Sevilla, Spain, Feb 7 (efe-epa).- Barcelona notched its sixth consecutive La Liga victory on Sunday, battling to a 3-2 comeback win over Real Betis at Benito Villamarin Stadium in Sevilla.
The match was played to empty stands due to coronavirus gathering restrictions.
Leo Messi remained on the bench during the first half for Barca, and it was the home squad who got on the board first in the 38th minute, when Borja Iglesias found the net, with the score remaining at that level into the break.
Dembele had lost the ball across the center line and Betis pushed in toward the visitors’ goal, sending the ball to Emerson who got past Jordi Alba and knocked it over to Iglesias to blast into the net.
However, no sooner had Messi been sent in to the fray in the 57th minute than – barely two minutes later – he tied things up at 1-1 with Dembele sending a pass back to the Argentine icon at the edge of the area for him to bazooka into the twine.
Betis never gave up driving and sparring, looking for the win that was within their grasp, but in the 68th minute, Victor Ruiz knocked the ball into his own net to send the visitors ahead.
Ruiz redeemed himself seven minutes later when he scored another goal, this one in the proper net, evening things up yet again, but ultimately it was Francisco Trincao – on an assist by Messi – who put the icing on the cake of a hard-fought match with a powerful shot that glanced off the crossbar and into the net just three minutes before the end of regulation time handing the win to the Catalan squad.
It was the 21-year-old Trincao’s first goal for Barca.
Ronald Koeman had kept Messi out during the first half, along with making several other changes, apparently resting up some of his men for the Copa del Rey semi-final against Sevilla next Wednesday rather than trying to go all-out for a La Liga title, a prospect that looks ever more remote.
And Real Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini also surprised observers by keeping some of his outstanding players on the sidelines.
Barca’s key central defender, Ronald Araujo, suffered an ankle injury early on and was replaced by Frenkie de Jong.
With the win, Barca now sits seven points behind Atletico Madrid, with the La Liga leaders having played two fewer games, and the Catalans go up against Celta Vigo at home on Monday night.
Betis: Joel Robles; Emerson, Mandi, Víctor Ruiz, Alex Moreno; Paul (Guido Rodriguez, m.75), Guardado; Aitor Ruibal (Rodri, m.64), Juanmi (Tello, m.75), Fekir (Canales, m.82); and Borja Iglesias (Loren, m.82).
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza, Araujo (De Jong, m.11), Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Pjanic (Trincao, m.57), Sergio Busquets (Umtiti, 77), Riqui Puig (Messi, m.57); Griezmann, Dembele and Braithwaite (Pedri, m.46).
Referee: Carlos del Cerro Grande showed yellow cards to Barca’s De Jong (m.47), Dembele (m.64) and Sergio Busquets, (m.73) and to Betis’s Víctor Ruiz (m.77).