Lionel Messi bags hat-trick of assists against Real Betis
Argentine lets his feet do the talking after hitting out at Barca sporting director Abidal last week
Lionel Messi produced a hat-trick of assists as Barcelona pulled off a 3-2 win at Real Betis after trailing twice in an enthralling La Liga match yesterday morning (Singapore time), finally giving the Catalan side something to celebrate after a week of upheaval.
The win comes amid the backdrop of two losses in their last four matches and a public feud between Messi and former teammate Eric Abidal.
Messi hit back at Barca sporting director Abidal, telling him to name names after the Frenchman suggested some players had downed tools to get former manager Ernesto Valverde sacked last month.
The spat led to speculation the club legend could leave the Spanish champions at the end of the season.
But Messi put his comments on Instagram aside and let his feet do the talking at the Benito Villamarin, where Barca coach Quique Setien was making his first appearance back at Betis since being sacked by the Seville club last May.
He set up Clement Lenglet and Sergio Busquets' goals via free-kicks and created Frenkie de Jong's goal with a lofted pass.
Messi is just the second player, after RB Leipzig's Timo Werner, in Europe's top five leagues to have notched both a hat-trick of goals and assists this season.
Messi has 14 goals and 11 assists for Barcelona in La Liga. The only other player with double digits in both categories in Europe's top five leagues is Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho - who has 12 goals and 13 assists.
But Barcelona got off to a terrible start when Sergio Canales gave Betis the lead in the sixth minute from the penalty spot, after a video assistant referee review showed Lenglet had handled the ball.
De Jong equalised three minutes later, but Betis restored their lead with a strike from midfielder Nabil Fekir in the 26th minute.
Busquets equalised in first-half added time before Lenglet got the winner on 72 minutes.
Fekir was sent off four minutes later before fellow Frenchman Lenglet joined him in the 79th minute. Both had racked up two yellow cards.
Former La Liga and Fifa referee Eduardo Iturralde believes Lenglet was lucky to be on the pitch for that long.
On Lenglet's first yellow, Iturralde told Madrid-based daily AS: "It's a red card.
"It's a clear goalscoring opportunity. He is behind the penalty spot and it's a shot which, if it doesn't hit his hand, is going to hit the target."
Iturralde added that teammate Sergi Roberto also should have received a second yellow card for a lunge on Carles Alena late in the first half.
Roberto said it was a "physical game" and "without a doubt a good game for football".
Setien added: "This is a very important victory because it keeps us near the top of the table and it will give us a huge psychological boost."
Meanwhile, Real Madrid, who like Barca were knocked out of the Copa del Rey last week, also bounced back with a 4-1 win at Osasuna.
Unai Garcia gave the hosts the lead after 14 minutes, but Real hit back with goals from Isco, Sergio Ramos, Lucas Vazquez and Luka Jovic.
Said midfielder Casemiro: "We had just been knocked out of the Cup and this was a tough game for us mentally. But we showed that we want to fight to win every other competition we are left in."
Real are three points clear of Barca at the top of La Liga.