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Wednesday , October 21 2020

Barcelona strengthen lead

Levante defender Jose Gomez Campana (left), in action against FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi (right), during their La Liga soccer match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia Stadium in Valencia, Spain on Dec 16. (AP)

Messi hat trick adorns Barca’s romp at Levante

VALENCIA, Dec 17, (RTRS): Lionel Messinetted his first hat trick of the La Liga season and provided two assists inyet another sensational individual display as a rampant Barcelona won 5-0 atLevante to strengthen their lead at the top of the table.

Messi, at his mesmeric best, notched the 31st La Liga hat trick of his career for Barca while also setting up goals for Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique.

 “Suarez and Messi are the best striking partnership in the world. Luis has goals in his veins – and everything has already been said about Leo,” said defender Pique, paying tribute to Barca’s prolific South American double act.

 Argentine Messi, who on Monday will collect for a record fifth time the Golden Shoe trophy that is awarded annually to the leading marksman in the top divisions of Europe’s soccer leagues, looks on a mission to repeat his 2017-18 success.

 His treble took him to 14 league goals for the season, two more than any other striker in Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues.

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

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

 The Barca captain, following up his two mesmeric goals from free kicks against Espanyol last week, seemed intent on making further mockery of his recent fifth-place ranking in the Ballon d’Or voting by striking again soon after the interval.

 He dispatched Jordi Alba’s low cross into the bottom corner with a first-time finish, before going on to complete his treble on the hour mark from close range.

 Not yet sated, he then laid on the 88th minute pass for 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.

 Levante were the only team to beat Barca in the league last season, stunning them at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium with a 5-4 win in the penultimate game of the campaign.

 Perhaps with that game in mind, Barca coach Ernesto Valverde lined up with an unorthodox 3-5-2 formation, playing French forward Ousmane Dembele as a right wing back and Jordi Alba on the left.

 Barca took their time to adapt to the formation and nearly fell behind when Emanuel Boateng rattled the bar. All changed though with Messi’s dazzling run across the pitch in the build-up to Suarez’s opener, and Barca never looked back. “Last year they put five goals past us so I’m especially pleased to have won the game,” said Valverde.

AS Monaco lost for the fourth time in five games as a rampant Olympique Lyonnais hammered them 3-0 to move into third place in Ligue 1. The loss left Monaco, runners-up last season and champions in 2017, second bottom of the standings with 13 points from 17 games, five clear of last-placed Guingamp.

They have conceded 45 goals in all competitions this season, the most by any team in Europe’s top five leagues. Houssem Aouar scored Lyon’s first after six minutes when he finished off a rebound close to goal and Nabil Fekir made it two 11 minutes before halftime. Aleksandr Golovin made Monaco’s plight even more difficult when he got a straight red for a bad tackle early in the second half and Ferland Mendy compounded the misery for Thierry Henry’s side when made it 3-0 with a header.

Lyon have 31 points after 17 games, three behind Lille, who moved into second earlier in the day with a 3-2 win at Nimes. Lille’s first league victory in Nimes since 1954 put the northern side on 34 points from 18 games, three above Lyon and five ahead of fourth-placed Montpellier, who have played two fewer games. Paris St Germain remain runaway leaders with 44 points from their unbeaten 16-game start.

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