Messi hat-trick sends Barca top of La Liga

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SPAIN SOCCER PRIMERA DIVISION

Lionel Messi (c) scored Barcelona's first three goals in their league win over Celta Vigo

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has netted two perfectly struck free kicks to secure a record-equalling 34th Spanish La Liga hat-trick.

The Catalan club's skipper more than made up for a rare bad foul that led to a yellow card and a Celta Vigo's equaliser in a 4-1 rout at the Camp Nou.

Messi has drawn level with former Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo for the most hat-tricks in Spain's top flight.

The resulted ended Barca's two-game winless sequence and sent them top on 25 points, level with Real Madrid who routed Eibar 4-0.

Substitute Sergio Busquets also scored for Barcelona, who were coming off a league loss at Levante and a home draw with Slavia Prague in the Champions League.

"We needed this victory," coach Ernesto Valverde said. "A team like Barcelona has to rebound quickly after a setback."

Messi put Barcelona ahead with a penalty in the first half, but his foul near halftime prompted a yellow card, and Celta's goal from a free kick by Lucas Olaza.

Messi made up for his blunder with two sublime dead balls, one in first-half stoppage time and the other a few minutes after the break.

Both times he sent a curling shot over the wall and into the top corner.

"With Leo, anything is possible," Valverde said. "He is an expert with free kicks.

"Our opponents are always wary of fouling near the area."

Messi has netted nine goals in his past seven matches in all competitions and has eight league goals this season, one less than leading scorer Karim Benzema.

"You can't control Messi," Celta coach Oscar Garcia said.

"Without him, things would have been different."

Benzema (twice), Sergio Ramos and Fede Valverde struck as Zinedine Zidane's Real took care of Eibar at a rainy Ipurua.

French striker Benzema - who overtook the legendary Ferenc Puskas as the club's sixth top league goalscorer with a brace to take him to 157 goals - broke the deadlock after 17 minutes before Ramos and he netted from the penalty spot and Valverde curled home the fourth after the break.

Zidane praised the ruthlessness of his side.

"For a coach to see all the players so focused is great. They all have real quality and showed that today," he said.

Valencia beat Granada 2-0 to pull level with their opponents on 20 points and move up to seventh.

Daniel Wass rammed home the opener on 74 minutes before Ferran Torres added the second deep into stoppage time.

Alaves thrashed mid-table Real Valladolid 3-0 with goals from Joselu, Tomas Pina and Lucas Perez.