Messi scores twice as Barcelona crush Levante to go top

AFP , Sunday 20 Sep 2015

Barcelona's Messi celebrates scoring a penalty kick against Levante during their Spanish first division soccer match against Levante at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona (Photo: Reuters)

Lionel Messi scored twice and missed a penalty as Barcelona stretched their 100 percent record in La Liga to four games with a 4-1 win over Levante on Sunday.

The European champions lead Real Madrid, Villarreal and Celta Vigo by two points with Atletico Madrid a point further adrift in fifth.

Levante 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.

Suarez missed out on Luis 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.

Messi was inches away from teeing up Neymar for a second moments later, but Neymar wasn't to be denied on 56 minutes when he squeezed the ball between the legs of two Levante defenders on the line for his second goal of the season.

The four-time World Player of the Year confidently dispatched his first effort from the penalty spot after Neymar had been tripped by Angel Trujillo.

Ter Stegen has been handed his place in the side by an injury to Claudio Bravo, but the German's recent struggles continued as he flapped at a Levante corner to gift Casadesus a goal back.

Normal service appeared to be resumed when Messi was upended by Zou Feddal, but this time he blazed the ball high over the bar to take his tally of missed spot-kicks in his Barca career to 15 of the 65 he has taken.

Yet, from open play Messi remains the most dangerous player in the world and he shrugged off that miss by dribbling past two Levante defenders before smashing in Barca's fourth of the night a minute from time.

Earlier, Europa League holders Sevilla's terrible start to their La Liga season continued as Celta Vigo climbed into fourth with a 2-1 win at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

Villarreal moved into third with a convincing 3-1 win over a depleted Athletic Bilbao.

And Sporting Gijon claimed their first victory since returning to the top flight with a 3-2 win in a thrilling encounter away at Deportivo la Coruna.

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