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Rakitic, Jordi Alba and the trident celebrate the first goal at the Benito Villamarín / MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

Barça are closing in on the Liga title! With a 1-0 win at Betis on Saturday evening, they managed to hold off the pressure from Atlético and Real Madrid (who both won 1-0 earlier on in the day) to stay top of the table for one more week. Hang on for two more, with games at home to Espanyol and away to Granada, and the league title is returning to Catalonia!

Westermann sees red

The news that their rivals had both done what they had to added to the pressure on Barça to do likewise, but it soon became apparent that Betis were not going to give the points up easily.

With Dani Alves the only change from the side that beat Sporting 6-0, other than a cross from Jordi Alba that accidentally ended being a shot and an attempt sent way wide by Iniesta, there wasn’t much to worry Betis keeper Adán until Neymar Jr drove a powerful strike straight at him on 29 minutes.

But aside from an early flurry that came to nothing, Betis were causing no trouble at the other end and the chances of that changing took a major dent when Heiko Westermann was booked first for a foul on Leo Messi and seven minutes later for another on Ivan Rakitic.

Barça would be playing the last 55 minutes of the game against ten men. But despite immediately making the extra man tell, they would be unable to capitalise with a goal before the half-time whistle blew.

Rakitic opens

It would only take five minutes of the second half for that to change. Messi lobbed the ball delicately into the area and Rakitic was able to benefit from the confusion between Pezzella and his goalkeeper to get on the end of it and slot home.

Barça led 1-0, but continued to push in search of a second to avoid any late scares. Almost all the play was deep in the Betis area, but although the passing was comfortable, the finishing was less so, and the scoreline refused to budge – not even when Luis Suárez was ideally positioned to score from just a few metres out.

As the game moved into the final quarter of an hour, ten-man Betis, who hadn’t had a shot on goal since the break, started to look resigned to defeat. And their lack of ambition seemed to have taken the urgency out of Barça’s game too.

Goal 35 for Suárez

But Barça have never been a team to settle for grinding out 1-0 wins, and indeed there was another goal to come. Messi calmly stroked the ball through the Betis defence on 81 minutes and Suárez was there to extend his lead in the Liga goalscoring charts by making it 2-0.

There was no way Betis were going to come back now, and the only remaining concern came when an injured Claudio Bravo called to be substituted by Ter Stegen in the final minutes.

It may not have been the most spectacular of matches, but at this stage of the season, it’s the results that count, and a 2-0 win at Betis will do very nicely indeed. Roll on the derby!

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