Madrid, Feb 6 (DPA) Barcelona established a new Spanish league record of 16 straight wins Saturday with a 3-0 home thrashing of troubled Atletico Madrid.
Lionel Messi was Barca's hero, with a hat-trick that puts him on top of the scorers' chart. The FIFA World Player now has 24 goals to his name, two more than Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi said that being top scorer "is what bothers me least of all. The important things is that we have won again and continued our run".
He added, "I am very proud that we have broken the record," which was set by the Real Madrid team led by Alfredo Di Stefano in 1961.
Atletico have lost their last three matches and are now seventh. Their brittle defence never seemed capable of shutting out Messi and company, who enjoyed almost 70 percent of possession.
Messi opened the scoring in the 18th minute with a low near-post drive, after taking a short pass from Dani Alves and skipping past three Atletico defenders on the edge of the penalty area.
Eleven minutes later Messi made it 2-0 by pouncing on a mistake from Antonio Lopez, who had failed to cut out a through-ball from David Villa.
Atletico came out of their shell in the second half but failed to reduce arrears. Ten minutes from time, Messi completed his hat-trick after defender Diego Godin had been unable to clear a ball close to goal.
Earlier on Saturday, Villarreal suffered their first home defeat of the season, 1-0 against lowly local rivals Levante.
The yellows had only dropped two points in their tiny Estadio Madrigal until Saturday, but were stunned by a high-octane, well-drilled display from Levante.
The only goal came three minutes into the second half. Xisco engineered a quick Levante break and set up Valdo, who rounded Diego Lopez before scoring.
Levante then wasted good chances to increase their lead, but that mattered little in the end because their defence stood firm against a Villarreal attack in which Brazilian Nilmar looked rusty after a lengthy lay-off.
Despite the defeat, Villarreal stay in third place, with 45 points from 22 games, six fewer than second-placed Real Madrid. Villarreal are four points ahead of fourth-placed Valencia, who are at home to Hercules Sunday.
Earlier on Saturday, Athletic Bilbao had leap-frogged over faltering Espanyol to move up into fifth place.
Bilbao thrashed Sporting Gijon 3-0. Espanyol crashed 3-2 at lowly Almeria.
Gijon, who were never able to cope with the pace and power of Spain striker Fernando Llorente, were in trouble in Bilbao right from the start.
In the 16th minute Gijon's French defender Gregory was sent off for pulling down Llorente, and David Lopez calmly made it 1-0 from the resultant penalty.
Gaiza Toquero made it 2-0 in the 27th minute on a centre from youngster Iker Muniain, 16 minutes from time Markel Susaeta set up Llorente to score the third.
Espanyol, for their part, crashed 3-2 in Almeria, on early goals from Marcelo Silva, Kalu Uche and Hernan Bernadello. Joan Verdu and Alvaro Vazquez pulled back goals for Espanyol, but Almeria hung on for an important win.
Getafe, meanwhile, were thrashing Deportivo Coruna 4-1, with two goals from Adrian Colunga and one apiece from Miku and Pedro Rios.
Osasuna were held 1-1 by Mallorca, and Zaragoza battled out a 1-1 draw at home to Racing Santander.
Malaga, who signed six new players in January, are bottom with just 17 points. Then come Almeria on 20, Levante on 21 and five clubs on 22: Deportivo, Santander, Hercules, Osasuna and Gijon.