Messi hat-trick adorns Barcelona’s 5-0 romp at Levante

Levante defender Sergio Postigo (left) tackles Barcelona forward Lionel Messi during the La Liga match at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium in Valencia. (AFP pic)

VALENCIA: Lionel Messi netted his first hat-trick of the La Liga season and provided two assists in a sensational individual display as a rampant Barcelona won 5-0 at Levante to strengthen their lead at the top of the table on Sunday.

Messi carved his way through the home side’s defence before producing an outrageous no-look pass for Luis Suarez to open the scoring in the 35th minute, shortly after mid-table Levante had hit the underside of the crossbar.

The Argentine struck his first goal of the night two minutes before the interval, latching on to a defence-splitting pass from Sergio Busquets and racing clear to knock the ball through the legs of Levante’s goalkeeper with his weaker right foot.

Messi further stretched Barca’s advantage at the start of the second half, dispatching Jordi Alba’s low cross into the bottom corner with a first-time finish, before completing his treble from close range.

The Barca captain’s hat-trick followed his two mesmeric goals from free kicks against Espanyol last week and took him on to 14 goals for the season, becoming the top scorer in La Liga and Europe’s top five leagues.

Messi also laid on the 88th minute pass for defender Gerard Pique to complete the rout which took leaders Barca on to 34 points after 16 games, three points clear of both second-placed Sevilla and Atletico Madrid, in third.