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Barcelona’s Lionel Messi is almost certain to start in El Clasico against Real Madrid after recovering from a thigh injury.

Messi missed the wins against Celtic and Valladolid, but started Tuesday’s Champions League draw at AC Milan.

Coach Gerardo Martino must decide whether to play veteran defender Carles Puyol, with Gerard Pique (hamstring) a slight doubt.

Real forward Gareth Bale is fit, while Diego Lopez is likely to start in goal.

Iker Casillas started Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Juventus, but he has purely been playing in the Champions League this season, with Lopez the first choice in the league.

Real boss Carlo Ancelotti must decide whether to bring world-record signing Bale into the starting line-up after his substitute appearance against Juve.

“He is ready to play a match now,” the Italian said while not confirming whether that meant Bale would start or not.

Barcelona’s major selection dilemma is more likely to come at centre-back. Puyol, 35, returned in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Osasuna, their first dropped points of the season, after seven months out with a knee injury.

His place in the team could become a necessity if Pique is ruled out with the injury he picked up against AC Milan, although Barca are hopeful the former Manchester United defender will be fit in time.

Puyol told the club website:   “I’m in great shape. The feelings are good. I’m available to the boss.

“It’s been a tough seven months but now I’m back. My approach to the game won’t change. I always give my all on the pitch.”

However, Barca will be without left-back Jordi Alba and forwards Ibraham Afellay and Jonathan dos Santos, who has just been ruled out for six months with a knee injury.

Real Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa told his club’s website:   “The match against Barcelona comes at a good time for us. We are improving and gaining confidence, so we’ll see if we can win.

“We know it will be a very difficult match. I’m sure Barcelona will be at their best because they always play well against us. We can’t look at their recent draws are a guide.

“They have a three-point lead, but in recent matches in the Camp Nou we’ve got good results and put in some great performances.”

Barcelona are top of the league table after nine games without defeat. Real Madrid, in third, have lost only one game – to second-placed city rivals Atletico.

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