Gareth Bale was back in Real Madrid training on Friday as he made a late push to play in el clásico on Sunday.
The Welsh winger has completed 90 minutes just twice for Madrid in 2017 after struggling with injuries. His latest absence, which has seen him miss the league encounter with Sporting Gijón and Tuesday's win over Bayern Munich, was a result of fluid accumulating in his ankle after a knock sustained in the first leg against the German champions.
"We have to go step by step," said Zinedine Zidane this week on the £86million man's fitness, but Bale's return to training feels unlikely to be enough to return him to full fitness in time for Sunday night's clash with FC Barcelona.
Should Bale not make it, there is likely to be a three-way battle for his spot in the team.
Isco, who Barca have recently and controversially shown an interest in acquiring this summer, started in the Champions League this week and would be favourite. But Marco Asensio's recent form can't be ignored while Lucas Vazquez, another homegrown talent, is the most defensively diligent of the three. Who Zidane picks will give an indication as to how he is approaching this clash, with Madrid enjoying a three-point buffer over the defending Liga champions and a game in hand.
It is a rare opportunity for Zizou to go on the defensive, knowing even a draw would likely be enough to seal them the title at this late stage in the season. He is further boosted by Neymar's suspension, a moment of petulance that further tilted the title race towards the capital.
For neutrals, it is a shame that the Brazilian, arguably Barcelona's best player this season, will miss such a crunch game. He is a superstar who should be on the big stage, rather than the glum subject of television cameras as they pan to the crowd.
Should Bale miss the encounter too it would further deprive viewers of a box-office star capable of the extraordinary.
Barcelona travel to Madrid knowing that more than just their season hinges on this match. For the fans that is often the case but Luis Enrique heads into this fixture knowing only a win can reignite his chances of bidding farewell to the club on the back of a league and cup double. The same haul last year was largely seen as a failure.
Bowing out of the championship picture now, as the only club of the big three to exit the Champions League, would mean that even winning the Copa del Rey next month couldn't save the 46-year-old from exiting on a low.
Shorn of Neymar's attacking talent and short on luck, Barca feel vulnerable heading into el clásico.
It's not often we've been able to say that in recent years.
- More about:
- Fc Barcelona