By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Gareth Bale's run of injury misery continued on Tuesday as Real Madrid said their record signing had picked up a calf injury that rules him out for up to four league games and their Champions League semi-final tie with Atletico Madrid.
Bale was forced off injured in the 35th minute of Sunday's 3-2 defeat to arch rivals Barcelona that blew the La Liga title race wide open and took the champions ahead of Madrid in the standings due to their superior head-to-head record.
Real released a statement on Tuesday saying Bale had a grade two muscle tear in his left calf, without specifying how long the Welsh international would spend on the sidelines.
Radio station Cadena Cope said he would be out for three weeks, therefore missing league fixtures against Deportivo La Coruna, Valencia, Granada and Sevilla in addition to both games against Atletico.
Bale has won two Champions Leagues with Real since his then world record move from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013, but his fourth season in Spain has been blighted by injuries.
He was forced to spend over two months out after rupturing ligaments in his right ankle in November and was forced off during his side's Champions League quarter-final first leg at Bayern Munich with an injury to his right calf.
Coach Zinedine Zidane was heavily criticised in the Spanish media for fielding Bale against Barcelona 11 days after sustaining the injury, although on Tuesday the Frenchman defended his decision.
"He trained normally three times before the game without any problems and things like this can't be prevented," Zidane told a news conference.
"It's an injury but overall it's a small thing and we hope he'll be back with us soon."
Real visit Deportivo on Wednesday aiming to stay level on points with Barcelona and sustain their push for a first league title since 2012. But they will also be without Sergio Ramos due to suspension after the captain was sent off against Barca for a two-footed lunge on Lionel Messi.
The 32-times Liga champions have been boosted, however, by the return of France defender Raphael Varane from a hamstring problem.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)