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 the leaders, Real Madrid, with a 5-0 romp at home to Levante on Sunday.
Messi has been in electric form in recent weeks and his pinpoint cross set up Neymar to put Barça 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 the Levante goalkeeper, Diego Marino, and into the net.
Barcelona doubled their lead seven minutes before half-time, when the 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.
The home side were utterly dominant against their relegation-threatened 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 Barça, tying the record for a Spanish club held by the former Athletic Bilbao forward Telmo Zarra, while Ronaldo has 27 for Real.
Messi’s latest hat-trick took the four-time World Player of the Year’s tally in Spain’s top flight to 269 goals and the 27-year-old’s total for the latest La Liga campaign to 26, two fewer than the top scorer, Ronaldo.
Luis Suárez came off the bench to crown a fine Barcelona performance with a bicycle kick to make it 5-0 in the 73rd minute and Messi came close to his fourth, but was denied by a fine Marino save four minutes from time.
With just over half the season played, Real lead on 57 points after Saturday’s 2-0 win at home to Deportivo La Coruña. Barcelona, who host Real on 22 March, have 56 points, six clear of Atlético Madrid ahead of the champions’ game at Celta Vigo later on Sunday.