Levante 0 Barcelona 5: Marvellous Messi banishes ghosts of last season

Barcelona made light work of Levante on Sunday, with Lionel Messi netting a hat-trick and setting up the other two goals.

Lionel Messi (L) celebrates with Luis Suarez.   -  Twitter @FCBarcelona

Lionel Messi sparkled as Barcelona saw off Levante 5-0 on Sunday to restore its three-point lead at the top of LaLiga.

Messi set up Luis Suarez for the opening goal before scoring a hat-trick as Ernesto Valverde's side made amends for its shock 5-4 defeat at Ciutat de Valencia last May.

The 31-year-old has now scored 50 goals for club and country eight times over the last nine calendar years and he helped round off the rout by setting up Gerard Pique for the fifth two minutes from time.

Barca's third straight LaLiga win put daylight between it, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid after 16 matches.

Levante was 2-1 up at half-time of this fixture last season and it caused Barca problems from the off once again, with Emmanuel Boateng, scorer of a hat-trick in that game, striking the underside of the crossbar from 12 yards.

But Barca made the most of Levante's failure to clear its lines 10 minutes before the break, when Messi danced his way across the top of the box and clipped a reverse pass into the path of Suarez, who volleyed home.

Three minutes before half-time, after another error, it was 2-0. Ruben Rochina passed straight to Sergio Busquets, he sent Messi through on goal and the Argentine star slotted the ball beneath Oier Olazabal.

Messi effectively killed the match before the hour mark, first sweeping into the bottom-right corner after Suarez and Jordi Alba led a counter-attack and then tapping in a first-time cross from Arturo Vidal.

Erick Cabaco saw a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Ousmane Dembele in the 76th minute, and Pique compounded a miserable outing for Levante in the closing moments, collecting Messi's pass, turning onto his left foot and squeezing a shot beneath Oier.

What does it mean? Valverde has learned his lesson

Valverde's decision to rest some key players, including Messi, in this fixture last season ended Barca's hopes of going the entire league campaign unbeaten.

This time, having already lost twice in LaLiga, there was to be no such risk. Even with Nelson Semedo withdrawing late on through injury, this was a strong line-up set up in a way to prevent being exploited on the break as badly as it was on its last visit.

Most importantly, he put Messi in the team, who was simply too much for the league's third-worst defence to handle. Barca now needs only a point against Celta Vigo next week to end 2018 in top spot.

Messi a clinical colossus

Having come close with two efforts from distance, Messi showed his killer instinct to put the game to bed within an hour. His assist for Suarez and his three goals looked simple but oozed quality.

Rochina punished for risky approach

Rochina did not do enough to close down Messi for the first goal and it was his careless pass that led to the second, which seemed to end any hope of another surprise Levante win.

What's next?

Barca hosts Celta next Saturday in its final match of 2018. Levante heads to Rayo Vallecano a day later.

Key Opta Facts

- Messi has become the player with the most wins for Barcelona in LaLiga history (323), surpassing Xavi (322)
- Only Cristiano Ronaldo (34) has scored more hat-tricks than Messi (31) in LaLiga
- Barca has scored in each of its last 30 LaLiga away games, only two away from equaling its longest scoring run in the competition, recorded between February 2012 and September 2013 (32)

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