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Five-star Barca chalk 11th win on the trot

MESSI-LEVANTEMADRID, February 15- Lionel Messi marked his 300th La Liga appearance with his 31st Barcelona hat-trick as the Catalans moved within a point of Real Madrid at the top of the table with a 5-0 win over Levante.

Barca have now won 11 straight matches in all competitions and never looked in danger despite coach Luis Enrique making eight changes from the side that beat Villarreal in the Copa del Rey in midweek.

Messi teed up Neymar to open the scoring early on and then took over scoring duties himself to take his all-time La Liga tally to 269 goals.

However, even the Argentine was upstaged by a stunning overhead kick from substitute Luis Suarez to round off the scoring.

Victory tied Pep Guardiola’s best ever run of consecutive wins during his hugely successful four-year spell in charge at the Camp Nou.

But Enrique insisted it is winning at the season’s end which matters most.

“Records are obviously positive, but they don’t interest me,” he said.

“The players aren’t overly euphoric because they know how hard it is to win titles.

“If the fans are euphoric then great. We need to be optimistic, but it isn’t important how many games we have won. What counts is if they help us to win trophies.”

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Messi, Neymar and Javier Mascherano were the only survivors from Wednesday’s 3-1 Cup semi-final, first leg win over Villarreal as Enrique continued to use the vast resources of his squad.

Those changes did understandably provoke a subdued start, but Barca’s luck was in on 17 minutes when Neymar mishit Messi’s dinked pass over the Levante defence only for the ball to spin high into the air and drop into the far corner of the net.

The two South American stars combined once more 20 minutes later only for Messi to be wrongly flagged offside when he seemed set to double the hosts advantage.

Messi didn’t have to wait long for his first goal, though, as Marc Bartra robbed the ball deep inside the Levante half and fed his teammate to slot home his 35th goal of the season.

The four-time World Player of the Year should have added to his tally before the break when he fired over from inside the area after Diego Marino had made a fine block from Pedro Rodriguez’s original effort.

Messi did add his second of the afternoon just before the hour mark as Sergio Busquets’s lovely pass into Pedro was turned across goal by the Spanish international and Messi tapped home with his right foot.

Neymar was then upended inside the area by Ivan Lopez and, having handed penalty taking duties to the Brazilian when Neymar missed from the spot in midweek, Messi wasn’t to give up the opportunity for his fifth hat-trick of the season as he sent Marino the wrong way.

Suarez was introduced at Neymar’s expense shortly afterwards and the former Liverpool man provided his own moment of brilliance as he caught Adriano’s cross flush on the volley for just his fourth La Liga goal 17 minutes from time.

Earlier, Valencia needed an Alvaro Negredo penalty 19 minutes from time to see off Getafe 1-0 and move back up to fourth in La Liga.

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The on-loan Manchester City striker cheekily chipped home the winner from the spot after he had been brought down by Juan Rodriguez inside the area.

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