Lionel Messi grabbed a hat-trick of assists as Barcelona ended a tumultuous week with a pulsating 3-2 LaLiga win over Real Betis at the Benito Villamarin on Sunday.

The Catalan giants were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Bilbao in midweek, while Messi has been involved in a public spat with technical director Eric Abidal after he questioned the work ethic of some players under previous boss Ernesto Valverde.

Quique Setien's side got off to a terrible start against his former employers, with Sergio Canales' penalty putting the hosts ahead early on, but a wonderful goal from Frenkie de Jong pulled the champions level soon after.

Nabil Fekir - who was later dismissed for two bookable offences in quick succession - restored the hosts' advantage with a fine finish, before Sergio Busquets scored a second equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

Clement Lenglet then headed home Messi's free-kick 18 minutes from time to ensure Barca remain three points behind leaders Real Madrid after their 4-1 win at Osasuna earlier in the day, although the Frenchman blotted his copybook by picking up a second yellow card soon after Fekir's dismissal.

Betis opened the scoring in the sixth minute, Canales stroking home from the penalty spot after Lenglet had handled Fekir's strike inside the penalty area.

Their lead lasted just three minutes, though, as De Jong chested down Messi's superb ball over the top and volleyed past Joel Robles from six yards.

Fekir rounded off a swift counter-attacking move with a fine low strike from 18 yards past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to restore Betis' advantage just before the half-hour mark.

Messi was again the provider for Barca's equaliser in first-half stoppage time, his deep free-kick turned in by Busquets from eight yards.

Messi was twice denied by Robles after the interval but he was central to Barca's winner, floating in a free-kick that was headed home by a towering Lenglet.

Fekir saw red 14 minutes from time, picking up quickfire bookings for a foul on Lenglet and dissent, while Barca's French defender also received his marching orders three minutes later after catching Joaquin.

Clement Lenglet called for two contentious refereeing decisions to be respected after Real Madrid were left disgruntled with VAR during Wednesday's goalless Clasico.

The Barcelona defender was fortunate not to concede a penalty when he caught Raphael Varane's thigh with a raised boot in the first half at Camp Nou.

Referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez allowed play to continue and decided against punishing another apparent infringement on Varane a few moments later, the Madrid centre-back tumbling to the floor following a tug on his shirt from Ivan Rakitic.

Neither incident was reviewed on the pitchside monitor as video official opted not to intervene.

Madrid called attention to the "two controversial moments" in a statement on their website after captain Sergio Ramos criticised the failure of technology to fix what he viewed as "pretty clear" fouls.

Lenglet disagreed and said the decisions should be respected.

"For me, it's not a penalty," he told Movistar when asked about his challenge on fellow France defender Varane.

"I wanted to get the ball out with my head and give strength to my movement. I used my body and legs for that and unfortunately I touched Raphael's leg.

"I'm the protagonist and I know I'm going to clear the ball. I'm not a player who likes to kick people. But if some believe it's a penalty, it's up to the VAR.

"The VAR made a decision and must be respected."

Madrid winger Gareth Bale later had a goal disallowed for an offside against Ferland Mendy as neither side mustered a winner.

Jordi Alba squandered a good chance for Barca before Lionel Messi, who had one attempt cleared off the line, made a mess of a late opportunity to snatch all three points.

"We had clear scoring chances," Lenglet said. "Two for Messi, Luis Suarez. We're left with a bittersweet feeling.

"Madrid are a team with quality and when they come here, they come more to defend."

Sergio Ramos questioned why VAR was not used to check two "clear" fouls on Raphael Varane in the penalty area during Wednesday's goalless Clasico.

In the first half at Camp Nou, Varane was caught by a high challenge from compatriot Clement Lenglet and then had his shirt pulled by Ivan Rakitic when competing for a corner.

Referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez did not award a penalty and neither incident was checked using the VAR pitchside monitor midweek.

Madrid captain Ramos was left bemused as to why VAR did not intervene, having watched back the footage at half-time.

"We saw them at the break and they look pretty clear. They're both penalties, but we can't change that now," he said to Movistar.

"VAR is here to help. It's bad luck. On another day, it'll be our turn to have a penalty that they don't check."

Gareth Bale saw a second-half goal correctly disallowed for offside after a VAR check, as Madrid failed to make their early dominance count and Barca's front three struggled to get into the game.

