Cristian Tello bagged his first Barcelona hat-trick as Barcelona put one foot in the semi-finals of the Copa Del Rey with a 4-1 win over Levante.
Tata Martino’s side had trailed at the break following a goal from Nabil El Zhar but an emphatic response from Barca saw Tello score three, with a freak own goal levelling the score and opening the floodgates.
Lionel Messi was handed a starting berth, with Adriano, Sergi Roberto, Alex Song and Tello also taking their places at the first whistle.
It took Barca some time to find their stride, although Pedro came within inches of giving them the lead in the opening five minutes, curling a left footed shot onto the inside of the post.
But it was Levante who took a shock lead when El Zhar followed up his own initial shot from a Sergio Pinto free-kick into the box, bundling home past Pinto to make it 1-0.
Barca equalised 10 minutes after the break, when Loukas Vyntra smashed an attempted clearance into the legs of the unknowing Juanfran, with the ball ending up in their own net.
And the visitors soon took the lead when Messi threaded through Tello to finish past Javi Jimenez, who really should have done better with his save.
Messi and Tello combined again with 10 minutes left on the clock, with Jimenez once again slow to get down as the ball squirmed underneath his body.
Lightning struck for a third time as Messi played a wonderful pass over the top for Tello to latch on to. This time the winger gave Jimenez no chance, powering a half volley into the net to give Barca a commanding lead heading in the second leg at the Camp Nou.
Earlier, Mikel Gonzalez scored twice and Carlos Vela grabbed the other in a 3-1 victory for Real Sociedad in their first leg against Racing Santander, whose goal came from Mahamadou Kone.
Real Madrid have a 1-0 advantage over Espanyol from their game and holders Atletico Madrid play Athletic Bilbao on Thursday.
5’ WOODWORK – Barcelona go close to finding the net as Pedro cuts inside onto his left foot and curls a shot onto the inside of the post.
30’ GOAL – The home side takes a shock lead when El Zhar takes advantage of defensive uncertainty from a free-kick to bundle home at the second attempt.
54’ GOAL – Barca equalise in freak circumstances when Vyntra’s clearance smashes into the legs of Juanfran and ends up in the Levante net.
60’ GOAL – And the Spanish champions take the lead on the hour mark when Tello shoots straight through Javi Jimenez after being slotted through by Messi.
80’ GOAL – Tello grabs his second of the game in almost exactly the same circumstances of his first, being played through by Messi to finish past Jimenez, who should have done better with his save.
86’ GOAL – Tello wraps up his hat-trick, as Messi plays him through once again and the winger powers a half volley into the Levante net.
Cristian Tello is the first player to score a hat-trick in this season’s Copa Del Rey.
Lionel Messi has now been involved in 454 goals in his 400 games for Barcelona.
For the first time in his Barcelona career Messi made three assists in the same game.
Should Cristian Tello be given more of a chance in the Barca first XI? Tata Martino seems to have settled on a front three of Messi, Neymar and Pedro as his first choice but Tello gives them a threat on the winger and has pace to burn. From a tactical point of view should he be given a chance in the first team, rather than having to make do with these cup appearances?
MAN OF THE MATCH
Cristian Tello (Barcelona): There has been speculation about the winger’s future at the Camp Nou but he gives Barca a different dimension and was a threat on the shoulder of the last defender all night, especially in the second half.
Levante: Jimenez 4, Nagore 5, Vyntra 5, Juanfran 6, Nikos 6, Camarasa 5, El Adoua 5, Pinto 7, Xumetra 5, El Zhar 6, Barral 5. Subs: Rios 5, Angel 4.
Barcelona: Pinto 6, Alves 6, Puyol 4, Bartra 6, Adriano 5, Song 5, Xavi 6, Roberto 4, Pedro 6, Tello 9, Messi 8. Subs: Mascherano 5.