Casillas warns Madrid against underestimating Hercules task

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The Independent Online

Real Madrid must avoid slipping on a banana skin tomorrow when struggling Hercules visit the Bernabeu in La Liga. Jose Mourinho's team host the French side Lyons on Wednesday, aiming to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in seven years after a 1-1 first-leg draw, and then follow up with a domestic trip to local rivals Atletico Madrid.

Real have a 100 per cent home record this season but their captain, Iker Casillas, has warned against underestimating relegation-threatened Hercules. La Liga's worst travellers, with three goals scored, six points and one away victory, have achieved something no one else has this season, winning 2-0 at Barcelona in September.

"Our most important game is the one against Hercules because we cannot afford to drop any more points in the league," said Real's Spanish international goalkeeper Casillas.

"Although they may be considered inferior they are fighting for different objectives and beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp. We need to remember that."

With 11 games left, Real are seven points behind the leaders Barcelona, who visit Seville on Sunday evening.

Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to recover from a muscle strain but Mourinho may be tempted to rest his leading scorer ahead of next week's more trying games.

The Portugal forward missed his first league match of the season last weekend and, in his absence, Real played some of their best football of the campaign to win 3-1 at Racing Santander, with Mesut Ozil in particular catching the eye.

"As you can see, we have a good squad," said Germany midfielder Ozil, while denying that the team had played better because Ronaldo was out. "He's a world-class footballer who has won us many games and I hope he recovers soon."

Hercules, in 18th spot, are without their injured leading scorer David Trezeguet, the former France international striker, and playmaker Tote while Nelson Valdez is a doubt.

Barcelona turn their attentions back to domestic matters after qualifying for the Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of Arsenal on Tuesday. They travel to eighth-placed Seville, who have lost their joint top scorer Luis Fabiano to injury.

The Malaga coach, Manuel Pellegrini, has been feeling the heat from fans ahead of the trip to Real Sociedad on Sunday afternoon. One win in 10 games has left the rock-bottom club four points from safety but their vice-president Abdullah Ghubn gave the Chilean his backing this week.

"I have read some reports we might change coaches after the trip to San Sebastian," Ghubn said. "Whatever happens we are not going to change. He is the right coach for this team."

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