Messi leads Barca rout to keep lead, Neymar hurt
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi shrugged off a missed penalty and another injury to Neymar by scoring one goal and setting up two more to lead Barcelona to a 5-0 rout at 10-man Levante on Sunday as it stayed top of the Spanish league.
Messi set up Neymar for the 34th-minute opener before flubbing a spot kick in the 42nd after being fouled by Loukas Vyntra, who was sent off.
Barcelona didn’t blink, however, and two minutes later Ivan Rakitic scored his first goal for Barcelona with a blistering strike from outside the area.
Barcelona received another blow when Neymar went down with a left ankle injury in the 50th, but again Messi was there to square a pass for Neymar’s replacement, Sandro Ramirez, to score in the 57th before Pedro Rodriguez added a goal from Jordi Alba’ pass in the 64th.
Messi then capped the demolition in the 77th after Levante goalkeeper Jesus Fernandez spilled the ball and watched as Messi chipped it back over his head.
All told, Messi has played a direct part in nine of Barcelona’s 12 goals in its five wins across all competitions, scoring three and assisting on six more.
“Messi is one-of-a-kind,” said Barcelona coach Luis Enrique. “He doesn’t just dribble and score goals, he also assists like he did today, and in what a spectacular fashion.”
Equally as important for Luis Enrique’s focus on improving Barcelona defense, his team has not allowed a goal this season.
Barcelona’s fourth win in as many rounds left it two points ahead of Sevilla after its 3-1 win at Cordoba. Defending champion Atletico Madrid trails Barcelona by four points. Real Madrid is another two points adrift back in sixth place behind Granada, Valencia and Villarreal.
Neymar went down clutching his lower left leg after Pedro Lopez fell on top of him while contesting the ball.
Barcelona team doctors attended him and signaled for a substitution even though Neymar was soon on his feet and appeared to want to go back on.
“Neymar twisted his ankle and suffered a sprain and we substituted him as a precaution,” Luis Enrique said. “He asked for the change and later wanted to try and continue playing, but we had already made the decision.”
In July, Neymar fractured a vertebra in his back during the World Cup. He recovered in time for the start of the season but then missed the league opener with an ankle sprain.
Levante remained in last place and without a goal scored through four games.
Elsewhere, Villarreal roared back from a two-goal deficit to rout Rayo Vallecano 4-2, while Almeria hung on for a wild 2-1 win at Real Sociedad to claim its first victory of the season after having both a player and its coach sent off.
Sevilla outclassed Cordoba to remain undefeated.
Colombia striker Carlos Bacca netted two goals, opening the scoring in the eighth and securing Sevilla’s victory in the 88th when he converted a penalty.
Stephane M’Bia came on in the 69th and three minutes later added Sevilla’s second goal before Borja Garcia scored for Cordoba in the 83rd.
Rayo looked set to romp after Gael Kakuta and Alberto Bueno scored goals in the 22nd and 29th minutes at El Madrigal Stadium.
But Javier Espinosa sparked Villarreal’s comeback in the 33rd. Villarreal dominated from there, with Ikechuwku Uche hitting the post three minutes later and testing Alvarez with a header that the goalie did well to push over his bar.
Villarreal defender Mateo Musacchio headed in the resulting corner kick to level in the 63rd.
Substitute forward Luciano Vietto struck in the 74th and the 87th from identical counterattacks started by Jonathan Dos Santos, with the ball flowing through Denis Cheryshev.
Unlike Rayo, Almeria was able to protect its lead on the road.
Almeria got its first goal in the 30th when Sociedad goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai swatted the ball off the face of teammate Alberto de la Bella and into the net. Mauro Dos Santos headed in Almeria’s second in the 51st.
Almeria’s Sebastian Dubarbier received his second yellow card in the 79th. Coach Francisco Rodriguez was then ejected for protesting after Sociedad’s Chory Castro pulled a goal back in the 85th.
Ruben Pardo almost salvaged a draw for Sociedad with a free kick off the post in the 89th.