Barcelona and Real Madrid head into Saturday’s Spanish league matches waiting on injury worries to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Barcelona travels to third-place Villarreal with a five-point lead over Madrid but with Messi nursing a minor right leg problem that was discounted as serious by medical scans taken Thursday.
"The good news is that he has no muscle injury, though he will have physiotherapy until Saturday, when a decision will be made on his availability for the La Liga game against Villarreal," the club said on its website.
The Argentina forward isn’t the only player in danger of missing out on what could prove to be a decisive game in the league title race. Barcelona and Madrid meet on April 16 at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, with Madrid hoping to cut the points deficit before then.
Defenders Carles Puyol and Maxwell as well as forwards Pedro Rodriguez and Bojan Krkic are recovering from injuries that risk leaving the Catalans without a full squad at El Madrigal stadium. Midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez is also out due to suspension, while Eric Abidal continues to recuperate after an operation to remove a liver tumor.
Villarreal is on target for a record number of points in a season but Madrid’s hopes it can snatch all three from the two-time defending champions could be wishful considering Barcelona is unbeaten on the road this campaign. It can set a club record 27th straight league game without defeat at Villarreal, after matching the original mark from 1974.
"We’ll have to pretty much play perfectly to have a chance of beating them," Villarreal and Spain forward Santi Cazorla said. "Xavi and Puyol’s absences are notable but they have enough players to fill in.
"I prefer to play against Messi because you always enjoy playing against great players. I just hope he doesn’t have a typical day against us."
Villarreal is battling Valencia for third and the last automatic Champions League qualifying spot. The pair are tied on points, with Valencia at Getafe on Saturday.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, continues to be bothered by a lower left leg injury and Madrid coach Jose Mourinho may not risk the Portugal forward against Sporting Gijon with a Champions League match against Tottenham coming up on Tuesday.
Madrid is also likely to be without Karim Benzema, which leaves Emmanuel Adebayor as the most likely starting striker even though Gonzalo Higuain could make his return from injury. Argentina striker Higuain has been recovering from back surgery and is unlikely to be available for a full 90 minutes, after being sidelined since November.
Madrid will honor former player and recently retired Brazil striker Ronaldo at the Santiago Bernabeu.
New Hercules coach Miroslaw Djukic makes his debut in Sunday’s game at Real Sociedad after the last-place club fired Esteban Vigo on March 20. Hercules – the only team to beat Barcelona this season – hasn’t scored an away goal in 11 matches and has lost nine of 11 to sit four points from safety with nine rounds to play.
The 30th round of games are being played as originally scheduled after a Madrid judge squashed a potential matchday work stoppage on Wednesday.
In Sunday’s other games, it’s: Deportivo La Coruna vs. Mallorca; Espanyol vs. Racing Santander; Levante vs. Malaga; Sevilla vs. Zaragoza; and Osasuna vs. Atletico Madrid.
On Monday, Almeria hosts sixth-place Athletic Bilbao.