The result means defending champions Barca remain top of LaLiga but level on points with Madrid, who are now unbeaten in 12 matches in all competitions.

Ramos, who became the top appearance-maker in the fixture's history as he played Madrid's fierce rivals for the 43rd time, is frustrated the mid-season break starts after Sunday's game against Athletic Bilbao as he wants to sustain momentum.

"You can't be happy when you don't win, but getting something here is always positive," he said.

"We saw a great Real Madrid today, with a lot of personality, on a very tough pitch. We went to steal the ball, which helped us create many chances. There were few mistakes and that's the end result.

"We controlled the game quite well. We had more chances than them. It's not easy to get the ball off them. The strategy of pressing high worked well.

"We're going through a great dynamic in terms of play and we're also good physically. It's a shame the year is ending - we'd like this not to stop.

"Now, we have Athletic and hopefully we'll continue like this after the holidays."

Gareth Bale saw a goal disallowed as Barcelona and Real Madrid played out a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou on Wednesday.

LaLiga's top two went into the contest level on points this season and with 72 wins each from previous league meetings, and there was nothing to separate them in a tense clash in Catalonia.

The match was rearranged from October after the initial date became a security risk due to the prospect of Catalan independence protests, and there were fans inside and outside the stadium making their voices heard over one of Spain's most divisive issues.

The action on the pitch was a little less fraught, Bale's second-half strike - ruled out for offside - representing the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock.

Madrid controlled the early exchanges and only Gerard Pique's timely intervention on the line denied Casemiro an opening goal with a header.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen beat away another Casemiro effort after Madrid had penalty shouts waved away following a shirt pull on Raphael Varane, who had earlier squared up to Jordi Alba.

Thibaut Courtois went untested until the half-hour mark, when he palmed away a teasing Alba cross and the covering Sergio Ramos cleared Lionel Messi's rebound from in front of goal.

Alba had a golden chance to snatch the lead before half-time but could only side-foot wide of the right-hand post following a sublime lofted pass from Messi.

The second half proved more of an end-to-end affair, Bale rippling the side-netting and then seeing celebrations cut short when his tap-in was disallowed after a VAR review for an offside against Ferland Mendy.

A frustrated Messi made a mess of a chance just inside the box, failing to connect cleanly with the ball to sum up a clash surprisingly short on attacking quality.

 

What does it mean? LaLiga leaders deadlocked in title battle

Barca and Madrid are now on 36 points each at the top of the table, five clear of third-place Sevilla, with just one game left in 2019.

There was little to split them in a cagey encounter and the title race certainly looks likely to remain a tense one in the new year.

Lenglet a leading light

In a match where defences triumphed, Clement Lenglet was probably the best on the pitch, keeping Karim Benzema away from Ter Stegen's goal and building play well from the back.

An off-day at last for Messi

The Clasico's record goalscorer swiped at thin air with his only half-chance of the game and was otherwise unable to get Barca firing in attack, with Madrid keeping him firmly in check.

What's next?

In the final round of league games before the mid-season break, Barca host Deportivo Alaves on Saturday and Madrid welcome Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Clement Lenglet says Antoine Griezmann is happy at Barcelona and is confident his team-mate will become a Camp Nou success.

Griezmann has failed to find his best form in Catalonia since joining Barca from Atletico Madrid in a €120million transfer during the close season.

The 28-year-old has been used predominantly in a wide role and has four goals in 15 matches in all competitions, failing to find the net in his past five outings.

However, Lenglet - also a colleague at international level with France - believes Griezmann is still learning to adapt to a new style of play following five seasons under Diego Simeone at Atleti.

"It's not simple to fit in at a club like Barcelona," Lenglet told a news conference on Tuesday. "Some players are already there and have a history together.

"Like in the French national team, there is a very specific way of playing - how we're positioned is different than what Antoine knew at Atletico, where he was starting from far back.

"You need time to adapt to feel better on the pitch and play as well as possible. 

"At Barcelona, we're trying to recover the ball as high as possible on the pitch with a lot of efforts on 20 to 30 metre runs. With Atletico, it was a bit different, they were falling back, and it was 50 to 60 metre runs. So you have to learn that, you need time. 

"Physically it's different, and mentally as well, you need to prepare. Antoine is working on that every day during training, and it's going to be better and better during games, I'm sure of it."

