Madrid: Lionel Messi marked his 300th La Liga appearance with a record-equalling hat-trick and an assist for Neymar as Barcelona stayed hard on the heels of leaders Real Madrid with a 5-0 romp at home to Levante on Sunday.
While Messi continued to rewrite the record books with another masterclass, third-placed Atletico Madrid`s hopes of a second straight title were dealt a blow when the champions were beaten 2-0 at mid-table Celta Vigo.
Atletico were missing creative midfield pair Koke and Arda Turan and looked a shadow of the side that thrashed Real 4-0 at the Calderon last weekend.
Their reverse at Celta`s Balaidos stadium in Galicia left them six points behind Barca and seven adrift of Real, who won 2-0 at home to promoted Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.
Messi has been on electric form in recent weeks and his pinpoint cross set up Neymar to put Barca 1-0 ahead in the 17th minute at the Nou Camp.
The Brazil forward skewed his close-range volley but the ball looped up over Levante goalkeeper Diego Marino into the net.
Barca doubled their lead seven minutes before halftime when centre back Marc Bartra won the ball near the Levante penalty area and threaded a pass through to Messi for the Argentina captain to score with a low shot.
Barca were utterly dominant against their 19th-placed opponents and Messi made it 3-0 in the 59th minute after neat work from Sergio Busquets and Pedro.
Messi completed his 23rd La Liga hat-trick from the penalty spot in the 65th minute, giving him a share of the record set by Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo earlier this season.
Messi has 31 trebles in all competitions for Barca, tying the record for a Spanish club held by former Athletic Bilbao forward Telmo Zarra, while Ronaldo has 27 for Real.
Messi`s latest hat-trick took the four-times World Player of the Year’s tally in Spain’s top flight to a record-extending 269 goals and the 27-year-old`s total for the latest La Liga campaign to 26, two fewer than top scorer Ronaldo.
Luis Suarez came off the bench to crown a fine Barca performance with a cracking bicycle kick to make it 5-0 in the 73rd minute and Messi came close to a fourth but was denied by a fine Marino save four minutes from time.
It was Barca`s 11th consecutive victory in all competitions, matching their best run under decorated former coach Pep Guardiola at the end of 2008.
"I didn`t know we had matched that record but it doesn`t interest me," current coach Luis Enrique told a news conference.
"We will make our evaluations at the end of the season and if we win titles it will be great," added the former Barca and Spain midfielder.
Atletico fell behind when Mario Suarez conceded a penalty for a foul on Celta forward Nolito in the 57th minute.
Nolito, who also scored from the spot in Celta`s 2-2 draw at Atletico in September, stroked the ball past Sergio Asenjo and Fabian Orellana made it 2-0 in the 71st minute with a powerful low strike.
Antoine Griezmann had come close to scoring for the visitors in the 67th minute when Celta keeper Sergio Alvarez diverted his shot onto a post but that was about as good as it got for Diego Simeone`s off-colour side.
Valencia reclaimed La Liga`s fourth Champions League qualification berth from Sevilla when forward Alvaro Negredo won and converted a penalty in a 1-0 victory at home to Getafe.
Negredo, who is on loan at the Singapore-owned club from Manchester City, was felled by a wild kick from Juan Antonio Rodriguez in the 70th minute at a sun-drenched Mestalla.
He picked himself up and clipped a confident spot kick high into the middle of the goal to lift Valencia to 47 points from 23 matches, two ahead of fifth-placed Sevilla, who won 3-0 at struggling Cordoba on Saturday.
Villarreal, who are sixth on 41 points, failed to score in an away game for only the second time this season when they were beaten 2-0 at mid-table Rayo Vallecano.