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Alexis stars in Barcelona win

Barcelona: Alexis Sanchez scored a hat-trick as Barcelona beat Elche to return to the top of La Liga.

The Spanish giants, without the injured Lionel Messi, opened the scoring when Sanchez stabbed in Jordi Alba’s fine first-half cross.

Fidel hit the woodwork for Elche but Pedro added a second when he raced on to a through ball before finishing.

Xavi missed a second-half penalty but Sanchez tapped home before curling in a stunning free kick.

Barcelona move level on points with Atletico Madrid but go top with a better goal difference. The two sides face each other on Saturday.

Messi returned to training last week after five weeks out with a hamstring injury, but was left out of the squad to face Elche, with coach Gerardo Martino perhaps looking to ensure he is fit for the crucial clash with Atletico.

In truth, Barcelona did not miss Messi against Elche with Sanchez instead taking centre stage as he increased his tally to 11 goals for the season. He got his first with Barcelona’s first attack of the game as Alba raced away down the flank before curling a smart ball behind the defence, giving Sanchez the simple task of poking home a first-time shot.

Elche, in their first season back in the Spanish top flight after a 24-year absence, went into the game on the back of three consecutive league defeats and rarely looked like ending that run at the Nou Camp, although they were unlucky not to equalise when Fidel struck the woodwork soon after Sanchez’s opener.

But from then it was all Barcelona. Cesc Fabregas carved open the Elche defence with a smart through ball that sent Pedro clear and the Spain forward rounded Elche goalkeeper Tono before sidefooting the ball into the empty net.

Pedro and Iniesta combined midway through the first half and the latter brought a fine save out of Tono, before Sanchez struck the side-netting with a decent effort as half-time approached.

Barcelona should have extended their lead soon after the restart when Fabregas was brought down inside the area, but captain Xavi compounded to send the spot kick wide.

But a third goal did arrive just after the hour mark when Pedro unselfishly squared a pass to Sanchez and the Chile forward made no mistake from eight yards out.

(agencies)