Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi deliver 9/10 performances for Barcelona
Barcelona put on an irresistible second-half show to thrash Real Betis 5-0 on Sunday, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez scoring twice each as they tightened their stranglehold on La Liga.
The Catalans moved 11 points clear of second place Atletico Madrid with a convincing win at the Benito Villamarin, as their title rivals fade farther into the distance.
The best news for Barcelona was that their hiccup against Espanyol in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday -- which ended their unbeaten run -- remains just that, a hiccup. As they ran riot in the second half, any hopes Atletico, Valencia or Real Madrid fans had that the loss might develop into a slump were vanquished.
It was nice to see Samuel Umtiti back, but it came at the cost of an injury to Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian had been thriving in the team since the French defender's injury, but now he will take Umtiti's place back on the treatment table -- where he has spent too much of his career.
Manager rating (out of 10)
8 -- Valverde's tactics worked again, with Barcelona tiring out Real Betis before hitting them for six, figuratively speaking and almost literally speaking too, in the second half. Some of Barcelona's football matched up to the kind of passing moves they produced under Pep Guardiola.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Although the goalkeeper had few saves to make, Real Betis' high press forced him to not go short with his deliveries in the first half as he usually does. He ended up kicking the ball long, but ufortunately for Betis, he is excellent at that too.
DF Nelson Semedo, 7 -- The Portuguese right-back is starting to show Valverde what he can offer. Some pacy runs down the right gave Betis problems and he did not look panicked when he had to seep the ball in tight spaces.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- Had little to do in the first half against a Betis side set up to keep the game tight. Tried to drive Barca forward as they looked for the opening goal after the break.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 5 -- On his 13th consecutive appearance, bad luck struck again for the Belgian defender. He pulled up injured in the latter stages of the first half with a hamstring problem and will undergo tests on Monday. Before the injury he looked a little off the pace, letting Joaquin escape him in the area, though the winger was off target.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- The Spanish defender has been one of Barcelona's best players this season but this was not his day. Got forward like usual but his crossing and passing from wide on the left was below its recent standard.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Took a few minutes for him to get his head in the game, but when he did, he was imperious. Busquets pulled the strings for Barcelona in the second half, rotating his position with Ivan Rakitic, and set up Messi's first goal.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 8 -- The former Sevilla skipper seemed to relish taking on his former rivals and charged through on goal to open the scoring with a low strike. Rakitic later crossed for Suarez to volley home and piled on the misery for the hosts.
MF Sergi Roberto, 8 -- This was a dream week for the midfielder, who signed a new deal with the club on Friday and then played in his natural position. For most of the season he has been used at right-back, but here he put on a midfield masterclass, linking up brilliantly with Messi and Suarez.
MF Andre Gomes 5 -- The one Barcelona player who did not fit in. Although Valverde has defended the Portuguese midfielder recently, this was another demonstration that he is not playing at a high enough level to deserve a place in the side. Passes were over hit and misplaced, and eventually he was substituted.
FW Lionel Messi, 9 -- By the end it was getting silly. Messi was picking up the ball and beating two, three, four men, with Betis unable to stop the rampant Argentine. He'd already done the damage by this point, dispatching the second coolly when in on goal and then completing his brace with a magnificent solo dribble and finish.
FW Luis Suarez, 9 -- The Uruguayan marksman has scored in seven consecutive league games and is looking like one of the best forwards in the world again. He started the season in a rut, but is now firing on all cylinders. Set up Rakitic's opener and then rocketed two home himself.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 6 -- The Frenchman made his first appearance since suffering an injury against Celta Vigo on Dec. 2, but with his side on the front foot he had nothing to worry about at the back.
MF Paulinho, 6 -- Replaced Gomes with 25 minutes remaining, helping Barcelona to keep moving the ball and driving forward.
FW Gerard Deulofeu, NR -- Given a few minutes at the end but was barely able to touch the ball on his first appearance since Nov. 26.
Richard Martin covers FC Barcelona for ESPN FC. Twitter: @rich9908.