Ronaldo, Benzema and Marcelo miss Gijon game

MADRID - Brief news from La Liga ahead of this weekend's matches:

Injured trio Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Marcelo are definitely out of Real Madrid's match at home to Sporting Gijon on Saturday and will not return until the following weekend, according to coach Jose Mourinho.

"They will only be able to play in Bilbao," the Portuguese said at a news conference on Friday in reference to the game at Athletic on April 9. "That's the information I have from the medical department."

With nine matches left, Real are second in the standings, five points behind champions Barcelona, who play at third-placed Villarreal in Saturday's late kick-off.

Mourinho said he was delighted to have striker Gonzalo Higuain back in the squad for the first time after back surgery and an absence of four months.

"Not even with the most optimistic forecasts could we have expected him to return to action so soon," Mourinho said.

"It was a positive surprise as we could have as many as 15 matches between now and the end of the season and having him available is important."

Mourinho is also missing Brazil playmaker Kaka, who has not recovered since hurting the knee he had surgery on after the 2010 World Cup, and central midfielder Xabi Alonso, who is suspended for accumulation of yellow cards.

Barca forward and joint league top scorer Lionel Messi should be available for the Villarreal game after a suspected injury sustained on duty with Argentina proved only a scare.

"The good news is that he is not injured," coach Pep Guardiola told a news conference on Friday.

Guardiola will be without playmaker Xavi, who was shown a fifth yellow in the last match and is suspended, and is likely to hand Xavi's Spain team mate Andres Iniesta the job of dictating play from central midfield.

Forwards Pedro and Bojan Krkic were recovering well from injuries and a decision would be taken on whether to include them in the squad after training later on Friday, Guardiola added.

Barca are unlikely to be weakened too much by any absences through injury and have some of the world's best players in reserve to fill any gaps, according to Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido.

"They are a team who also know how to defend very well and it wouldn't be a surprise if players like (Seydou) Keita or (Javier) Mascherano played," Garrido told a news conference. "To beat them we'll have to do the best possible job."

Real Madrid fans may give Gijon coach Manuel Preciado a hard time on Saturday after his row with Mourinho when the teams met in November.

Preciado was incensed after the Portuguese suggested Gijon had not given their all against Barca and the pair were reprimanded by a government commission that seeks to combat racism and intolerance in sport.

"I am totally fed up that you keep asking me the same thing," Preciado said at a news conference. "A handshake? Of course if he offers me his hand I will give him mine. It's all in the past."

Fourth-placed Valencia, who play at Getafe on Saturday, are level on 54 points with Villarreal but behind due to an inferior goal difference to their local rivals.