Lionel Messi’s 31st La Liga Hat-trick helped FC Barcelona to regain the top spot of the points table of the La Liga 2018-19 as they thrashed Levante 5-0 on Monday at Levante at Ciutat de Valencia stadium.  Barca coach Ernesto Valverde had to shift his deployment to 3-5-2 after Nelson Semedo sustained a knee injury earlier in the day and had to be scrubbed.

Despite the fact that it was Levante who played a better game and developed some good chances in the first 45 minutes, Barca took advantage of its two goals before to break to head for the locker room sitting pretty at 2-0 on Sunday night. The first tally came in the 35th minute on a strike by Suarez, assisted brilliantly with a cross by Messi, and then the Argentine notched the second one himself just two minutes before the break, tapping the ball in between Oier Olazabal’s legs.

Levante came out in the second half with great intensity, putting pressure on goalkeeper Ter Stegan but it didn’t take Messi long to score his team’s third tally – his second of the night – in the 47th minute, with Suarez helping out. It was Messi again for his third of the night in the 60th minute, with Suarez sending over a great crossing shot and then Arturo Vidal adjusting it back to Messi for an easy goal.

The final Barca goal came in the 88th minute when Pique sank one of his own after Cabaco had been expelled 12 minutes beforehand, leaving Levante a man short. The win leaves Barca in first place on the La Liga table in the 16th week of the Spanish tourney with 34 points, three ahead of Sevilla and Atletico Madrid, while Levante is in seventh with 22 points.

(With IANS inputs)