Messi and Neymar lead Barcelona to victory over Levante

Barcelona kept their perfect start to the La Liga season humming with a win against Levante.

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MADRID — Lionel Messi scored a pair of goals and Neymar added another as Barcelona remained perfect in the Spanish league by easily beating Levante 4-1 on Sunday.

Marc Bartra also netted for the defending champions, which kept a two-point lead over Real Madrid with their fourth consecutive win to start the season. It is the fourth year in a row that Barcelona has opened with four straight league victories.

Villarreal and Celta Vigo also won Sunday to reach 10 points alongside Madrid.

Barcelona dominated from the start and could have won by an even bigger margin had Messi not had his second penalty miss of the season in the second half.

Messi’s first goal came from a penalty in the 61st after Neymar was fouled inside the area, but the Argentine playmaker sent his second spot kick over the crossbar in the 76th after he had been pulled down by a defender. Messi had already missed a penalty in the team’s league opener against Athletic Bilbao.

Bartra opened the scoring from inside the area after a right-flank cross by Messi in the 50th, and Neymar increased the lead from close range after a cross by Dani Alves in the 56th. Both players celebrated by showing a shirt of teammate Rafinha, who is expected to miss most of the season because of a knee injury sustained last week.

”We needed that first goal, they were playing tight on defense,” Bartra said. ”These points were important to keep us in the lead.”

Messi scored his second goal in the 90th, making a run toward the area and cutting back to clear the defenders in front of him before firing a low shot into the net.

LA LIGA RESULTS

Levante’s lone goal was scored by striker Victor Casadesus in the 66th after Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen failed to clear a cross into the area.

Barcelona, coming off a 1-1 draw at Roma in the Champions League, rested Andres Iniesta and Luiz Suarez. Suarez was the only player who had started in all of Barcelona’s seven matches this season.

”It shows that no matter who plays, the team still works well,” Bartra said. ”Things remain mostly the same. It’s important because the level of confidence remains high.”

Villarreal moved to third place by beating Athletic Bilbao 3-1 at its El Madrigal Stadium with goals by Bruno Soriano in the 43rd, Mario Gaspar in the 67th and Leo Baptistao in the 80th. Aritz Aduriz scored for Bilbao in second-half injury time.

Villarreal has won three of its first four matches and remains one of the four unbeaten teams along with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Celta Vigo.

Celta defeated winless Sevilla 2-1 earlier Sunday with goals by striker Manuel Nolito and midfielder Daniel Wass.

Nolito put Celta ahead with a shot from inside the area in the 15th and Wass added another in the 25th before substitute Fernando Llorente scored in the 54th at Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

In a thrilling first half in La Coruna, Sporting Gijon opened a two-goal advantage by the eighth minute with goals by Paraguayan striker Antonio Sanabria, but the game was already tied by the 28th and Alejandro Menendez scored the winner for the visitors in the 34th.

Atletico Madrid, the winner two seasons ago, kept pace with the leaders with a 2-0 win at Eibar on Saturday thanks to a goal and an assist by striker Fernando Torres, who came off the bench at halftime to give Atletico its third win of the season. The team’s only loss was to Barcelona at home.