Messi magic helps Barca past Betis

Lionel Messi gave a hat-trick of assists on Sunday as Barcelona ended their turbulent week with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Real Betis to stay in touch with Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

Madrid’s 4-1 win away at Osasuna earlier in the day put pressure on Barca to respond, only for Betis to twice lead at the Benito Villamarin through a penalty from Sergio Canales and brilliant strike from Nabil Fekir.

Yet both times Barcelona hit back as Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets pulled them level before Clement Lenglet headed in with 18 minutes left, all three goals teed up by talisman Messi.

Fekir and Lenglet were then sent off in a frantic contest by the end of which, Barca had the victory they so desperately needed following a difficult few days for the club.

Messi had put himself at the heart of a political spat this week by publicly taking exception to comments made by sporting director Eric Abidal, who suggested the players were the cause of the decision to sack Ernesto Valverde last month.

Barcelona were then beaten by Athletic Bilbao and knocked out of the Copa del Rey before the semifinals for the first time in 10 years on Thursday.

But the Catalans turned the tide and stay three points behind Real Madrid, who had earlier won in Pamplona.

Elsewhere, Sevilla lost ground in the race for the top four as they conceded two late goals to lose 2-1 at struggling Celta Vigo.

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