Ronaldo misses visit of Hercules

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

Cristiano Ronaldo was left out of the Real Madrid squad to play Hercules at the Bernabeu on Saturday to give him more time to recover from a muscle strain.

The Portugal forward missed last week's win at Racing Santander, but is likely to be ready for Wednesday's Champions League last-16 second leg against Olympique Lyon.

Midfielders Lassana Diarra and Sami Khedira and defenders Alvaro Arbeloa and Ezequiel Garay returned after injury. Ricardo Carvalho was rested.

Hercules have included Paraguay striker Nelson Valdez in their squad at the player's request, coach Esteban Vigo said, after having missed their last five matches with injury.

Valdez is the only Hercules player to have scored away from home, bagging all three goals for La Liga's worst travellers.

"It will be difficult, but it also was at the Nou Camp and we managed to win there," Vigo told reporters, referring to their 2-0 win over Barca last September.

Real Madrid trail leaders Barcelona by seven points with 11 matches left to play.

Barca travel to play seventh-placed Sevilla on Sunday. They trained without injured Carles Puyol on Friday, while Pedro worked apart from the group.

Sevilla are without injured Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano and suspended French defender Julien Escude, while goalkeeper Andres Palop and winger Diego Perotti are doubts.

"It's possible (Barca could be tired after playing Arsenal midweek), above all if the result is against them and they have to make an extra effort," Sevilla coach Gregorio Manzano told daily Sport.

"Our objective is to score first to oblige them to make this effort. If they have their day and score first they are almost unstoppable."

Fourth-placed Villarreal were boosted for the visit of Sporting Gijon on Sunday with a 3-2 win away to Bayer Leverkuen in the Europa League on Thursday.

"It's an important victory for the team because we haven't been doing so well in recent games," Brazilian striker Nilmar told reporters. "We needed a lift like this."

Sixth-placed Espanyol have been hit by a spate of injuries and their push for the European places has suffered with a run of six defeats from their last seven outings. They host improving Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.

"We believe in the youngsters who are having to step in," coach Mauricio Pochettino told reporters. "In a couple of years we are going to be tremendously strong and we'll be able to look back on all this with pride."