Lionel Messi scored in his 500th match for Barcelona to help them ease past Real Betis 4-0 on Wednesday and ensure they kept the lead of the Spanish league to conclude a superb year for the Catalan club.
Barcelona broke a run of consecutive draws in the league to cap one of the best years in the club’s history. Before kick-off Andrés Iniesta paraded the recently won Club World Cup trophy, their fifth title won in 2015. The four goals scored took the year’s tally to 180, bettering Madrid’s milestone of 178 from 2014.
“It was a spectacular year,” Messi said. “It will be complicated to better this, but like always we will try to do so.”
Messi recovered from a hard knock with Antonio Adán that was ruled a penalty against the Betis goalkeeper by scoring Barcelona’s second goal, after an own goal put the Catalan side on their way.
“It was a strange game. I don’t know if it was a penalty or not, when I was hit I didn’t realise what had happened,” Messi said about the collision with Adán that left him on the ground and momentarily silenced the Camp Nou.
While Messi was being examined by team doctors, Neymar stepped up to take the penalty, only to send his shot off the crossbar. The Betis defender Heiko Westermann disputed the rebound with two Barcelona players, but he ended up batting it into his own net just before the half-hour mark.
Three minutes later Messi played Neymar through with a long pass that he returned for the club’s all-time leading scorer to notch his 425th club goal.
The Betis coach, Pepe Mel, was sent off for protesting moments later.
Luis Suárez scored twice after half-time to take over from Neymar as the competition’s leading scorer with 15, and only the woodwork – which Messi, Neymar, and Dani Alves all hit in the second half – saved Betis from an even bigger loss.
Luis Enrique’s team lead La Liga on goal difference from Atlético Madrid, who scored twice in the final four minutes to win 2-0 at city rivals Rayo Vallecano.