Barcelona squandered a two-goal lead before seeing off 10-man Real Betis Balompie 4-2 to cut Real Madrid’s lead at the top of La Liga back to five points on Sunday.
Two goals from Lionel Messi and a goal apiece from Xavi and Alexis Sanchez fired them to the victory after Ruben Castro and Roque Santa Cruz had leveled. Betis had Mario Vazquez sent off with the score at 2-2 with 20 minutes remaining and Barca never looked back.
Now the focus is turned to the Copa del Rey tomorrow when the two Spanish giants face each other in the first leg of a quarter-final tie.
“The cup is a different competition, so we have to change our mentality. What we do know is we will go all out to get through the tie,” Xavi said. “We have no doubts about our play, although we know we can play better or worse than tonight. Our philosophy is always the same, we go out to attack. We were eight points behind Madrid and Betis made it difficult for us because they wanted the ball.”
Betis started the better team at the Camp Nou as they tested Victor Valdes twice in the opening minutes.
That only served to wake up the home team when Xavi, playing his 400th league game for the club, gave them the lead on 10 minutes, following up after a Cesc Fabregas shot had hit the post.
Two minutes later, Barca were two goals ahead when Messi steered the ball home after good work on the left by Sanchez.
However, Betis continued to attack Barcelona with crisp passing and good movement off the ball.
Their reward arrived on 32 minutes when Castro was at hand to finish a pass from Salva Sevilla from close range after good work by Jorge Molina had drawn Valdes out of position.
It was the first league goal conceded by Barcelona at home all season.
Buoyed by their success, it was no surprise when Santa Cruz got the equalizer on 52 minutes.
With fluid passing in tight angles, Betis were playing the champions at their own game and they looked as likely a winner as the Catalans, but when Barca gained a numerical advantage on 71 minutes it was all the encouragement they needed to surge forward in search of the win.
Alexis got the third five minutes later with a low shot from the edge of the area after a pass from Xavi.
Messi finished off Betis from the penalty spot with four minutes remaining after Jose Dorado had handled in the area.
Elsewhere, Athletic Bilbao beat Levante UD 3-0 to move within four points of their fourth-placed opponents and edge closer to a Champions League spot. The result lifted them above Sevilla and RCD Espanyol into fifth position.
First-half goals from Fernando Amorebieta and Fernando Llorente, his seventh of the season, and a last-minute header by Mikel San Jose were enough for Bilbao to see off Levante’s challenge in a game that Bilbao dominated from start to finish.
Athletic have now lost only one game in their last 11 in all competitions since the beginning of last month and they can look forward to an exciting year with all to play for in La Liga, the Europa League and in the Copa del Rey.
Malaga missed the opportunity to go fifth when they lost 2-1 away at Sporting de Gijon.
The winner in the last minute by Diego Trejo gave the home team a much-needed three points, but they remain in the relegation zone.
Atletico Madrid fans welcomed back former star Diego Simeone as their new coach with a resounding 3-0 win over Villarreal.