Madrid: FC Barcelona held nerves to win 2-0 to Betis and retain their narrow lead at the top of the BBVA Primera Liga.
Second half goals from Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez during the match on Saturday mean Barca remain ahead of Atletico Madrid on goal difference and a point up on Real Madrid after their two title rivals had won their respective matches earlier in the day, Xinhua news agency reported.
Barca struggled in the first half against a well-organised and hard-working Betis, but their cause was helped after 36 minutes when Betis defender Heiko Westerman was sent off for two clear yellow cards.
Rakitic opened the scoring in the 49th minute after a mix up involving Betis keeper Antonio Adan, who earlier in the week had said he hoped he could help his former club, Real Madrid win the title.
Adan came out for an easy ball and missed it completely to leave Rakitic with a tap in.
Barca controlled the ball as Betis tired, but missed chances before Messi set up Suarez for the second goal nine minutes from time.
The Argentinean seemed to have waited too long but then picked up the striker with a pass which split the home defense for Suarez to net his 35th league goal of the campaign.
Antoine Griezmann netted his side’s goal just before the hour as Atletico Madrid ground out a 1-0 win at home to relegation threatened Rayo Vallecano.
Atletico, with coach Diego Simeone sanctioned in the stand, rested seven players ahead of next Tuesday’s Champions League tie away to Bayern Munich and struggled as a result against a rival battling to avoid the drop.
Real Madrid kicked off the day with a hard-fought win away to Real Sociedad. Gareth Bale wasted several first half chances but scored the decisive goal with a powerful header 12 minutes from time.