Lionel Messi edges Barcelona towards Spanish title
Lionel Messi came off the bench to score twice in quick succession and help Barcelona get back to winning ways with a 4-2 victory over Real Betis at the Nou Camp.
The Argentine has now scored 60 goals this season, including 46 in the league, and the Catalan club need only one more win - or any dropped points from second-placed Real Madrid - to regain the La Liga title from their arch rivals.
It was the perfect response for Barca after their humiliating Champions League exit to Bayern Munich.
Barcelona were forced to work hard for their win against an adventurous Betis side, who took an early lead when poor defending allowed Colombian striker Dorlan Pabon to run unchallenged into the penalty area and convert with a low finish.
Their lead lasted barely two minutes, however, when Alexis Sanchez headed in Andres Iniesta's cross from the left.
David Villa was then the chief culprit as the home side wasted several chances. The Spain striker missed four presentable opportunities, while Cristian Tello crashed a shot against the underside of the crossbar.
Betis then punished Barca for their profligacy by retaking the lead shortly before half-time, and it was a stunning 30-yard strike into the top corner from Ruben Perez, who had never previously scored a professional goal.
The home fans were starting to get jittery in the early stages of the second period, but Villa calmed the nerves by finally scoring as he met Dani Alves's right-wing cross with a far-post header.
And then it was time for Messi. The Argentine star, who did not start due to an ongoing niggling hamstring injury, replaced Villa before play even resumed following the latter's equaliser, and wasted no time making his mark as he stepped up to score with a delicious free-kick from the right corner of the penalty area.
Remarkably, Messi very nearly did exactly the same thing a few minutes later, this time with a set-piece from the left edge of the box, only for the crossbar to rescue Betis.
Messi would not be denied, though, and he soon completed the scoring by profiting from some wonderfully slick passing which culminated in Iniesta and Sanchez combining to create a simple tap-in.
Sanchez nearly added a fifth with a cheeky chip and Betis keeper Adrian's save denied Messi a hat-trick after a mazy dribble in the last minute, but the game was already well won and Barcelona will be crowned champions if Madrid fail to beat Malaga on Wednesday evening.