Cristiano Ronaldo will likely be on the sidelines for one last Real Madrid match on Saturday when the team faces Racing Santander in the Spanish league.
The world's most expensive football player, who is nearing the end of a two-month recovery from an ankle injury, was given the all clear by Madrid medical staff to return to full training on Friday, so the Portugal winger is unlikely to be available before Wednesday's Champions League match against FC Zurich. Ronaldo's recovery comes with Madrid trailing Barcelona by one point in the Spanish standings. The two teams face each other on Nov. 29 at the Camp Nou.
Despite a bumbling debut that included a Copa del Rey exit to a third-tier club, Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini has his team off to one of its best ever starts with only one loss from 10 games. Part of that success has seen several Madrid regulars move down the pecking order. Striker Raul Gonzalez has been used as a substitute, while midfielder Jose Maria "Guti" Gutierrez hasn't played in four games since exchanging heated words with the Chilean coach.
"At this moment I'm only thinking about training and being able to play," Guti said.
Madrid defender Raul Albiol may not be at the Bernabeu after hurting his left knee in Spain's 5-1 win at Austria on Wednesday, while former coach Miguel Angel Portugal was rehired Thursday to lead Santander after it fired Juan Carlos Mandia following a seven-game winless streak.
Barcelona plays at Athletic Bilbao to begin a run of seven matches in three weeks before traveling to the United Arab Emirates to play at the Club World Cup.
The European champions have won five straight against their Basque opponents, including the Copa del Rey and Spanish Supercup titles.
"I don't think they want revenge," Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes said. "It's vital for us to win at San Mames to gain more confidence."
Striker Fernando Llorente maintained perspective ahead of the match against a club that has won five trophies this year.
"When you go out to play Barca you can't go start thinking that you'll draw," Llorente said. "Yes, I think we are going to triumph and that it'll be difficult to achieve a result, but it's clear that if the game ends and we've managed a draw, that'll be a great point."
Sevilla and Valencia will hope the two-week international break hasn't sapped the momentum from impressive league victories. Sevilla is at Tenerife while Valencia goes to Osasuna knowing only victories can maintain their hopes of staying with Barcelona and Madrid. Sevilla has 22 points to trail Barcelona by four, Valencia has 21 points and Deportivo La Coruna has 19. Striker Lautaro Acosta returns from injury for Sevilla, which could be without defender Julian Escude, who may have fractured his nose while playing for France. Striker Frederic Kanoute believes this squad is better than the one, which won the Copa del Rey and UEFA Cup two years ago.
"We nearly have two teams (in this squad) and this will help us down the stretch," the Mali striker said. "We've got a team to fight for all competitions."
Quique Sanchez Flores is unlikely to be on the touchline Saturday when Atletico Madrid plays at Deportivo because the coach is recovering from swine flu. Atletico, which is lingering in the relegation zone, desperately needs a victory and can expect striker Sergio Aguero to be in the lineup after recovering from a leg injury.
Also Sunday, it's: Villarreal vs. Valladolid; Xerez vs. Sporting Gijon; Espanyol vs. Getafe; Mallorca vs. Almeria; and Malaga vs. Zaragoza.