MADRID • Barcelona forward Lionel Messi returned to training on Monday - five days before the La Liga leaders play at second-placed Real Madrid in the Clasico.
He has not featured since sustaining a knee injury at the end of September, depriving the Spanish and European champions of their talisman and top scorer.
Barca, however, have performed well in the absence of the four-time Ballon d'Or winner, registering four straight league victories.
Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored 10 league goals apiece since Messi was sidelined.
The duo could again lead the line at the weekend with Spanish media suggesting that Barca may not rush the Argentine back into the starting line-up as a precaution.
Barcelona defender Adriano, however, believes that Messi will feature in the biggest fixture in the La Liga calendar.
"He is recovering very well, doing everything to get to the game and to have him in the team changes a lot," he told Mundo Deportivo.
"There's a difference when he plays or doesn't but, in his absence, we've managed to come together and move forward in matches.
HE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
He is recovering very well, doing everything to get to the game and to have him in the team changes a lot.
There's a difference when he plays or doesn't... Would I put money on him playing in the Clasico? Hopefully, yes.
BARCELONA DEFENDER ADRIANO, who believes that Messi will feature in the biggest fixture in the La Liga calendar
"Would I put money on him playing in the Clasico? Hopefully, yes."
Whether Messi returns to the pitch on Saturday is not the only plot line. There is also media speculation that Real superstar Cristiano Ronaldo might be playing in his final Clasico.
The 30-year-old's future at the Bernabeu has been uncertain for months. And his new biography, written by Spanish football expert Guillem Balague, reveals that he still dreams of a return to Manchester United.
It is also understood that the forward has a strained relationship with Rafael Benitez, with Ronaldo unhappy about the Real manager's negative tactics and desire to give Gareth Bale a central role.
Over at Valencia, Alvaro Negredo's season has gone from bad to worse. The out-of-favour striker has had emergency surgery for acute appendicitis.
Negredo, without an appearance since early October, went under the knife at a hospital in the Spanish port city on Monday, Valencia confirmed. They did not say whether the surgery was successful or how long the 30-year-old might be sidelined but local media said he would be out for a month.
Reports in Spain had suggested Valencia manager Nuno dropped Negredo because he was unhappy with comments the player made about tactics in a newspaper interview but the Portuguese said the decision was "purely sporting".
Negredo joined Valencia from English Premier League side Manchester City in the close season but has yet to reproduce the form that earned him 21 Spain caps, with his most recent appearance for his country coming in November 2013.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE