Lionel Messi scores hat-trick as Barcelona thrash Levante
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 16/12/18 10:31pm
Lionel Messi scored yet another hat-trick as Barcelona laid a few ghosts and cemented their place at the top of La Liga with a 5-0 win at Levante.
The Argentina star completed his 49th career hat-trick with his 50th goal for club and country of 2018 to ensure Barca remain three points clear at the top of the table.
The reigning champions needed no reminder of their last visit to the Ciutat de Valencia, when their dream of completing an unbeaten domestic campaign was extinguished in a sensational 5-4 defeat in May.
But a repeat was never on the cards after Luis Suarez opened the scoring and Messi then took over in style with three goals in 17 minutes.
Thomas Vermaelen had a chance to open the scoring after nine minutes but he failed to convert a free header from Messi's corner.
Moments later Messi curled a shot wide, but Levante had their moments in the early stages too, not least in the 32nd minute when Emmanuel Boateng hammered a shot against the underside of the crossbar which just stayed out.
It was a costly miss as two minutes later Enis Bardhi's attempt to play his way out of trouble backfired spectacularly.
The loose ball fell to Messi, who jinked his way across the outside of the penalty area before providing an improbable reverse pass to Suarez.
There was still plenty to do but Suarez, with both feet off the ground, executed a perfect cushioned volley past Oier Olazabal to break the deadlock.
Two minutes before half-time Messi doubled the lead, this time after a mistake by Ruben Rochina on the halfway line.
Rochina's pass went straight to Sergio Busquets, who immediately sent Messi racing through to fire through the legs of Oier and into the net.
Levante had clearly not learned their lesson as, two minutes after the restart, another loose pass in midfield handed Barca their third.
This time Suarez led the charge before feeding Jordi Alba, who drove the ball across the area for Messi to sweep home.
Messi completed his treble on the hour, Suarez bulldozing his way down the left before crossing to Arturo Vidal, who laid the ball back for the Argentinian to tap in.
Levante's already slim hopes of replicating last season's scoreline disappeared when they lost Erick Cabaco to a red card 14 minutes from the end.
Instead Gerard Pique helped himself to the fifth, wandering the length of the field exchanging passes as he went before wrapping up the scoring.