Lionel Messi takes on the defender Erick Cabaco in Barcelona’s 5-0 win away to Levante. Manuel Bruque-EPA
European Photopress Agency

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick and created another two goals as Barcelona thrashed 10-man Levante to regain a three-point lead at the top of La Liga.

The champions were joined at the top by Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, who both claimed victories this weekend.

But Messi stole the show once he crossed for Luis Suarez’s opener.

The Argentine converted two clinical finishes and popped home from close range, as well cutting the ball back for Gerard Pique’s late fifth.

Levante had defender Erick Cabaco sent off with 14 minutes to go for a straight red card after he recklessly lunged in on French winger Ousmane Dembele.

The hosts started brightly with striker Emmanuel Boateng smashing a shot against the crossbar and the Ghanaian also came close with a low, drilled effort towards the near post which Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to stoop to keep out, before Messi’s intervention.

Barca achieved a stylish revenge after last season’s agonising 5-4 loss against Levante ended their chances of going the full season unbeaten in the penultimate game of the campaign.

Though they were second best in the early stages, there was no doubting the result once they broke the deadlock on 34 minutes.

Messi pounced on a loose ball as Levante looked to pass it out from the back and the chance looked to be gone when he was forced out wide, but a clever cross into the box allowed Suarez to side-foot home a first-time finish from 12 yards out.

Nine minutes later, Barca skipper Messi was played in on goal by Sergio Busquets’ pass and the Argentine held off a defender to roll a finish into the far corner and then stroking home from the edge of the box for his second.

Messi completed his hat-trick with an easy finish from close range for his 50th goal for club and country in 2018 – and there was still time for defender Pique to start a move in his own box, before sprinting up the pitch to roll in from Messi’s cutback.

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