Lionel Messi marked his 500th Barcelona appearance with his 425th goal as the Catalan giants beat Real Betis 4-0 at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Messi found the back of the net for the sixth time in the league this season just after the half-hour with a simple tap-in from Neymar’s assist, his 292nd Liga strike.
Betis’ day began to unravel with 27 minutes on the clock as goalkeeper Adan was harshly punished as he collided with Messi while making a clearance. Neymar missed the subsequent penalty but Heiko Westermann conceded an own goal as he tried to get the rebound away.
Messi then doubled the lead, and Luis Enrique’s side further extended their advantage 55 seconds after the restart as Luis Suarez converted Sergio Busquets’ pass, the Uruguayan firing home Barca’s 179th goal of the calendar year – eclipsing the Spanish record set in 2014 by Real Madrid.
Messi twice went close to doubling his tally with late free-kicks, only for the impressive Adan and his crossbar to repel his advances, before Suarez rounded off the scoring with his second seven minutes from time.
Victory ensures Barcelona finish 2015 top of the Liga table; while Betis – who saw coach Pepe Mel sent off for protesting against the penalty decision – reflect on a fourth league game without a win as they remain in the bottom half.
After Barca had been given a guard of honour to commemorate their five trophies won in 2015, the game took its time to spark into life with Messi uncharacteristically wasteful on his milestone appearance.
With 23 minutes on the clock the hosts were nearly punished for their profligacy as Dani Ceballos wriggled away from Dani Alves, but the Brazilian was able to recover before the teenager could pull the trigger.
Any progress Betis felt they were making was quickly halted as Barca were awarded a controversial penalty just before the half-hour.
Goalkeeper Adan raced from his line and punched clear, but his momentum saw him clatter heavily into Messi and a foul was given, much to the digust of the visiting players and coaching staff.
While Messi received treatment off the pitch, Neymar assumed responsibilities from the spot, and his effort from 12 yards thumped against the crossbar before Westermann turned the rebound into his own net under pressure from Ivan Rakitic and Suarez.
As Betis fumed – with Mel sent to the stands – Barca took full advantage and quickly doubled their lead as Neymar and Messi combined brilliantly on the edge of the penalty area, the Brazilian’s low cross finding his team-mate who duly slotted home.
Suarez quickly added a third in the opening minute of the second half as Betis were punished for giving the ball away, Busquets finding the striker who made no mistake from close range.
A Messi-Suarez-Neymar treble nearly arrived on the hour as Betis’ defence began to struggle under the pressure, however the latter’s effort struck the post while Messi was denied by Adan from the rebound.
With victory secured, Barca turned on the style and Messi, Suarez and Alves all went close to adding a fourth, but Adan and his crossbar kept them at bay.
The fourth did come in the closing minutes, though, as an intricate Barca move finished with a Neymar backheel to Suarez, who wrapped up the win with his second.
Key Opta stats:
– Neymar has assisted 12 goals in his last 12 appearances for Barcelona (all competitions). His La Liga tally of 12 assists is more than any other player.
– Excluding penalties, Luis Suarez has scored more goals than any other La Liga player during 2015 (46, all competitions).
– Antonio Adan has made more saves than any other goalkeeper in La Liga this season (Vicente Guaita, 60).
– Neymar has missed more penalties than any other La Liga player this season: 3 (four penalty goals from seven attempts, all competitions).
– Barcelona have won more penalties than any other side in the top five European leagues (9).
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