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Four-goal Messi gives Barcelona big win

l MADRID

Lionel Messi scored four times to move past the 40-goal mark for a third straight season and power Barcelona to a 5-1 victory against Valencia, on Sunday.

Barcelona had to come from behind to stay within 10 points of Real Madrid, who beat Racing Santander 4-0 on Saturday.

The big star was Messi, who capped his big performance in his 200th league appearance for the club with a chip past goalkeeper Diego Alves for his 27th league goal, 42nd in all competitions and 146th overall league goal for Barcelona.

"The team played an incredible game," said Messi, whose only other four-goal performance was against Arsenal in the Champions League nearly two years ago. "Some days you play well and some days you play poorly but what important is the team wins."

Pablo Piatti scored in the ninth minute for Valencia, and Xavi Hernandez had the other goal for Barcelona.

Earlier, Athletic Bilbao scored three goals in four second-half minutes to beat Malaga 3-0, while Levante's early season success continued to unravel during a winless 2012 after a 5-3 loss to Rayo Vallecano.

Malaga dominated the first half at the San Mames with 14 shots, but Fernando Amorebieta scored in the 58th minute and Mikel San Jose headed home a corner kick in the 60th. Gaizka Toquero then slid into Ander Herrera's cross-goal pass to volley home from a tight angle.

Espanyol, who drew 1-1 at Getafe on Saturday, and Athletic share fourth and the last Champions League qualifying spot, behind Valencia, with Atletico Madrid and Levante another point back.

New Sporting Gijon coach, Javier Clemente began with a 1-1 draw against Atletico, who remain unbeaten under coach Diego Simeone.

Lass Bangoura and Diego Costa both scored two goals as Rayo won their third straight match to move within two points of fourth place, alongside Malaga.

Also on Sunday, Ikechukwu Uche scored two goals as Granada rallied to beat 10-man Real Sociedad 4-1, and Mallorca posted a 4-0 win over Villarreal.

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