Xavi enjoys milestone as Barça downs Betis
MADRID - Reuters
AFP photoBarcelona playmaker Xavi celebrated his 400th league appearance by scoring the opening goal and Lionel Messi netted twice as the La Liga champion beat 10-man Real Betis 4-2 on Jan. 15 to trim Real Madrid’s advantage at the top back to five points.
Spain star Xavi, the first Barça player to reach the 400 milestone, clipped the ball high into an empty net in the 10th minute at the Nou Camp after a Cesc Fabregas shot had ricocheted back off a post.
Pep Guardiola’s side were cruising when Messi added a second two minutes later but Barça conceded its first league goals at home this season when a battling Betis struck either side of the break to make it 2-2.
Betis defender Mario Alvarez was dismissed for a second yellow card 19 minutes from time before Alexis Sanchez ran on to a Xavi pass and fired a 75th-minute third goal and Messi capped the rout.
“We managed to get through a very tough game,” Xavi, a youth academy graduate who made his debut under then-coach Louis van Gaal in a Spanish Super Cup game in August 1998, said to reporters.
“Betis also want the ball and they played well and made things pretty difficult for us,” added the 31-year-old, who finished behind Messi in last week’s FIFA World Player-of-the-Year awards.
“Their players have a lot of technical ability and that’s why it was an open game with chances for both sides.”
With just under half the season played, Real has 46 points from 18 matches, with Barca on 41.
Valencia, who lost 1-0 at home to Real Sociedad earlier, is seven points behind the Catalans.
Barça’s home form has been almost perfect, winning nine and drawing one of its 10 games and scoring 43 goals and conceding two. Away from the Nou Camp, by contrast, the Catalans have taken just 13 points from a possible 24 and coach Pep Guardiola said this week his team would have to improve on its travels if it is to catch rival Real Madrid and secure a fourth straight La Liga title.