MADRID (REUTERS) - Lionel Messi marked his 300th La Liga appearance with a record-equalling hat-trick and an assist for Neymar as Barcelona stayed hard on the heels of leaders Real Madrid with a 5-0 romp at home to Levante on Sunday.
Messi has been on electric form in recent weeks and his pinpoint cross set up Neymar to put Barca 1-0 ahead in the 17th minute at the Nou Camp.
The Brazil forward skewed his close-range volley but the ball looped up over Levante goalkeeper Diego Marino into the net.
Barca doubled their lead seven minutes before halftime when centre back Marc Bartra won the ball near the Levante penalty area and threaded a pass through to Messi for the Argentina captain to score with a low shot.
Barca were utterly dominant against their 19th-placed opponents and Messi made it 3-0 in the 59th minute after neat work from Sergio Busquets and Pedro.
Messi completed his 23rd La Liga hat-trick from the penalty spot in the 65th minute, giving him a share of the record set by Real's Cristiano Ronaldo earlier this season.
Messi has 31 trebles in all competitions for Barca, tying the record for a Spanish club held by former Athletic Bilbao forward Telmo Zarra, while Ronaldo has 27 for Real.
Messi's latest hat-trick took the four-times World Player of the Year's tally in Spain's top flight to a record-extending 269 goals and the 27-year-old's total for the latest La Liga campaign to 26, two fewer than top scorer Ronaldo.
Luis Suarez came off the bench to crown a fine Barca performance with a cracking bicycle kick to make it 5-0 in the 73rd minute and Messi came close to a fourth but was denied by a fine Marino save four minutes from time.
With just over half the season played, Real lead on 57 points after Saturday's 2-0 win at home to Deportivo La Coruna.
Barca, who host their great rivals on March 22, have 56 points, six ahead of Atletico Madrid ahead of the champions' game at Celta Vigo later on Sunday.
Earlier, Valencia reclaimed La Liga's fourth Champions League qualification berth from Sevilla when forward Alvaro Negredo won and converted a penalty in a 1-0 victory at home to Getafe.