Leo toys with hapless Levante

Messi marks 300th La Liga appearance with a hat-trick

  • Published 16.02.15
Luis Suarez is congratulated by teammates after scoring against Levante, on Sunday

Madrid: Lionel Messi marked his 300th La Liga appearance with a record-equalling hat-trick and an assist for Neymar as Barcelona stayed hard on the heels of leaders Real Madrid with a 5-0 romp at home to Levante on Sunday.

Messi has been on electric form in recent weeks and his pinpoint cross set up Neymar to put Barca 1-0 ahead in the 17th minute at the Nou Camp.

The Brazil forward skewed his close-range volley but the ball looped up over Levante goalkeeper Diego Marino into the net.

Barca doubled their lead seven minutes before halftime when centre back Marc Bartra won the ball near the Levante penalty area and threaded a pass through to Messi for the Argentina captain to score with a low shot.

Barca were utterly dominant against their 19th-placed opponents and Messi made it 3-0 in the 59th minute after neat work from Sergio Busquets and Pedro.

Messi completed his 23rd La Liga hat-trick from the penalty spot in the 65th minute, giving him a share of the record set by Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo earlier this season.

Messi has 31 trebles in all competitions for Barca, tying the record for a Spanish club held by former Athletic Bilbao forward Telmo Zarra, while Ronaldo has 27 for Real.

Messi’s latest hat-trick took the four-times World Player of the Year’s tally in Spain’s top flight to a record-extending 269 goals and the 27-year-old’s total for the latest La Liga campaign to 26, two fewer than top scorer Ronaldo.

Luis Suarez came off the bench to crown a fine Barca performance with a cracking bicycle kick to make it 5-0 in the 73rd minute and Messi came close to a fourth but was denied by a fine Marino save four minutes from time.

It was Barca’s 11th consecutive victory in all competitions, matching their best run under decorated former coach Pep Guardiola at the end of 2008.

“I didn’t know we had matched that record but it doesn’t interest me,” current coach Luis Enrique told a news conference.

“We will make our evaluations at the end of the season and if we win titles it will be great,” added the former Barca and Spain midfielder.

With just over half the season played, Real lead on 57 points after Saturday’s laboured 2-0 win at home to Deportivo La Coruna.

Barca, who host their great rivals on March 22, have 56 points in second.

Earlier, Valencia reclaimed La Liga’s fourth Champions League qualification berth from Sevilla when forward Alvaro Negredo won and converted a penalty in a 1-0 victory at home to Getafe.

Negredo, who is on loan at the Singapore-owned club from Manchester City, was felled by a wild kick from Juan

Antonio Rodriguez in the 70th minute at a sun-drenched Mestalla.

He picked himself up and clipped a confident spot kick high into the middle of the goal to lift Valencia to 47 points from 23 matches, two ahead of fifth-placed Sevilla, who won 3-0 at struggling Cordoba on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata is a Barcelona 2016 transfer target with the Catalan giants already planning for next year.

Luis Enrique’s side are currently serving a transfer ban handed out by Fifa for breaching rules on the acquisition of players aged under 18.

As a result Barcelona are not allowed to sign any players in 2015 but Mata has been linked with a move to the Nou Camp by a Spanish paper.