Messi inspires as Barca tops La Liga

Lionel Messi scored twice and missed a penalty as Barcelona stretched their 100 per cent record in La Liga to four games with a 4-1 win over Levante. The European champions lead Real Madrid, Villarreal and Celta Vigo by two points with Atletico Madrid a point further adrift in fifth.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates his goal against Levante during their Spanish first division soccer match at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, on Sunday.   -  REUTERS

Lionel Messi scored twice and missed a penalty as Barcelona stretched their 100 per cent record in La Liga to four games with a 4-1 win over Levante. The European champions lead Real Madrid, Villarreal and Celta Vigo by two points with Atletico Madrid a point further adrift in fifth. Levante yesterday frustrated an experimental Barca side shorn of Luis Suarez from the start for 50 minutes before Marc Bartra settled the Catalans' nerves from Messi's cross. The floodgates then opened as Neymar doubled the advantage before Messi converted his first effort from the spot. Victor Casadesus pulled a goal back for Levante 24 minutes from time as he pounced on an error from Barca 'keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Messi then missed a penalty for the second time this season, but made amends with a stunning individual effort to round off the scoring.

“He isn't human because he scored two goals and provided an assist,” Barca boss Luis Enrique joked when asked if Messi's struggles from the spot proved he is fallible. “There is very little that makes him seem human.”

Suarez missed out on Enrique's starting line-up for the first time this season as he handed youngsters Sandro and Munir El Haddadi a rare start. Yet, both failed to impress as Levante comfortably kept Barca at bay during the first period and could even have taken a shock lead had Nabil Ghilas kept his composure instead of blazing wildly off target midway through the half.

In the absence of Suarez and Andres Iniesta, Messi was playing in a deeper midfield role and it was his creativity that eventually undid Levante as Bartra controlled the Argentine's inch-perfect cross before slotting past Ruben Martinez.

Villarreal beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1, their third victory in a row with the same scoreline, to keep themselves level on points with Real Madrid.

Sevilla were beaten 2-1 at home by high-flying Celta Vigo while Sporting Gijon picked up their first win by seeing off local rivals Deportivo La Coruna 3-2.