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Spanish League: Messi scores hat trick to keep Barca 3 points clear

FC Barcelona's forward Lionel Messi, left, celebrates after scoring a goal with his teammate FC Barcelona's defender Gerard Pique, right, during their La Liga soccer match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia stadium in Valencia, Spain, on Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Miguel Fernandez de Velasco)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Lionel Messi scored a hat trick and set up two more goals to lead Barcelona to a 5-0 victory at Levante on Sunday, restoring the defending champion's three-point lead of the Spanish league.

Messi netted his 18th, 19th and 20th goals in all competitions this season after setting up Luis Suarez to get Barcelona rolling at the Ciutat de Valencia Stadium.

Already trailing 4-0, Levante lost Erick Cabaco in the 76th minute with a direct red card for cutting down Ousmane Dembele.

Messi then set up Gerard Pique to complete the demolition.

It was Messi's second treble of the season, adding to his three goals against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League in September.

The Argentina forward leads the Spanish league with 14 goals through 16 rounds. He scored two goals -- both from free kicks -- in last round's 4-0 win at Espanyol.

Barcelona stayed three points ahead of second-placed Sevilla, which beat Girona 2-0 earlier Sunday, and third-placed Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid is five points off the pace in fourth place.

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