Asked if Griezmann performs differently for his country, speaking ahead of Euro 2020 qualifiers against Moldova and Albania, Lenglet added: "'Different' is a big word, but when he's with the national team, he's having a lot of fun.

"He's been there for a long time, he played a few big tournaments with the team, and he won a really beautiful one. Of course, he knows this place very well, he's very happy to be here, he has a strong history with the team. 

"But he's also very happy to be at Barcelona, even if you're saying otherwise. He's smiling every day and likes to be happy on and off the pitch."

Griezmann admitted last month he had found it "difficult" connecting with Barca superstar Lionel Messi as neither of them are naturally big talkers.

Messi later played down suggestions of any issues, and Lenglet has praised the Argentina superstar for the way he helps new players to adapt at Camp Nou.

"[Messi] is very clam, very relaxed, very normal," he said. "When you arrive at Barcelona, you're careful about what you're doing but it's not Leo who's coming over to tell you off when you make a mistake. 

"He's very simple, he lets you play. This is how it went with Antoine and I. Step by step, you talk to him. 

"He gets along very well with Luis [Suarez] but he's very open with the others, so you can talk about many things, not only football. He's a simple man and he helps us every day."

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde does not see Lionel Messi's recall to the Argentina national team as a setback to the LaLiga giants.

Messi was banned and fined $50,000 by CONMEBOL in August for accusing the governing body of corruption in the wake of Argentina's Copa America semi-final defeat to hosts Brazil.

The Barca talisman has missed Argentina's past four matches – all friendlies – as a result, but he was named in their latest squad on Thursday for upcoming matches against Brazil and Uruguay.

Those games will be played this month in Saudi Arabia and Israel, respectively.

Messi has suffered with injury problems this term, leading to some suggesting his return to the Argentina set-up could be a negative development for Barcelona.

Although Valverde's tone seemed to a suggest a hint of frustration, he refused to outright call Messi's call-up a problem.

"Look, we know that if Messi is active, there's a good chance he gets called up to the national team," Valverde told reporters on Friday.

"He hasn't been [in the Argentina squad] because of suspension, but now that's over it's normal for him to be back for Argentina.

"It's something we accept, he accepts. I don't think it's a setback as such."

Defender Samuel Umtiti has endured a wretched time with injuries over the past 18 months, playing just 15 LaLiga matches since the start of last season.

His solitary outing this term against Eibar last month was followed by another knee injury, though Valverde hinted he could potentially feature at Levante on Saturday.

"Let's see how he does in training today [Friday]," Valverde said. "He's had fitness issues hanging over from last year, that's why he's not playing regularly.

"Hopefully we can get this sorted once and for all so he can play more regularly, but the other thing is competition for places. Lenglet is playing very well.

"He [Lenglet] is an absolutely reliable player, very professional in what he does. He's really settling into his position.

"Shortly after arriving last season, he covered extremely well for Samuel and the French team is also aware of how well he is playing."

Antoine Griezmann urged France to immediately turn their focus towards Monday's date with Turkey after beating Iceland 1-0 in Reykjavik.

The Barcelona forward won the penalty Olivier Giroud converted midway through the second half to secure three points, inflicting a first home loss in a year on their hosts. 

World champions France stumbled to a 2-0 defeat against Turkey in June, well beaten in Konya and condemned by critics who had come to expect success. 

It remains the only blip in their campaign and France will book a place at Euro 2020 if they avenge that rare loss by beating Turkey at the Stade de France. 

Griezmann told TF1: "We've got an important match at home now. We suffered over there [in Turkey], so we’ll need to prepare well for this match."

He fell dramatically for the penalty against Iceland, but replays showed Griezmann was impeded and France were well worth their success against a home side who offered little attacking threat but defended doughtily. 

"It was very difficult, a really hard match," Griezmann added. "We needed to take the three points and now we have an important game coming up at home." 

Turkey and France sit on 18 points at the top of Group H, six clear of third-placed Iceland, meaning both are on the brink of qualification for next year's finals. 

Didier Deschamps was satisfied with his team's display as they followed up a 4-0 home win over Iceland in March with a more attritional away success. 

He told TF1: "Firstly that's a victory here, it wasn't easy. We had the chance to get a second, they've been good on set-pieces.  

