Reuters - Fri, 09 Apr 15:05:00 2010
Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is out of Saturday's potentially crucial clash against leaders Real Madrid, the champions said on their website.
The Swede, who scored the only goal in November's first Clasico of the season against Real at the Nou Camp, has not recovered from the calf muscle problem he picked up last weekend, they added.
Coach Pep Guardiola has Gerard Pique available after the Spain central defender shook off a thigh strain and trained as normal on Friday.
Real and Barca are level on 77 points with eight matches left and 21 points ahead of third-placed Valencia, who play at Real Mallorca, eight points back in fifth, on Sunday.
Should the top two remain level on points after Saturday, their head-to-head record will be used to separate them rather than goal difference. Barca hold the advantage thanks to their 1-0 win in the Catalan capital in November.
Coach Manuel Pellegrini included Karim Benzema in his 19-man squad, although the France centre forward will probably start on the bench with Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo in sparkling form.
"If you give him space he's very dangerous because he has incredible speed with the ball at his feet," Albiol said on Real's website. "We'll have to help each other a lot, close down the space and try to take him out of his comfort zone."
Pellegrini does not fear Barca even after Messi's demolition of Arsenal in the Champions League on Tuesday, the Chilean said.
"I have never been scared of anything," Pellegrini said. "I consider them a very good team but we are not thinking about past results."
Barca goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto, second choice behind Victor Valdes, has agreed to extend his contract to the end of June 2011, the club said.
The 34-year-old, whom Guardiola deployed in Barca's victorious Copa del Rey run last season, was signed in January 2008 and has played 18 matches since then and conceded 18 goals.
Real Valladolid's new coach Javier Clemente takes charge of his first match on Saturday since being appointed to replace the sacked Onesimo Sanchez on Monday with the club in 19th spot in the 20-team top division.
"I found the players fairly motivated and they worked with enthusiasm," Clemente said ahead of their match at fellow strugglers Tenerife. "We have a squad that can compete."