Sanabria smashing a finish past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in first half stoppage time after a cross from Cristian Tello.
Messi was introduced for the start of the second half and made an instant impact, stepping over a Jordi Alba cross to present Griezmann with an opportunity he couldn’t miss. The Argentine also found the back of the net himself after Mandi stopped a Dembele shot on the line with his hand. The Betis defender was sent off for his crime.
Loren Moron gave 10-man Betis a way back into the match, coming off the bench to finish an Alex Moreno cross, but Messi grabbed a second to stave off the fightback, firing in at the near post after being played through by Sergi Roberto.
Pedri completed the scoring late on, grabbing his first La Liga goal by getting on the end of a Roberto cross to the back post, sending Ronald Koeman’s men up to eighth place in La Liga before the international break.
TALKING POINT - What was the reason behind the decision to bench Lionel Messi?
There will be a lot of talk about Koeman’s decision to stick Messi on the bench for this match. The Argentine missed training on Friday, which suggests he is carrying a knock, but the Barcelona boss’ call to leave his best player out of his lineup was still a big one. In the end, the Catalans needed Messi in the second half to give them some cutting edge in front of goal.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Barcelona played well in the first half, but went into half time having been pegged back to 1-1 by Real Betis. They had created chances, but failed to take them. The introduction of Messi for the second period settled Barcelona down in the attacking third and the goals started to flow, with two coming off the boot of the Argentine. This was a display that proved just how important he remains to the Catalans.
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Barcelona - Ter Stegen 7, Roberto 7, Pique 6, Lenglet 5, Alba 7, Busquets 6, de Jong 7, Dembele 8, Pedri 8, Fati 5, Griezmann 7. Subs - Messi 8, Pjanic 5, Trincao 6, Braithwaite 5
Real Betis - Bravo 7, Emerson 6, Bartra 6, Mandi 5, Moreno 8, Carvalho 5, Rodriguez 5, Joaquin 5, Canales 7, Tello 7, Sanabria 7. Subs - Ruiz 6, Ruibal 5, Moron 7, Rodri 5
22’ GOAL! Barcelona 1-0 Real Betis: Wow! What an astonishing finish! The ball was played out to the right by Griezmann, Dembele cut inside on to his left foot and lashed a ferocious strike into the back of the net! Bravo didn't see the ball until it had already flashed past him!
32’ PENALTY KICK TO BARCELONA! Ansu is taken down inside the area by Mandi and the referee points to the spot!
34’ PENALTY KICK SAVED! Griezmann steps up and sees his spot kick saved by Bravo! It was a good height for the Real Betis goalkeeper. Griezmann has had countless chances this afternoon!
45+3’ GOAL! Barcelona 1-1 Real Betis: An equaliser late in the first half! In stoppage time! Canales drives forward, plays the pass out to Tello who gets the ball into the middle. Sanabria arrives late on the scene and smashes a finish into the Barcelona net on the stretch!
49’ GOAL! Barcelona 2-1 Real Betis: Barca have the lead again early on in the second half and it's Griezmann who finds the back of the net at last! Alba burst down the left side, Messi's clever step-over saw his French teammate presented with the chance to finish into the empty net.
59’ SENT OFF! After a lengthy VAR review, Mandi is shown a straight red card for stopping a goal with his arm on the line. He can have no real complaints about that.
61’ GOAL! Barcelona 3-1 Real Betis: Wow. What a brilliant penalty kick from Messi. Bravo went the right way, but the Real Betis goalkeeper stood no chance of getting there. The powerful shot from the Barcelona number 10 finds the very top corner of the net. So good.
73’ GOAL! Barcelona 3-2 Real Betis: Talk about an instant impact! Moron has only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds, but the striker has got Real Betis back into this contest! The ball was squared back to him by Moreno and he finishes into the net from six yards out.
82’ GOAL! Barcelona 4-2 Real Betis: Messi has a second! What a performance this has been in the second half from the Barcelona number 10. Roberto's backheel flick sent Messi through on goal and he lashes a finish high into the Real Betis at the near post. Excellent.
90’ GOAL! Barcelona 5-2 Real Betis: The finishing touches are put on the Barcelona victory. The cross was played to the back post by Roberto and Pedri was on hand to finish into the back of the net. This has been an emphatic display from the Catalans in the second half.
Antoine Griezmann has missed his last four penalty kicks in a row for club and country.
Griezmann scored and assisted in the same game for the first time as a Barcelona player in 2020.
Ousmane Dembele has scored three goals in his last six games for Barcelona.