Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho will be without Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho for Saturday’s game against Hercules, and has bizarrely threatened to leave out goalkeeper Iker Casillas next weekend to "make it easy" for Barcelona to win La Liga.
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Mourinho used his pre-match press conference on Friday morning to once again hit out at the fixture schedule he believes favours Pep Guardiola’s side, and claimed he could omit Spain captain Casillas against Atletico Madrid a week tomorrow in order to aid Barca’s cause.
"Iker won’t be with us because he won’t be in the squad against Atletico [next weekend]," he said. "If they want to end the league before time, I might as well make it easy for them."
Ronaldo and Carvalho have been left out of Mourinho’s squad, the former recovering from injury and the latter rested with Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 second leg against Lyon in mind.
Lassana Diarra returns after suspension, though, while Alvaro Arbeloa, Sami Khedira and Ezequiel Garay are back from injuries.
Mourinho reiterated his unhappiness with the fixture schedule, which he claims has worked in Barca’s favour.
"We are in a situation where as soon as we drop a point we lose the championship, although not mathematically so," said the Portuguese. "I am not stupid and I know this.
"There is a team that played in the Champions League on Tuesday and have no game in the league until the following Sunday [Barca this week], while another one is forced to play in Europe on Wednesday and then Saturday in the league [Madrid next week].
"Not everyone has the same chance to compete. Not everyone plays under the same rules. The competition is not open. I will not comment further."
Madrid defend the best home record in La Liga against a Hercules side with just one away win this season, but Mourinho’s men will know better than to underestimate the Alicante-based outfit.
Hercules have picked up only six points on their travels – the second-worst tally in La Liga – and netted only three goals, but three of those points and two of those goals came in their shock victory over Barca at the Nou Camp in September.
However, Madrid have won their last 23 successive games at the Bernabeu, and in 13 league fixtures in front of their own fans this campaign they have scored 44 goals and conceded just six, with their last home game resulting in a 7-0 thrashing of Malaga.
That form makes second-placed Madrid overwhelming favourites to defeat third-bottom Hercules.
A home win would provisionally cut Barca’s lead at the summit to four points, with the Catalan giants facing a tough trip to Sevilla on Sunday.
While Madrid are still in contention for three titles this season, Hercules are fighting to avoid an immediate return to the Segunda Division.
The top-flight newcomers had looked set to stay up with relative ease earlier in the season as they proved themselves a tough opponent, especially for La Liga’s big guns.
Aside from their win over Barca, Hercules also beat Sevilla, drew with Villarreal and thrashed Atletico Madrid 4-1.
However, they have picked up just seven points from a possible 33 in 2011 and now find themselves in the bottom three following last weekend’s 2-1 home defeat to fellow strugglers Almeria.
The promoted club are now a point adrift of safety and are widely expected to suffer more misery at the hands of Madrid on Saturday, although coach Esteban Vigo is not giving up the game for lost.
"Winning at Barcelona also looked difficult," he said. "The thought that we cannot win at Madrid has not even entered our heads."
Paraguay forward Nelson Haedo Valdez, scorer of both goals in the 2-0 win at the Nou Camp, is available again after injury, but Royston Drenthe, David Trezeguet, Tote and Francisco Pena are all missing.