Carles Puyol says he is ready to return to the Barcelona defence for Saturday's La Liga Clasico against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou.
Puyol only returned from seven months out with a knee injury in last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Osasuna, but could well start the game given Gerard Pique is struggling with a hamstring strain.
The Barca captain told reporters after training on Thursday morning that he was ready to play if called upon by coach Gerardo Martino.
"I feel very good," Puyol said. "I played the 90 minutes in Pamplona and every day I am feeling better. The sensations are good. The knee responded better than I thought to the game at El Sadar. If the boss needs me, I am feeling fine."
The 35-year-old, who suffered a number of setbacks during his recuperation and even considered retiring from the game completely, admitted his time on the sidelines had been tough, but said he was now looking forward to making up for lost time.
"They were seven difficult months," Puyol said. "But I am here now. The Clasico is coming and it is a game in which all footballers want to play."
Barca go into the game top of the table, and knowing a win would stretch their advantage over third-placed Madrid to six points. Puyol nevertheless rejected a suggestion that Saturday’s game was a chance to decide the Primera Division title race.
"It is a chance to play a good game," he said. "The league will not be decided here, but it is a good moment to play well, and pick up confidence ahead of other games ahead."
The Blaugrana stalwart accepted that Madrid had a very good record in recent times at the Camp Nou.
"Madrid always force you to be at your best," Puyol said. "They are playing better and better each time, and will come here with confidence. We must play well to win. We must keep an eye out for their counter-attacks, they know us perfectly."
Barca’s long-standing issues at centre-half surfaced again when Javier Mascherano spoke after Wednesday’s 1-1 Champions League draw in Milan of his unhappiness with his own performance in defence. Puyol said the converted midfielder had nothing to be concerned about.
"[Mascherano] is too demanding," he said. "He has been playing centre-half for three years, at a really high level. He plays better at centre-half than in midfield."
Puyol also had words of support for Marc Bartra, the 22-year-old centre-half who has started all three of Barca’s most recent La Liga games.
"I have always had a lot of confidence in Marc," he said. "When sometimes names come out in the press, many of them are not above the level of Bartra, Masche or Gerard. He is ready to play for Barcelona. Now everyone is learning that. We have a centre-half who can play here for many years."