Madrid: Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has been passed fit to continue Barcelona's title charge when they travel to Celta Vigo on Sunday, hoping to avenge a shock defeat to the Galicians earlier this season.
Messi missed both Argentina's friendly wins over El Salvador and Ecuador in the past week due to a foot injury picked up in Barca's crucial 2-1 victory over eternal rivals Real Madrid a fortnight ago. However, he took part in a light training session on Thursday and the club confirmed that the infamation in his foot had improved.
The trip to Vigo kicks off an intense month for Barca with seven league fixtures and a Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain to come in the next 28 days. However, defender Gerard Pique welcomed the challenge of trying to win the treble for just the second time in the club's history after failing to pick up any silverware last season. "The most important part of the season is coming now," said the Spanish international.
"There are a series of very hard games and the Champions League quarter-finals around the corner. We know how hard it will be and we need to be up to the task if we want to win titles. "We have the team to do it and we have shown how we have improved throughout the year which gives us a lot of confidence. We have the experience of last year and we have to try and improve on that."
Barca will be without the injured Jordi Alba and suspended Javier Mascherano, but Sergio Busquets will be fit to take his place in the starting line-up for the first time in over a month. Real Madrid can close to within a point of the leaders when they face struggling Granada in Sunday's early game. Los Blancos have only won one of their last four league games, but will be confident of a return to winning ways against a Granada side that hasn't won away from home since September.
Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti will have a full compliment of midfielders to choose from for the first time in five months as James Rodriguez should make his return from a broken bone in his foot. The Colombian will probably have to settle for a place on the bench with Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco keeping their places in the side that lost 2-1 at the Camp Nou last time out. Meanwhile Raphael Varane should replace the injured Pepe in defence.
Valencia will also be attempting to maintain an unlikely title challenge when they face Villarreal at home on Sunday. Los Che have taken 25 points from a possible 30 to remain just eight points adrift of Barca and face both the Catalans and Madrid in the remaining 10 games of the season. "We are very strong at home, we have 10 finals left and Sunday is the first of them," captain Dani Parejo told the club's website.
"It is a derby between two teams fighting for similar objectives. We are in third, whilst they aren't in great form and need the win. It will be a good game between two sides that like to play good football with intensity."
Valencia could be back down to fourth before they kick-off at the Mestalla, though, as Atletico Madrid trail Nuno Espirito Santo's men by just a point and the champions are in action on Saturday away to a Cordoba side that have lost their last nine La Liga games.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
>> Eibar v Rayo Vallecano (1845)
>> Sevilla v Athletic Bilbao (1400),
>> Cordoba v Atletico Madrid (1600),
>> Almeria v Levante (1800),
>> Malaga v Real Sociedad (2000)
>> Real Madrid v Granada (1000),
>> Valencia v Villarreal (1500),
>> Getafe v Deportivo la Coruna (1700),
>> Celta Vigo v Barcelona (1900)
>> Espanyol v Elche (1800)