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Sunday, November 25, 2012
Messi, Iniesta help Barca batter Levante news services

Andres Iniesta scored one goal and created three more to guide Barcelona to a 4-0 win at Levante as Tito Vilanova's team took a major step toward reclaiming the Spanish league title on Sunday.

Iniesta provided assists for Lionel Messi's quickfire double -- his 81st and 82nd goals this calendar year -- before lashing home a goal of his own and playing in Cesc Fabregas for a fourth as Barcelona ran riot in a devastating 18-minute spell at the start of the second half.

Jose Barkero had the chance to pull a goal back for the hosts late on but saw his tame penalty saved by Victor Valdes as Barca comfortably maintained its three-point lead at the top of La Liga with its 11th win in 12 matches.

Barcelona has 12 wins and a draw to equal Madrid's start from 1991-92 as the best ever in Spain's top league.

"The way forward is to keep earning points and doing things well,'' Iniesta said. "We have to continue believing and growing as a team.''

Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, extended its best club start with a 4-0 win over nine-man Sevilla to remain three points behind the pacesetters.

Atletico visits third-place Madrid next week with an eight-point lead over its crosstown rival.

For Iniesta, Atletico is now Barcelona's main rival with Madrid falling away.

"Atletico is playing very well and they are a clear candidate for the title,'' Iniesta said.

Vilanova's side had most of the possession in a cagey first period but surprisingly lacked a cutting edge in the final third.

Indeed, it was the Catalans who were the first to threaten, Barkero cutting in from the right and sending in a swerving effort that Valdes had to guide over the bar.

A minute later Barcelona suffered a setback as Dani Alves was forced off with an injury, with Martin Montoya coming on as his replacement.

Barca remained the dominant force in possession and Messi threatened for the first time on 22 minutes, beating his man 25 yards from goal before firing in a low shot just wide of the right-hand post.

Xavi flashed an effort wide a minute later as Barca began to build the pressure, but the best chance before the interval went the way of Levante in the 31st minute when Juanlu crossed but Barkero could not direct his volley on target.

If Levante thought it was a match for Barca in the opening period, it was simply blown away at the start of the second as the majestic Iniesta took center stage.

First the World Cup winner teed up Messi for his first of the night on 47 minutes, with the Argentina international latching onto his teammate's defense-splitting pass and lobbing home a smart finish.

Barkero connected with a superb volley that flashed just wide as Levante threatened a response, but with 51 minutes gone Barcelona was celebrating its second as Iniesta made his way to the byline before pulling back for Messi to tuck in goal number 82 of the year. The diminutive forward is now just four goals shy of beating Gerd Muller's all-time record.

At the 57-minute mark, Iniesta's devastating spell continued as he ran at the Levante defense and lashed home a fearsome shot off the underside of the crossbar.

And six minutes later it was four, Iniesta again involved with a cute ball around Levante's last man for Fabregas to apply the finish.

Vilanova's men were happy to sit back in what time remained, although it took late heroics by Valdes to preserve their clean sheet as the Barcelona number one saved Barkero's poor penalty -- awarded for handball against Carles Puyol -- before making another stop from Angel's rebound.

At Vicente Calderon stadium, Diego Simeone's Atletico thrashed visiting Sevilla after Fazio Federico was red carded for fouling Jorge "Koke'' Resurrecion in the area.

Atletico striker Radamel Falcao converted the resulting penalty in the 22nd for his 11th league goal.

An own goal by Sevilla's Emir Spahic in the 40th and Koke's strike in the 43rd put the result beyond doubt. Sevilla's Ivan Rakitic was sent off in the 82nd before Miranda capped Atletico's win in added time.

Elsewhere, Getafe won 2-0 at last-place Espanyol, while Athletic Bilbao was held to a 1-1 home draw by Deportivo La Coruna.

Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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