Lionel Messi reaches 82 goals as Barca stay clear

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi struck twice as Barcelona won 4-0 at Levante to remain three points clear of Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga.

Messi's goals were both laid on by Andres Iniesta who also hit the target himself before supplying Cesc Fabregas for the fourth yesterday.

The Argentine's brace means he now has 82 goals in 2012, just six short of German legend Gerd Mueller's all-time calendar record set in 1972.

He also tops the La Liga charts for the season with 19 goals.

Atletico had earlier beaten Sevilla 4-0 to keep pace at the top and go eight points ahead of city rivals Real Madrid in third who had lost 1-0 at Betis on Saturday.

Barca's win increases their gap over Real Madrid to 11 points, but coach Tito Vilanova does not see the league as being won so early in the season.

"The league is not over, we're only a third through and Atletico are three points behind us. There is a lot to play for. We have been 11 ahead of Madrid before and we suffered a lot in the end," he said.

Barca had struggled in the first half and their cause was not helped by losing Dani Alves after only 13 minutes with what appeared to be a recurrence of a recent hamstring injury.

When his replacement Martin Montoya took the pitch it meant Barca's full side had also starred for the club at youth level.

Jose Maria Barkero had the best chance of the opening exchanges for Levante, drawing Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes into a save with a 12th-minute drive.

Barca took 10 minutes to react, Messi hitting a low shot that missed just wide right, a minute before Xavi Hernandez hit a similar drive that went to the left.

The Catalans' intricate build-up play was comfortably contained by solid defending from the home team in a tight first period.

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