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Messi nets 4 goals against Eibar to end scoreless streak

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — With a hat trick in the first 40 minutes and another goal near the end on Saturday, Lionel Messi ended his worst scoreless run in six years in the Spanish league and put Barcelona back at the top of the standings.

Messi led Barcelona to a 5-0 rout of Eibaron a day fans protested against club president Josep Bartomeu at the Camp Nou Stadium. The victory moved the Catalan club two points ahead of Real Madrid, which lost to Levante 1-0.

The Spanish powerhouses play their clásico in Madrid next weekend, and this week have round-of-16 matches in the Champions League — Barcelona visits Napoli on Tuesday and Real Madrid hosts Manchester City on Wednesday.

Barcelona's fourth league win in a row also helped ease some of the pressureon Bartomeu, who was jeered by part of the crowd. Fans, who also called for his resignation, have not been happy with Bartomeu's 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, one of the recent critics of club officials, ended his four-game scoreless streak in the league with a beautiful opening goal, sending the ball through the legs of defender Anaitz Arbilla and entering the area and finding the net in the 14th minute.

“Messi has been doing this for the last 14 or 15 years, and he will keep doing it,” Barcelona coach Quique Setién said. “He is a guarantee for any team or coach. He always comes through, either with goals or with assists.”

Messi beat Arbilla again with a run into the area before scoring the second in the 37th, and three minutes later he sealed the hat trick with an easy goal off the rebound of a shot by Antoine Griezmann.

It was the second fastest hat trick for Messi. He had one 30 minutes into a game against Mallorca in 2011. The fourth goal came in the 87th after he cleared Arbilla and goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic to shoot into an open net.

“When Messi has a day like this, it's difficult," Leganés defender José Ángel Valdés said. “The best player in the world was on the other side, so there was not much we could do.” It was the seventh time Messi scored four goals or more with Barcelona. The last one was against Eibar in the 2017-18 season.

The goals kept Messi as the league leading scorer on 18, five more than Madrid striker Karim Benzema. Messi had been decisive for Barcelona in recent games despite the scoreless streak, helping with a series of assists. He endured an eight-match scoreless streak back in 2014.

Barcelona said the rout against Eibar allowed the team to surpass Real Madrid as the team with most goals in the history of the Spanish league — 6,151 against 6,150. New signing Martin Braithwaite came off the bench to make his Barcelona debut after being signed from Leganés this week to help boost an attack missing the injured Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembele. The Danish striker set up Messi's fourth goal and the fifth by Arthur in the 89th.

“He did well,” Setién said. “He was a great signing for us.” Eibar, winless in fourth straight league matches, had a goal disallowed for offside after a header by Sergi Enrich less than five minutes into in the first half, and another for a foul by Arbilla inside the area in the 63rd.

The Basque club stayed 16th in the standings, two points above the relegation zone. Barcelona also had two goals called back for offside, both in the second half.

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