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Messi bags hat-trick to hit 50-goal mark in 2018

BARCELONA: Lionel Messi hit the 50-goal mark for club and country in 2018 after scoring his 43rd career hat-trick for Barcelona /
Messi’s brilliance powered Barcelona to a 5-0 victory at Levante and kept the defending champions three points ahead of Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in La Liga.

It also avenged Barcelona’s only loss in the league last season when Levante stunned the visitors 5-4 in the penultimate round in a match that Messi missed.

Levante had a promising start, pressuring Barcelona up the pitch and creating scoring chances that included Emmanuel Boateng’s shot that hit the crossbar in the 33rd.

Messi put Barcelona in charge two minutes later when he dribbled across the box to draw in three defenders before flicking the ball back for the unmarked Suarez to stab home.

Messi made it 2-0 just before halftime when Sergio Busquets played him clear on a solo break after intercepting a pass in midfield. Messi got his second goal in the 47th when Suarez recovered the ball and passed wide to Jordi Alba. Suarez then used a dummy run to let Alba’s pass run through for Messi to drive in a left-footed shot.

Suarez also cued Messi’s third goal in the 60th when he dribbled through the legs of Cabaco before crossing for Arturo Vidal, who then found Messi all alone to tap the ball in.

“It’s fantastic. Beyond the numbers, which are excellent, I can sense that my team always wants more and has connected with our fans,” Sevilla coach Pablo Machin said. “This connection gives us a bonus and makes us super competitive.” In a match that pitted Machin against the team he coached last season, Ever Banega and Pablo Sarabia broke down Girona’s defense with a pair of second-half goals.