Messi hits brace off bench
Lionel Messi came off the bench to score twice as Barcelona avoided a major shock against Real Betis at the Camp Nou, running out 4-2 winners.
Messi took his goals tally to 60 for the season after coming on as a substitute with his side being held 2-2 by the spirited visitors and facing a real threat to their 13-month unbeaten home record in La Liga.
While the Catalan faithful revelled in Messi's display, his 34-minute cameo did little to dispel the growing - if unfair - theory that Barca are a one-man team. Certainly the hosts looked shaky before his introduction, with Betis twice taking the lead through Dorlan Pabon and Ruben Perez.
Alexis Sanchez hit Barcelona's first equaliser while David Villa's 56th-minute header for 2-2 was his final contribution before he was immediately hauled off for Messi.
Within minutes Messi curled home a wonderful free-kick to hand his side the lead for the first time and leave many shaking their heads in disbelief.
But Messi was not finished there and moments later was applying the finish to a sublime team move that secured the points and means Barcelona can be crowned champions before they next kick a ball in anger should nearest challengers Real Madrid fail to beat Malaga on Wednesday and Espanyol next Saturday.
Sevilla kept their dreams of Europa League football alive with a convincing 3-0 win over Espanyol.
Joan Capdevila's own goal gave the home side an early lead with Andujar Coke and Alvaro Negredo scoring the second and third in the space of four minutes as Sevilla looked comfortable throughout.
The result means Los Rojiblancos are now three points adrift of seventh-placed Real Betis, who occupy the last European berth, with four games remaining ahead of their match with Barcelona.
Espanyol remain in 11th place with nothing more than pride to play for in their remaining fixtures against Real Madrid and struggling Deportivo La Coruna.
Real Zaragoza recorded back-to-back Primera Division wins for the first time this season as Rayo Vallecano succumbed 3-0 meekly at La Romareda.
Apono hit a brace and Rodri was also on target as Zaragoza hauled themselves out of the relegation zone at the expense of Deportivo La Coruna.
Zaragoza ended a 15-match winless streak in the league with a dramatic 3-2 win over Real Mallorca last time out, and the momentum of that victory was much in evidence as they comprehensively outplayed their top-10 ranked visitors.
Mallorca remain bottom of the Primera Division after only managing to draw 1-1 with Levante at home.
Tomer Hemed gave the Islanders a dream start by scoring inside seven minutes, but Robert Acquafresca equalised just before half-time.
Despite dominating possession and having 17 attempts on goal, Mallorca were unable to get a winner, which could have a huge impact on their chances of avoiding relegation.
Information from the Press Association was used in this report