Messi brace powers Barca

Messi brace powers Barca

Xavi scores on his 400th league appearance

Barcelona playmaker Xavi celebrated his 400th league appearance by scoring the opening goal and Lionel Messi netted twice as the La Liga champions beat 10-man Real Betis 4-2 on Sunday to trim Real Madrid's advantage at the top back to five points.

Spain international Xavi, the first Barca player to reach the 400 milestone, clipped the ball high into an empty net in the 10th minute at the Nou Camp after a Cesc Fabregas shot had ricocheted back off a post.

Pep Guardiola's side were cruising when Messi added a second two minutes later but Barca conceded their first league goals at home this season when a battling Betis struck either side of the break to make it 2-2.

Betis defender Mario Alvarez was dismissed for a second yellow card 19 minutes from time before
Alexis Sanchez ran on to a Xavi pass and fired a 75th-minute third goal and Messi scored from the spot in the 86th following a Betis handball in the area.

With just under half the season played, Real have 46 points from 18 matches thanks to their 2-1 comeback win at Real Mallorca on Saturday, with Barca on 41.

Valencia, who lost 1-0 at home to Real Sociedad on Saturday, are seven points behind the Catalans in third.

Real's success in Mallorca was a club record 11th straight victory away from home in all competitions and they host Barca, whom they beat 1-0 in last year's final, in a King's Cup quarterfinal first leg on Wednesday.

Athletic Bilbao improved their chances of playing in Europe next season when Fernando Amorebieta, Fernando Llorente and Mikel San Jose secured a 3-0 win at home to Levante earlier on Sunday.

Marcelo Bielsa's side climbed to fifth on 26 points, level with Osasuna but ahead on goal difference after the Pamplona-based club lost 2-0 at home to Racing Santander, their first defeat in seven games.

Malaga slipped to eighth, level with Sevilla and Espanyol on 25 points, after they were beaten 2-1 at struggling Sporting Gijon.

Atletico Madrid thumped struggling Villarreal 3-0, a first victory in four matches for the capital's second club, putting them 10th on 23 points.

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