Barcelona takes over Spanish league lead after Madrid loss

MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid lost to Levante 1-0 and lost its lead of the Spanish league to Barcelona after a four-goal performance by Lionel Messi on Saturday.

Barcelona routed Eibar 5-0 at the Camp Nou and will enter next weekend’s clásico against Madrid with a two-point lead at the top of the standings.

José Luis Morales scored a 79th-minute winner for mid-table Levante, which had won only one of its last 14 league games against Madrid.

Before the clásico, Barcelona and Madrid have round-of-16 matches in the Champions League — Barcelona visits Napoli on Tuesday and Real Madrid hosts Manchester City on Wednesday.

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Madrid dominated and created more scoring chances against Levante. Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema went close in one-on-one situations in the second half, but Benzema missed wide and Hazard’s shot was saved. Benzema, Lucas Vázquez and Luka Modric already missed good chances in the first half at Ciudad de Valencia Stadium.

Morales scored the winner with a powerful left-footed shot from inside the area, hitting the top corner of Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Hazard was limping when he was substituted by Vinícius Júnior in the second half. Doctors immediately put ice on his right ankle but the severity of the injury wasn’t clear.

Levante moved to 10th place with the win, its second in three matches.

MESSI SHINES

Messi led Barcelona to victory with a hat trick in the first 40 minutes and another goal near the end of the rout against Eibar, ending a four-game scoreless streak that marked his worst run in six years in the Spanish league.

Arthur also scored for Barcelona at the Camp Nou after an assist from debuting striker Martin Braithwaite.

It was the fourth league win in a row for Barcelona, which has been enduring one of its worst institutional crises amid a controversial coaching change and public conflicts between players and club directors. President Josep Bartomeu was jeered by the crowd at the Camp Nou, with some of the fans calling for his resignation.

“We needed a game like this, when we did things well and everything went our way,” Barcelona coach Quique Setién said.

It was the seventh time Messi scored four or more goals in a game with Barcelona.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE BATTLE

Real Sociedad routed Valencia 3-0 to jump from eighth to fourth in the standings, grabbing a qualification spot for the Champions League.

Mikel Merino, Nacho Monreal and Adnan Januzaj scored for Real Sociedad, which has won three of its last four league matches.

It was the fifth winless game for Valencia, which on Wednesday was routed by Atalanta 4-1 in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League.

Valencia dropped to eighth place, two points behind Sociedad.

ASPAS HEROICS

Striker Iago Aspas scored in the second half to give 10-man Celta Vigo a crucial 1-0 victory over relegation rival Leganés.

The hosts won despite playing most of the match with 10 men because of a straight red card shown to Croatian midfielder Filip Bradaric for a hard foul in the 21st.

Celta was left outside of the relegation zone, two points clear of 18th-placed Mallorca, which drew at Real Betis 3-3 on Friday.

Leganés stayed second to last with the loss, tied on points with last-placed Espanyol, which visits Valladolid on Sunday.

It was Leganés’ first game since losing Braithwaite to Barcelona. The modest club from southern Madrid was not given permission to replace him outside the transfer window. Barcelona was able to make the signing because of an injury to Ousmane Dembele.

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