Barcelona returned to winning ways following their 1-0 Copa del Rey defeat to Espanyol in midweek with a 5-0 win at Real Betis on Sunday evening, extending their current league unbeaten run to 26 games. 

Following a respectful first-half from both sides, the Blaugrana’s attacking ruthlessness took its toll, with five second half goals courtesy of Ivan Rakitic, and a pair of braces from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. 

In truth the scoreline was not respective of the Beticos’ stellar efforts for the most part, but the Catalonians proved once again why they will most likely lift the La Liga title at the end of the season, and opened up an 11-point gap over Atletico Madrid following the capital side being held to a 1-1 draw by Girona on Saturday. 

It was a courageous start from the hosts inside the rocking, capacity-brimmed Estadio Benito Villamarin, with both full-backs, Francis Guerrero and Riza Durmisi, pushing on from the opening whistle, allowing pockets of space to form in the centre of midfielder.

The defenders’ advances almost paid dividends as early as the third minute, as Andres Guardado found a gap in-line with goal, but flashed just wide of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s left-hand upright from range. 

Following Beticos’ impressive early showing, they then had another sight of goal shortly following the 10-minute mark, as a dangerous, but bouncing cross was whipped in from the left before finding the left-boot of Joaquin, but the veteran struggled to get over the top of his shot and could only scoop his attempt over the visitors’ crossbar. 

But despite the clash being billed as two free-scoring and prolific outfits coming up against one another, the tempo surprisingly then subsided for the 15 minutes that followed, with the majority of play condensed in the midfield.

However, as time passed Barcelona’s confidence began to surface, and Ernesto Valverde’s side fashioned three chances in relatively quick succession that showed a more positive mindset from the so-far defensive visitors. 

Sergi Roberto, who had adopted his more traditional midfield role following the return of Nelson Semedo, found a crevice on the right-hand side before cutting in and unleashing his wild attempt over the crossbar. 

But despite failing to find the target, the Spaniard’s attacking intent, who had been the Blaugrana’s most promising player on the pitch in the opening 25 minutes, seemed to spark others around him in blue into action.

Rakitic was the next to try his luck from range, which forced Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan into the first save of the evening, before Messi fired into the side netting from an acute angle after being played in on goal by Suarez.

However, despite a glimpse of attacking threat, the tie was then reduced to another lull due to several stoppages, including what seemed a hamstring injury for centre-back Thomas Vermaelen, but the reintroduction of Samuel Umtiti, whose nine-game absence came to an end shortly before the break, which was reached with the scores still level. 

The second 45 began in a similar vein to the first, with Betis’ high press and disciplined defensive pressure telling by the lack of creativity the visitors were afforded. 

However, just as the clock ticked towards the hour-mark, the hosts’ resilience was finally broken, as Rakitic opened the scoring thanks mainly to a beautifully weighted through ball from Suarez. 

The Uruguayan for really the first time of the evening was allowed to find space on the half-way line, which he took advantage of by turning before spotting the run of his midfield teammate and sliding his pass into the acres of space behind the defence, which the 29-year-old latched onto before calmly tucking his effort past the advancing Adan to give his side the lead. 

This season, the Beticos have been suspect to a slight collapse after going behind, and their rather erratic and risky style of play was punished again less than five minutes later, as Messi doubled Barcelona’s advantage. 

Fabian Ruiz Pena’s sluggish attempt of offloading possession halfway inside his own half was capatalised on by Barca’s hunting midfield pack, with Sergio Busquets eventually feeding the Argentine attacker through on goal with a simple pass, and the 30-year-old made no mistake unchallenged and rifled his attempt into the bottom right-hand corner.

However, the quick-fire scoring was not yet complete, as the hosts’ capitulation was well and truly complete less than 10 minutes after the deadlock being broken, as Suarez blasted home for his seventh consecutive La Liga outing. 

Rakitic was found by Messi on the right-corner of the 18-yard box before lofting in a scooped cross, which was met by the former Liverpool man on the volley to give Valverde’s outfit an unassailable lead in a contest which they had looked mediocre in for the most part. 

But as has been the case all season, Barcelona’s ruthlessness in front of goal knew no bounds, as Messi was on hand to take advantage of some sloppy Beticos passing before rounding two retreating defenders and sliding his shot past the helpless Adan. 

The hosts’ humiliation was truly complete as the tie entered its final minute of normal time, as Suarez grabbed his second of the night, and the La Liga leaders’ fifth, as the Uruguay international smashed his effort into the roof of the net after being fed by Messi inside the area. 

The result, following both Atletico Madrid and Valencia dropping points earlier in the weekend, could well be the one to sew up the Spanish top-flight title, with Valverde’s outfit now holding an 11-point advantage as the games begin to dwindle away for the chasing pack.