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Barcelona takes over Spanish league lead after Madrid loss

MADRID (AP) — Barcelona fans protesting club president Josep Bartomeu were also given reason to cheer as Lionel Messi scored four goals and the team went back on top of the Spanish league on Saturday.

Bartomeu was jeered by part of the crowd at the Camp Nou. Fans, who also called for his resignation, have not been happy with his administration amid one of the club's worst institutional crises, which includes a controversial coaching change and public conflicts between players and club directors.

Messi has been one of those critical of the club officials, but on Saturday he was his old self as he poured four goals past Eibar in a 5-0 rout. Combined with Real Madrid losing to Levante 1-0, and Barcelona will take a two-point lead of the league into their clásico next weekend at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

Before the clásico, Barcelona and Madrid have round-of-16 matches in the Champions League — Barcelona visits Napoli on Tuesday and Real Madrid hosts Manchester City on Wednesday. Messi led Barcelona to victory with a hat trick in the first 40 minutes and another goal near fulltime, ending a four-game scoreless streak that marked his worst run in six years in the Spanish league.

Arthur also scored for Barcelona after an assist from debuting striker Martin Braithwaite. “We needed a game like this, when we did things well and everything went our way,” Barcelona coach Quique Setién said.

It was the seventh time Messi scored four or more goals in a game with Barcelona. Eibar tweeted: “All we can do is give you a standing ovation (at)teammessi" ANOTHER REAL MADRID STUMBLE Real Madrid wasted a dominating performance against mid-table Levante.

Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema went close in one-on-one situations in the second half, but Benzema missed wide and Hazard's shot was saved. Benzema, Lucas Vázquez and Luka Modric already missed good chances in the first half at Ciudad de Valencia Stadium.

“We can’t look back now,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “We are going through a difficult moment, having lost five points in two matches. We know everything will be on the line for us this next week. We have to keep our heads high and keep fighting to try to overcome this bad moment.”

Hazard was limping when he was substituted by Vinícius Júnior in the second half. Doctors immediately put ice on his right ankle, and Zidane wasn't too optimistic after the match. “It doesn't look good,” he said, adding that the player was expected to undergo tests on Sunday.

José Luis Morales scored the 79th-minute winner, a powerful left-footed shot from inside the area, hitting the top corner of Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Levante had won only one of its last 14 league games against Real Madrid. Levante moved to 10th place with the win, its second in three matches.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE BATTLE Real Sociedad routed Valencia 3-0 to jump from eighth to fourth in the standings, grabbing a qualification spot for the Champions League. It was the fifth winless game for Valencia, which on Wednesday was routed by Atalanta 4-1 in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League.

Valencia dropped to eighth place, two points behind Sociedad. ASPAS HEROICS Striker Iago Aspas scored in the second half to give 10-man Celta Vigo a crucial 1-0 victory over relegation rival Leganés.

The hosts won despite playing most of the match with 10 men because of a straight red card shown to Croatian midfielder Filip Bradaric for a hard foul in the 21st. It was Leganés' first game since losing Braithwaite to Barcelona. The modest club from southern Madrid was not given permission to replace him outside the transfer window. Barcelona was able to make the signing because of an injury to Ousmane Dembele.

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