Barça win marred by Messi hamstring injury

Barcelona shrugged off the loss of Lionel Messi to another hamstring injury to beat Real Betis 4-1 and move three points clear at the top of La Liga.

Barça win marred by Messi hamstring injury
Barcelona's Neymar vies with Betis' midfielders Juan Carlos and Nono. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Messi limped off with an injury for the third time this season on Sunday after pulling up with a hamstring problem as he tried to accelerate just 20 minutes in.

However, any worries Barca could struggle without their star man were extinguished by two goals in as many minutes when Neymar rolled home Cesc Fabregas`s pass before Pedro Rodriguez`s wonderful individual effort doubled the advantage.

Fabregas added the third from Martin Montoya`s cut-back and the former Arsenal captain doubled his tally when he headed home 11 minutes from time before Jorge Molina`s stoppage time penalty pulled a goal back for Betis.

And Barca boss Gerardo Martino was happy with how side responded after a difficult opening half hour.

"In the first half hour we played the game where Betis wanted us to play," he said.

"Their pressing was quite intense, but we then started to find spaces in behind their defence.

"The same thing happened at the beginning of the second-half and the fact they got a goal was deserved for their performance, but overall I think we played a very intelligent match."

Despite lying bottom of the table, it was Betis who started the brighter as Barca were thankful to Victor Valdes for making fine saves from Molina and Juan Carlos.

Messi was then replaced by Andres Iniesta but even in his absence Barca began to exploit Betis`s high defensive line and both Neymar and Pedro should have scored but their weak efforts were held by goalkeeper Guillermo Sara.

The opener arrived on 35 minutes as Fabregas sprung the Betis offside trap from Alex Song`s pass and squared for Neymar to roll home his fifth Barcelona goal.

Moments later Pedro ran from inside his own half before curling a fine finish high past the helpless Sara.

Betis also started the second period strongly and Nono rattled the post with a drive from distance.

However, Barca were still getting in behind the Betis defence at will and after Neymar twice failed to beat Sara when one-on-one with the keeper, Montoya squared for Fabregas to tap home the third on 63 minutes.

Fabregas also had his fifth goal of the campaign when his downward header crept in off the inside of the post, but he too had to be withdrawn late on with a knee injury.

Molina converted from the spot after Dani Alves had brought down Javier Matilla at the death, but it was scant consolation for Betis who remain rooted to the foot of the table.

Barcelona now have their biggest lead of the campaign at the top of the table as Atletico Madrid dropped points for just the second time this season with a 1-1 draw at fourth-placed Villarreal.

Mario`s own goal less than two minutes in gave Atletico the perfect start but Villarreal went on to dominate the game and were rewarded 12 minutes from time when Juanfran also turned into his own net under pressure from Ikechukwu Uche.

However, despite losing ground in the title race, Atletico boss Diego Simeone was satisfied with a point given that his side were far from their best.

"We were facing very strong opponents that are playing very well and are in good form," he said.

"Defensively we did very well. We didn`t have clear chances but we did control the ball."

"In the second-half we improved a bit but it is an important point against a rival for the Champions League positions. I congratulate the players for the effort they are putting in."

Villarreal coach Marcelino also lauded his players` performance but was disappointed not to have taken all three points.

"We played a great game against very good opponents that went ahead in the second minute."

"We are very proud of these players, their attitude and their play. We had absolute control and it was a shame we weren`t more precise on some of our chances." 

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Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?

Around 10,000 people demonstrated against the expansion of the El Prat airport in Barcelona on Sunday.

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?
People march during a demonstration against the expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Several ecological and agricultural organisations, have demanded that the expansion be stopped due to the fact nearby wetlands and farms would have to be destroyed.

The demonstration took place on Calle Tarragona in the Catalan capital between Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Països Catalans.

The protests still took place, even though last week, Spain suspended the €1.7 billion airport expansion project, citing differences with the Catalan government, after president Pere Aragonès said he wanted to avoid destroying La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve next to the airport. 

Environmentalists decided not to call off the march, in case plans for the airport expansion still went ahead.

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Political representatives from ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP also attended, as well as the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón; the Deputy Mayor for Ecology of the Barcelona City Council, Janet Sanz, and the Mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, Lluís Mijoler.

People from neighbourhoods across the city marched towards Calle Tarragona and could be seen holding placards that read Nature yes, airport no and shouting slogans such as “More courgettes and fewer planes” and “Fighting for the climate, health, and life”. 

One of the largest groups of people were those from El Prat de Llobregat, the municipality which is home to the airport, who were led by tractors. 

People march during a demonstration against the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

In addition to protesting against the expansion of the El Prat airport, people were also demonstrating against the Winter Olympic Games in the Pyrenees and extensions to airports in Mallorca and Madrid. 

A representative of Zeroport, Sara Mingorría said “We are here to defend not only La Ricarda, but the entire Delta”. 

The philosopher Marina Garcés also argued that the expansion of the airport would mean “more borders, more mass tourism, more control and more precarious jobs.” 

The leader of the commons in the Catalan parliament, Jéssica Albiach, who also attended the protest, asked the PSOE for “coherence”: “You cannot be passing a law against climate change and, at the same time, defend the interests of Aena [the airport operations company]”, she said. 

She also urged the leader of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, to “definitely say no. 

If the airport expansion in Barcelona goes ahead, environmentalists say that CO2 emissions would rise by a minimum of 33 percent. These levels would surpass the limits set by the Catalan government’s climate targets.