La Liga: Barcelona 4 Betis 2
Lionel Messi emerged from the bench to score two goals as Barcelona came from behind to beat Real Betis 4-2 at Camp Nou on Sunday.
The Argentine has been absent in recent games due to a hamstring injury, which has certainly been felt as Barca crashed out of the UEFA Champions League to Bayern Munich last week.
Messi returned to action as a second-half substitute and netted a sensational free-kick and a tap-in to give Barca the win, after they trailed 2-1 at half-time.
The injury prevented him from making the starting line-up once again, leaving David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and Cristian Tello to lead the Barcelona attack.
The hosts found themselves behind inside two minutes after Dorlan Pabon made the most of dithering mistakes from Alex Song and Jordi Alba to fire past goalkeeper Pinto.
However, Barca hit back immediately and Andres Iniesta clipped a perfect cross from the left wing to the back post for Alexis Sanchez to head home.
The chances continued to come thick and fast at Camp Nou, as Tello over-hit a cross towards an unmarked Villa and Betis forward Jorge Molina planted a header just wide of the post.
David Villa missed two glorious opportunities to give Barca the lead when he hit a weak shot straight at the goalkeeper before smashing a volley high over the bar from six yards out.
Despite the home side’s numerous chances, Betis continued to cause problems of their own and Salva Sevilla was just denied by an instinctive save from Pinto.
Villa looked certain to score Barcelona’s second in the 30th minute but his tame effort from seven yards was saved well by Adrian, after a great cut-back from Tello.
The 21-year-old winger was the stand-out performer during the first 45 minutes and his fierce strike shortly before half-time could well have crossed the line, after bouncing down from the underside of the crossbar, but replays were inconclusive.
There was no doubt surrounding Ruben Perez’s effort moments later though as his stunning strike from 30 yards sailed straight into the top-left corner of Pinto’s net to give Betis a 2-1 lead at the break.
Villa finally found the net 10 minutes into the second half when his diving header from Dani Alves' cross bounced through the legs of the goalkeeper.
However, his celebrations were cut short as Messi was already waiting on the sidelines to replace the striker.
The Argentina international was only on the pitch for two minutes before he curled a sensational free-kick into the top right corner to put Barcelona ahead for the first time.
Messi almost scored another spectacular set-piece in the 69th minute, but this time his curled effort smashed against the woodwork.
The Barcelona substitute did notch a second goal soon after though when Iniesta played a fantastic back-heel to Alexis and he unselfishly teed up Messi to stab home from two yards.
Adrian rushed off his line to deny Alexis and Messi almost grabbed a third as the hosts dominated the final phases of the match.
The win puts Tito Vilanova's side even closer to the Liga title, which will seal with a point from their remaining four games.