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Ernesto Valverde: Treble-seeking Catalans took important step with Real Betis win

Ernesto Valverde: Treble-seeking Catalans took important step with Real Betis win

The night belonged to Messi, though, and the 31-year-old completed yet another memorable hat-trick with a pinpoint lob late on.

Lionel Messi produced yet another moment of magic for Barcelona on Sunday evening, giving them the lead with a flawless free-kick away to Real Betis. But even for him, the sight of the Real Betis fans were applauding by the end tugged on the heartstrings. He added a second goal just before halftime from a pass by Luis Suarez, who scored a fine goal of his own midway through the second half.

Victory moved Barcelona 10 points clear of Atleti at the summit with 10 games remaining. The ball went over the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Pau Lopez before it deflected off the crossbar and crashed into the net.

After Messi's final strike, a brilliant chip from the edge of the box which went in off the underside of the bar, the home fans at the Benito Villamarin Stadium rose as one to hail the five-time Ballon d'Or victor. "There are still lots of points in play and we have to keep playing like this".

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Valverde has regularly rejected suggestions Barca are targeting a treble but with his side in such a strong position in La Liga and already into the Copa del Rey final, suggestions they could add the Champions League to the domestic double they won last term is inevitable.

"I can not remember anything like this before and I'm very grateful for the fans' reaction".

He scored the second goal for Barcelona in the 45th minute thanks to a superb assist he got from Luis Suarez. We have a great advantage but there are many points still to play for.

"It was a very good chance to increase our distance at the top, we knew about Atletico's result and we couldn't afford to not take it", he said.