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Messi hattrick restores Barcelona’s La Liga lead

MADRID, Lionel Messi continued his sublime form by netting his 31st La Liga hattrick as Barcelona thrashed Levante 50 on Sunday to regain their threepoint lead at the top of the table.

The 31yearold Argentinian arrived in Valencia having scored two free

kicks in last weekend's derby thumping of Espanyol. He took his goals tally

for the season to 20 after a virtuoso display, while also teeing up Luis

Suarez's 35thminute opener and Gerard Pique's late fifth.

Barca were under pressure after Atletico Madrid and secondplaced Sevilla

had both moved level on points with the Catalan giants.

But after resting his key stars for their final Champions League group

stage match against Tottenham in midweek, coach Ernesto Valverde saw his

refreshed side cruise to a third straight league win without conceding a

goal.

At the beginning it was difficult, they squeezed us and had a chance that

hit the woodwork, said Valverde.

Levante started the game brightly and visiting goalkeeper MarcAndre ter

Stegen was forced into an early save by Ghanaian Emmanuel Boateng. But Barca

did not take long to start moving through the gears, with Messi curling wide

from long range before testing Oier Olazabal in the Levante goal with a free

kick.

Just seconds after Boateng hammered a leftfooted strike against the

crossbar, the reigning Spanish champions broke the deadlock as Messi jinked

through a mesmerised home defence and picked out Suarez who volleyed home.

But Levante, who had ended Barcelona's dreams of going through last

season's La Liga campaign unbeaten with a remarkable 54 victory in the

penultimate game, came close to a quick response as Jose Luis Morales fired

over.

The match was all but ended as a contest when Messi bore down on goal two

minutes before halftime and drilled low into the net.

I'm happy to have won here, because last year we came and they put five

goals past us having gone the whole season unbeaten, so we knew about the

danger of Levante and it was a match we had marked out, added Valverde.

He wasted little time after the restart to add his second in the 47th

minute, sweeping home Jordi Alba's clever cutback, before completing his

treble with a simple tapin from Arturo Vidal's square pass on the hour mark.

Messi has scored five goals in two league games since finishing only fifth

in the voting for the Ballon d'Or earlier this month.

A bad evening for Levante worsened with 14 minutes to play, as leftback

Erick Cabaco was sent off for a reckless lunge on Ousmane Dembele.

Centreback Pique added further gloss to the scoreline in the 88th minute,

rampaging forward to collect Messi's pass, before keeping his cool and

rolling the ball home.

Sevilla keep up the pace

Sevilla reclaimed second place earlier on Sunday as secondhalf strikes

from Ever Banega and Pablo Sarabia sealed a 20 win over Girona.

Pablo Machin's side are unbeaten in seven league games since a 42 loss at

Barcain October.

The hosts had to wait until the 55th minute to break the deadlock, when

striker Andre Silva was tripped in the area by Girona defender Juanpe.

Argentinian Banega stepped up to send visiting goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz

the wrong way from the penalty spot.

The points were wrapped up only nine minutes later, as Wissam Ben Yedder

cut the ball back for the onrushing Sarabia to slide home his 14th goal of

the season in all competitions.

In the first half they (Girona) were very good, said Machin. They were

very organised and had good chances, when (Sevilla goalkeeper) Tomas (Vaclik)

was splendid.

In the second half we were the better team.

Elsewhere, Villarreal were plunged further into crisis as Samuele Longo's

93rdminute strike saw them held to a 22 draw at bottom club Huesca.

Villarreal, who replaced Javier Calleja with Luis Garcia Plaza as coach in

midweek, are only one point and one place above the relegation zone.

Real Betis eased to a 31 win at Espanyol to move into fifth place after a

third successive league victory.

Espanyol, who led the table earlier in the season, have lost five straight

matches to slip into the bottom half.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)