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Lionel Messi moves onto 202 La Liga goals with hat-trick against Espanyol

The attacker scored his 21st league hat-trick in Sunday’s Catalan derby.

Image: Manu Fernandez/AP/Press Association Images

A THIRD LIONEL MESSI  hat-trick in four games helped Barcelona keep the pressure on La Liga leaders Real Madrid as they recorded a 5-1 victory over local rivals Espanyol.

After falling behind to Sergio Garcia’s early strike, Barcelona then took control of the Catalan derby.

Messi’s 21st Liga treble, which took him to within two of Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 23 set on Saturday, a Gerard Pique header and neat finish from Pedro, was enough to see Barca take the spoils and leapfrog Atletico Madrid in second place with 34 points.

Real still lead the table with 36 points after a 3-0 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Despite having not won at the Camp Nou since 2009 it was the visitors who started the brighter and took the lead when Sergio Garcia ran directly at a static Gerard Pique before firing past Claudio Bravo to stun the hosts.

Barcelona then reacted, with Xavi Hernandez, Neymar and Ivan Rakitic all seeing chances come and go as they began to dominate play.

And on the stroke of half time, Messi equalised with the kind of goal that Barcelona have made their trademark.

Jordi Alba cut inside from the left, feeding Xavi Hernandez, who in turn laid the ball off to the Argentine who swept home from just outside the box.

With the momentum firmly behind them, Barcelona came out firing in the second period.

Spain Soccer La Liga Source: Manu Fernandez/AP/Press Association Images

Neymar, who was a menace throughout, then combined with Luis Suarez to find Messi on the edge of the box five minutes after the break, and the 27-year-old rifled a right-footed effort past a hapless Casilla to knock the wind out of their opponents’ sails.

Two minutes later the advantage was doubled as a Rakitic corner was met by Pique, and from there on there was only one winner.

With 13 minutes remaining an Alba diagonal ball found substitute Pedro Rodriguez, who had earlier replaced Suarez, and the Spain international made no mistake to further stretch Barca’s lead.

Nine minutes from time Messi capped off a fine afternoon as he scored his third, and his side’s fifth, following a give and go with Pedro.

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