BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona forward Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Leganes on Saturday which took the Catalans 12 points clear at the top of La Liga and also meant they equalled a Spanish top-flight record of 38 games without defeat.
Messi curled in from a free kick to break the deadlock in the 27th minute. Five minutes later the Argentine doubled the lead, taking one touch to control a through ball from Philippe Coutinho before delivering a cool low finish.
Nabil El Zhar pulled a goal back for 14th-placed Leganes in the 68th minute. However, Messi made sure Barca kept all the points by hitting his third with three minutes left, controlling the ball on his chest and calmly chipping goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar from close range.
Barca have not lost in the league since going down 2-0 at Malaga on April 8 last year and the win saw them match Real Sociedad’s unbeaten run between 1979 and 1980. Ernesto Valverde’s side are also undefeated in the Champions League this campaign.
“It’s a historic record which gives you an idea of how competitive the team is,” Valverde told a news conference, stressing that the record also belongs to predecessor Luis Enrique, who oversaw the first seven games of the unbeaten run at the end of last season.
“I can’t explain how we have done it, all we try and do is focus on always winning the next game.”
The Catalans are top of La Liga with 79 points after 31 games and have a 12-point advantage over second-placed Atletico Madrid, who visit champions Real Madrid in a local derby on Sunday.
Despite the huge margin his side have at the top, Valverde continued to resist talk about his side being champions-elect.
“When you start to feel like you are the champions, that’s the moment you begin to make a mistake,” he said.
“We still haven’t won anything and there’s still a danger we won’t win it. We have to keep fighting until the end, just like our other rivals.”
Sevilla suffered a humiliating 4-0 defeat at Celta Vigo as their former striker Iago Aspas struck a hat-trick in a rampant second-half display.
Spain forward Aspas scored all his goals in the space of 21 minutes, taking his La Liga goal tally this season to 19.
Sevilla’s 20-year-old defender Guilherme Arana bundled the ball into his own net to put the home side ahead towards the end of the first half and Vincenzo Montella’s side fell apart after the interval.
Sevilla are seventh in the standings and will drop down to eighth and out of the European places if Girona win at Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Real Betis climbed up to fifth and edged closer to a return to European football next season by beating Eibar 2-0 at home, while Alaves beat Getafe 2-0.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Pritha Sarkar