Barcelona remained top of La Liga as second-half strikes from Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez defeated 10-man Real Betis 2-0 on Saturday.
Luis Enrique took no chances as a full-strength Barca travelled to Benito Villamarin, aware that only a win would do, while Betis were in the midst of an improvement under Juan Merino, to the extent they were safe from relegation before the game.
Indeed, it was Betis who created the game’s best chances as Barca were caught on the break on just six minutes, Ruben Castro collecting the ball in the D, with the Andalusians two on two with La Blaugrana, but the striker miscontrolled and saw his shot deflected over the bar for an early corner.
Betis may have even taken the lead, had Castro spotted an unmarked Dani Ceballos overlapping behind him, but Petros nonetheless forced Claudio Bravo into a fingertip save over the crossbar from his header.
The Catalans’ first real opening came through Neymar, who got to the left-hand byline and teed up Andres Iniesta for a shot on the volley, but the midfielder – despite being unmarked – sent his effort wide of the target.
Staying in Betis’ half, Lionel Messi – who had picked up a yellow card for dissent in relation to Gerard Pique’s high boot – turned Westermann near the centre-circle and looked to leave the defender for dead, but the German pulled his shirt and was booked.
Neymar then called Antonio Adan into action as he tried to squeeze a shot into the bottom-left corner of the goalkeeper's net, but the former Madrid custodian went down low to make the save.
That was about as good as it got for Barca before the break, but they were dealt a huge boost when Westermann chopped down Ivan Rakitic from behind.
Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz ran out of patience as he showed the defender his second yellow card on 35 minutes, although the fallout ended unsavourily, with a bottle being thrown at the Croat as he took a subsequent corner.
The restart served up more of the same, but Betis’ one-man deficit was finally punished – albeit via a mistake as German Pezzella’s missed overhead clearance was followed by Adan failing to take stock of the situation to permit Rakitic a half-volley into an empty net.
Betis resorted to a number of cynical fouls as they tried to stifle Barca as best they could, although they were lucky to keep Dani Ceballos on the pitch until his 69th-minute substitution. The Spain Under-21 midfielder was involved in a number of questionable clashes with Blaugrana players, including two lots of studs on Gerard Pique, but was only booked after his fourth.
Nonetheless, Messi barely broke a sweat as he waited for the moment to play in Suarez with the most delicate of through balls, and the No 9 flicked a finish past Adan for his 35th League goal of the season – his joint-career best.
Barca still had time to thank their lucky stars that they didn’t make a third change, however, as Bravo pulled up with a knock a couple of minutes before injury time and had to be replaced by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Real Betis 0-2 Barcelona
Westermann sent off 35 (RB) Rakitic 50, Suarez 81 (B)
Real Betis: Bruno, Pezzella, Westermann, Montoya; N'Diaye, Petros; Cejudo, Joaquin (Musonda 55), Ceballos (Portillo 69); Castro (Van Wolfswinkel 79)
Barcelona: Bravo (Ter Stegen 88); Alves (Sergi 74), Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic (Arda 86), Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Referee: Mateu Lahoz