Barcelona sweating on fitness of Messi and Ibrahimovic

Madrid, Nov 26 (DPA) Barcelona are sweating on the fitness of star strikers Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, ahead of Sunday’s “Clasico” at home to Real Madrid.

Both forwards missed Tuesday’s crucial 2-0 Champions League defeat of Inter Milan, with thigh strains.

Barca scarcely missed them Tuesday, as Thierry Henry, Pedro Rodriguez and Andres Iniesta tore apart the Inter defence time and again.

Will Messi and Ibrahimovic be fit to play from the start? And if so, will coach Josep Guardiola take the risk of changing a winning team in order to bring them back?

Guardiola said Thursday that “as always, I will pick the players that I think are in the best condition”.

When asked if he was concerned by the fact that Real will come to the Camp Nou one point ahead of Barca, he replied that “they are the leaders, of course, but how could they not be so after spending 270 million euros?”

This is the approximate amount ($403.66 million) that Real splashed out last summer in their record-breaking spending spree.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the most expensive of Real’s many signings, will probably be in Manuel Pellegrini’s starting line-up on Sunday, for the first time in two months.

According to certain sections of the Spanish media, Pellegrini has received orders “from above” to play the Portuguese winger from the start.

Ronaldo appears to have recovered from the severe sprain in his right ankle suffered in September. He came off the bench at the end of Wednesday’s tedious 1-0 win over FC Zurich, to the delight of the Estadio Bernabeu.

“I am tired,” said Ronaldo after his reappearance, “because I am still not a hundred per cent fit. I am really starting from zero, but I am sure that I will be the same player as before the injury, scoring goals, winning matches and helping the team.”

He added that “I want to play in the ‘Clasico’ if I feel well, though that is the responsibility of the coach.”

Real are desperate to take revenge on Barca for that historic 6-2 home defeat last May, which has been voted the most painful defeat in the club’s history by the “madridista” fans.

Sunday’s other games are as follows: Zaragoza-Osasuna, Almeria-Athletic Bilbao, Racing Santander-Deportivo Coruna, Atletico Madrid-Espanyol, Getafe-Xerez and Valladolid-Tenerife.

The 12th round of matches will kick off Saturday with three interesting clashes: third-placed Sevilla at home to bottom team Malaga, fourth-placed Valencia against Mallorca, and revitalized Villarreal away to Sporting Gijon.