Barcelona capped off a remarkable 2015 with a 4-0 victory over Real Betis on Wednesday to regain top spot in La Liga.
Lionel Messi made his 500th Barcelona appearance as Barca hosted Betis without Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta in their line-up. The Andalucians, meanwhile, opted for just the one change from their derby stalemate with Sevilla a fortnight ago as Ricky van Wolfswinkel replaced Joaquin on the left wing.
Victories for Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid meant only a would will do for the Catalans, who wore the world champions emblem on their shirts for the first time and presented the five trophies they won over the past 12 months prior to kick-off, if they were to enter the New Year top of La Liga.
Barca started the game with the lion’s share of possession, but Betis put in a mighty shift to keep the Catalans at bay and almost nicked a goal on the counterattack, had Dani Ceballos showed more composure in his one-on-one with Claudio Bravo after he danced past Dani Alves and then Mathieu.
Neymar was also hugely fortunate to avoid an early red card as he threw an arm into Petros’ face in an off-the-ball incident, which proved to be a case of mistaken identity as the No 11 intended to target Alvaro Cejudo, who upended him moments earlier.
Refereeing controversies were evident in Madrid’s 3-1 victory over Real Sociedad earlier in the day, and it was no different at Camp Nou as Inaki Bikandi Garrido questionably awarded Barca a penalty for Adan’s clash with Messi in the box, although the goalkeeper’s fist cleanly got to the ball first, his follow-through catching the Argentine.
The No 10 stayed down with a suspected shoulder injury, leaving Neymar with the task of putting the penalty away, but he appeared to encroach as he looked to have taken a second touch when striking the ball, having slipped. Barca once more enjoyed the rub of the green and Heiko Westermann hooked the rebound over his own line.
Betis’ evening then went from bad to worse, starting with both of their centre-backs Bruno Gonzalez and Westermann being forced off with injuries, before Messi – back up and running – capped off his milestone with a tap-in from Neymar’s cutback at the byline after a succession of give-and-gos.
Suarez only managed the side-netting, despite rounding Adan, in his only chance of the first half, but he made amends only a minute into the restart when he latched onto Sergio Busquets’ through ball, having dispossessed Alfred N’Diaye, and applied a simple finish beyond the custodian.
Barca looked to see out the remainder of the match with the minimum amount of fuss and ought to have won by a far greater margin, although Neymar could only hit the post from point-blank range, before Messi was denied from the rebound by the resilient Adan.
Messi then tested Adan with two free kicks, the first of which needed to be pushed wide, while the second cannoned off the crossbar, but German Pezzella squandered any bleak hope Betis had of a comeback when he slid over a corner, unmarked at the back post.
Suarez threw away two more openings, with his touch letting him down in his bid to finish off Alves’ spectacular cross-cum-lob and Adan again coming to Betis’ rescue one-on-one with the No 9, but he rounded off both his and his club’s historic year as he finished off a sweeping move, turning in Neymar’s deflected touch.
Barcelona 4-0 Real Betis
Westermann og 29, Messi 32, Suarez 46, 83
Barcelona: Bravo; Alves, Mascherano, Vermaelen, Mathieu (Adriano 67); Busquets (Bartra 57), Rakitic, Sergi (Munir 86); Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Real Betis: Adan; Molinero, Bruno (Pezzella 17), Westermann (Digard 36), Vargas; N'Diaye, Petros; Cejudo, Ceballos, Van Wolfswinkel; Castro (Van der Vaart 75)
Referee: Bikandi Garrido