Messi nets in 500th appearance

Barca drub Betis 4-0

Messi nets in 500th appearance

Lionel Messi scored on his 500th Barcelona appearance as the European champions moved back to the top of the table with a 4-0 win over Real Betis as La Liga returned from a curtailed winter break on Wednesday.

Atletico Madrid remain level on points with Barca thanks to two goals in the final two minutes from Angel Correa and Antoine Griezmann to emerge 2-0 victors at Rayo Vallecano.

Barca celebrated their fifth trophy of 2015 before kick-off after adding the Club World Cup to their haul last time out with Messi captaining the side in the absence of Andres Iniesta.

Yet, on a day dominated by controversial refereeing decisions, they were handed a gift to open the scoring after a decent start by Betis.

Antonio Adan clearly played the ball before catching Messi as he punched the ball to safety, but referee Inaki Vicando Garrido surprised everyone by pointing to the spot.

Neymar hit the bar with the resulting penalty, but Heiko Westermann could only turn the rebound into his own net under pressure from Ivan Rakitic.

From Betis' misfortune the floodgates opened as a lovely one-two between Neymar and Messi allowed the later to tap home his 425th goal for the club.

Luis Suarez added a third with a cool finish from Sergio Busquets's pass inside the first minute of the second-half.

And the Uruguayan rounded off the scoring seven minutes from time as Barca set a new record tally for the calendar year of 180 goals.

Atletico looked to be heading for a second consecutive disappointing result after losing 1-0 at Malaga before the 10-day winter break as Rayo's defence - fresh from conceding 10 to Real Madrid last time out - stood firm for 88 minutes at Vallecas.

However, Diego Simeone's substitutions swung the game in Atletico's favour as Thomas Partey teed up Correa to smash home his first goal in three months.

And another substitute Jackson Martinez then played in Griezmann to register his 13th goal of the season with a lovely dinked finish two minutes later.

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