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Iniesta helps Barcelona crush Levante

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Reuters

Barcelona's Andres Iniesta (right) and Levante's Nabil El Zhar fight for the ball during their Spanish First Division soccer match at the Ciudad de Valencia stadium in Valencia on Sunday.

Madrid - Andres Iniesta twice set up Lionel Messi, created a goal for Cesc Fabregas and netted a brilliant effort of his own as La Liga leaders Barcelona extended their near-perfect start with a thumping 4-0 win at Levante on Sunday.

The Spain playmaker's masterful performance at Levante's Ciutat de Valencia stadium helped maintain unbeaten Barca's three-point lead over Atletico Madrid, who earlier crushed nine-man Sevilla 4-0.

Barca's victory, their 12th in 13 matches, put them 11 points clear of third-placed champions Real Madrid after their arch-rivals were upset 1-0 at Real Betis on Saturday.

An almost impeccable performance was crowned when Victor Valdes saved Jose Javier Berkero's late penalty and Barca have 37 points with Atletico on 34 and Real on 26.

Malaga are fourth on 22 points after they thrashed Valencia 4-0 on Saturday, level with fifth-placed Betis and two ahead of Levante in sixth.

Messi's 18th and 19th league goals of the campaign put the Argentine World Player of the Year within three of the record for the most goals in a calendar year of 85 set by German Gerd Mueller 40 years ago.

The prolific 25-year-old has scored 70 for his club and 12 for Argentina and is hot favourite to win a fourth straight World Player award when the winner is announced in January.

Atletico, who visit city rivals Real next weekend, strolled to victory at the Calderon after Sevilla's Argentine centre back Federico Fazio was dismissed for tripping Koke in the penalty area in the 20th minute.

Colombia striker Radamel Falcao smashed his spot-kick into the roof of the net before Arda Turan's cross was turned into his own goal by Emir Spahic in the 40th minute and Koke clipped Diego Costa's volleyed centre into the net four minutes later.

Sevilla's Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic was shown a second yellow card and sent off seven minutes from time and Brazilian defender Miranda netted Atletico's fourth from Turkey playmaker Turan's clever set-up in the second minute of added time.

Athletic Bilbao squandered a chance to get their erratic season back on track when they surrendered the lead and were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Deportivo La Coruna.

Oscar de Marcos fired the Basques ahead in the 24th minute and Abel Aguilar headed an equaliser for Depor seven minutes after the break.

Bilbao are 14th on 15 points and Depor climbed out of the relegation places into 17th on 11.

Espanyol stayed firmly rooted to the bottom after they slipped to a 2-0 defeat at home to Getafe, Pedro Leon and Mane scoring for the Madrid-based side in Barcelona. - Reuters


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