Barcelona warmed up for next Sunday's tussle against Real Madrid with a 3-0 victory over Valencia on Saturday but it came at a cost with Argentine star Lionel Messi ruled out of El Classico with a foot injury.
Messi, the club's top-scorer with eight goals, limped off shortly before half-time and Barcelona confirmed that an injury to his left foot will rule him out of the mouthwatering title tussle.
Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o brought some relief to his team by scoring his first league goals of the season as Barcelona moved to just one point behind Real who were due to play Osasuna last night.
Eto'o had been out since the end of August with a serious knee injury but showed his value with a brace in the 12th and 26th minutes to make it three goals in four days.
Eidur Gudjohnsen added a third.
It was only Barcelona's second away win of the season.
For Valencia it was a sixth defeat at their Mestalla Stadium where some home fans left after Gudjohnsen's goal after the hour mark.
Valencia coach Ronald Koeman was hoping to plot the downfall of the club where he is still adored -- making close to 200 appearances and scoring the winning goal in the 1992 European Cup final -- but was not helped with the loss of striker David Villa to injury.
In contrast, Barca coach Frank Rijkaard had the luxury of omitting Ronaldinho with Spanish international midfielder Andres Iniesta included to provide more steel.
After just three minutes, Eto'o had a great chance but his lack of match sharpness showed with his control poor.
But in the 13th minute he more than made amends with a brilliant individual goal.
Showing quick feet to shift the ball Eto'o fooled two defenders and drove a fierce left-footed shot into the corner.
It was just a matter of time before the second goal arrived and it did on 26 minutes with Eto'o producing a clincial finish from a great Messi pass.
Messi then limped off but it did not stop Barca with Gudjohnsen completing the scoring on 61 minutes.
Espanyol plan to be challenging for a Champions League place come the end of the season and they are well on course following a 1-0 win over Levante lifted them to fourth place in Saturday's other game.
A goal from Jarque after eight minutes clinched the points as last season's UEFA Cup finalists moved level with Atletico Madrid.
Levante fell to their 13th defeat in 16 games and are eight points from safety.
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