Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta is set to return to first team action against Real Madrid at Camp Nou on Saturday.
Iniesta has missed Barca’s last six matches since damaging his knee ligaments in the win over Valencia in October and initial fears were that he would not play again this year.
However, he has recovered quicker than expected and returned to full training last week. If he was not suspended, Luis Enrique said, he would even played against Hercules in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
“Andres is waiting for medical clearance [to return], which is more of a formality really,” the Barca boss told a news conference on Tuesday.
“He’s training with us and he’s in great condition. He can’t play [against Hercules] because he’s suspended, but he would have had minutes otherwise. He’s available [for Madrid].”
Samuel Umtiti will also be in contention for this weekend’s Clasico and could feature in Alicante on Wednesday.
The French defender has been absent since injuring his hamstring while on international duty earlier this month, but Luis Enrique confirmed he came through training on Monday and, “in principle,” is available for selection this week.
Barca are expected to field a heavily rotated side for the Copa del Rey first-leg tie. All the players who started the game against Real Sociedad on Sunday were given Tuesday day off — although Luis Suarez and Javier Mascherano trained anyway — and are unlikely to feature.
Instead it will be a chance for the first team’s fringe players to impress, while Barca B players, such as Marlon Santos and Carlos Alena, among others, should also be handed minutes.
Among those expected to start is striker Paco Alcacer, who has still not scored following his summer move from Valencia, leading to criticism from the local press.
“I think you should leave Paco in peace,” Luis Enrique responded to a question about the 23-year-old’s goal drought. “Why put pressure on a player who’s not getting much playing time?
“He needs to be left to develop in peace with the time he’s getting on the pitch, which isn’t much. So let’s not dwell on the negatives of a player who’s come to help us. I have every faith in him and it’s ridiculous to put any criticism on him.”