"That was a man's match, there was commitment, we've responded by having a lot of the ball. We could have made it more comfortable by putting away the chances in the end. It's a good victory ahead of Monday's match." 

Asked about a pre-match knock that kept midfielder N'Golo Kante out of the game, with Moussa Sissoko his late replacement, Deschamps said: "I don't think it's too serious for 'NG'." 

As for whether Kante could face Turkey, Deschamps added: "I do not have the answer tonight."

Antoine Griezmann is having to adapt to a different style of play at Barcelona but is certainly not unhappy at the club, according to team-mate Clement Lenglet.

Griezmann, a €120million signing from Atletico Madrid in the transfer window, has struggled to find top form since moving to Camp Nou.

The 28-year-old has scored three goals in seven LaLiga appearances but has generally found it difficult to influence games from the left of Ernesto Valverde's attack.

He was dropped to the bench for compatriot Ousmane Dembele for Barca's latest game, a 4-0 league win over Sevilla on Sunday, in which Dembele scored.

There have also been concerns Griezmann is not suited to playing alongside club captain Lionel Messi, largely after the France forward admitted in a news conference that the pair do not often speak.

However, Lenglet insists there is no cause for concern around Griezmann's place at the club.

When asked if Griezmann is happier in the France squad than with Barca, Lenglet replied: "No. I am with him every day and I can tell you that he is very happy in Barcelona.

"He's a positive person who always has a smile on his face. When he arrives in the French team that fact doesn't change. He loves to make jokes, you know him. He hasn't changed, whether it's in Barcelona or in the France squad.

"He's someone who has just arrived and Barcelona is a different club from the other clubs, which plays a different game - a different game from Atletico.

"He has scored three goals, I think he's the club's second-best scorer, even though it's only the beginning of the season. It's still something quite positive.

"He works a lot for the team. He used to play as second striker at Atletico and now he plays on one side. He helps us a lot with his talent and his defensive efforts in every game. He's sacrificing himself for the team. I don't think there is an 'Antoine Griezmann case' as you can try to make me say."

Messi scored his first goal of the season from a free-kick against Sevilla, having been sidelined for much of the early part of the season with a calf problem.

Lenglet says the Argentina star has still been teaching him a few lessons in training, however, where he gives his defensive team-mates a torrid time.

"He is an extraordinary player. We are very happy to have him in Barcelona. He makes a lot of difference," said Lenglet.

"When we are in training, we set the pace. Leo often plays as a joker. He is very clever in his placement, in his way of protecting the ball. It's hard to steal it. You have to anticipate well in advance. We suffer daily but we are happy to have him with us every weekend. That's the main thing."

One of the big positives of Barca's season has been the breakthrough of Ansu Fati, the 16-year-old who has scored twice in five league appearances and captured the attention of Spain with his performances.

"Ansu is very talented," said Lenglet. "He's in a dressing room with a lot of international players and very good players in his position. He took advantage of some absences to have playing time. He was very good when he played.

"He has some minor problems given his age to follow the rhythm of matches and training, but he is very well cared for. He is very professional. It's a very pleasant surprise. I think he's a good player for the future but also for the present because he has many qualities."

Clement Lenglet called for patience around Ansu Fati after the teenager's excellent display in Barcelona's 5-2 win over Valencia.

The 16-year-old marked his first Barca start with a goal and an assist inside seven minutes at Camp Nou on Saturday, adding to his maiden strike against Osasuna before the international break.

It made Fati the youngest player to score and assist in a single LaLiga game in the 21st century.

He was replaced by Luis Suarez in the 60th minute and the Uruguay international scored twice, with Frenkie de Jong and Gerard Pique also on target for Ernesto Valverde's side.

Asked about Fati after the match, defender Lenglet told Movistar: "He is 16 years old and we have to be calm with him. It's true that he has taken advantage of his minutes and is a good boy who deserves it.

"I am very happy for him, but we have to give him time because he is 16 years old and things can change quickly. I hope they don't but we have to take care of him.

"[I would advise him to] listen to people and work hard because playing for Barca is very difficult."

Kevin Gameiro was granted a goal after a lengthy VAR review of an offside decision before half-time, while Maxi Gomez opened his Valencia account in the second minute of stoppage time at the end of the game.

"It was a good victory against a difficult opponent who plays good football. They play different football to us but we did things very well," said Lenglet.

"We prefer not to concede goals, but we did things well until the end. On the whole we played a good game and although we conceded the response was important."

Kingsley Coman, Clement Lenglet and Wissam Ben Yedder were on target as a below-par France registered a 3-0 win over Andorra in Euro 2020 qualifying at the Stade de France on Tuesday.

Fresh from his two goals in Saturday's 4-1 win over Albania, Coman opened the scoring after 18 minutes with a cool finish.

Antoine Griezmann missed his second penalty in three days soon after but teed up Lenglet early in the second half to double Les Bleus' advantage, before Ben Yedder's late third.

The win means France are level on 15 points with Group H leaders Turkey, three points ahead of third-place Iceland.

France were far from their fluid best in the opening stages, with their less illustrious opponents comfortably keeping them at arm's length.

They did find a way through in the 18th minute, though, Coman latching onto Jonathan Ikone's pass, taking a touch and then clipping over Josep Gomes.

Moments after pawing away Olivier Giroud's instinctive half-volley, the Andorra goalkeeper had a moment to savour.

Moises San Nicolas pulled down Griezmann in the area in the 28th minute, but the Barcelona forward saw his resulting spot-kick superbly kept out by Gomes.

Perhaps frustrated with his side's inability to break down Andorra's stubborn defence, Raphael Varane tried his luck from 30 yards. Gomes was equal to it, though, tipping over to ensure the visitors went into the break just one goal behind.

France started the second half in more positive fashion and were rewarded in the 52nd minute when Lenglet headed home Griezmann's free-kick from six yards.

Gomes then kept out Coman's header, which looked destined for the top corner, before Moussa Sissoko thumped a header of his own against the crossbar from point-blank range.

Coman then scooped an effort onto the crossbar before substitute Ben Yedder added a third in stoppage time, slotting home after Nabil Fekir's free-kick had been parried into his path.

Didier Deschamps commended Clement Lenglet's class on the ball as the Barcelona defender looks to cement a place in France's starting XI.

Injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Samuel Umtiti opened the door for left-footer Lenglet to start alongside Raphael Varane in the 4-1 Euro 2020 qualifying victory over Albania on Saturday.

The 24-year-old moved ahead of World Cup winner Umtiti in the pecking order at Barca last term, making 45 competitive appearances, and looks set to replicate the feat for France.

Lenglet will win a third cap on Tuesday unless major changes are made for the home date with Andorra, who are bottom of Group H after five games.

"He had a great season with Barca," Deschamps said of the former Sevilla defender.

"He has a lot of serenity, assurance and technical ease. He's calm on the ball. Without being very big, he is also effective in duels and knows how to anticipate.

"He's still improving but he gives off a lot of confidence."

Lenglet and Real Madrid regular Varane are key figures at LaLiga's top teams, a shared experience the coach thinks could accelerate their understanding in the international arena.

"Both play for very big clubs, they are used to a very high level," Deschamps said.

"Raphael has far more international experience than Clement.

"Obviously, the more matches they play together, the more the partnership can be refined."

France are top of Group H with five matches remaining but sit level on points with Turkey and Iceland.

Deschamps added: "I will decide [on Tuesday] who plays, but there will be some changes. That seems logical to me.

"Even if the players who played Saturday want to play again, it will not be the same team, that's for sure."

Clement Lenglet said he is glad the Neymar speculation is "finally over" so Barcelona can focus on defending their LaLgia title and challenging for the Champions League.

Neymar was heavily linked with a return to Barca but the Paris Saint-Germain superstar was unable to engineer a move back to Camp Nou prior to Monday's transfer deadline.

Speculation over Neymar – who joined PSG in a world-record €222million deal in 2017 – dominated headlines as Barca only won one of their opening three LaLiga matches before the international break.

Barcelona and France defender Lenglet said the Spanish giants can now focus solely on football.

"Neymar? There were many rumours," Lenglet told Canal+.

"It was a very hectic period for the club.

"Finally it's over. This way we can work a little easier."

Barca – playing in the absence of injured captain Lionel Messi – have only collected four points from three games to start the season.

Neymar has scored 34 goals in 37 Ligue 1 appearances despite both his seasons at PSG being interrupted by serious foot injuries.

In total, Neymar – who is yet to play this season – has managed 51 goals in 58 games for Thomas Tuchel's PSG.

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