Jose Mourinho has admitted that he has all but given up hope of winning the league in his first season at Real Madrid.
The Portuguese believes only a miraculous run of 11 straight wins, including victory over Barcelona next month, will give Real any chance of winning the title.
The Real manager, ahead of tonight's home game against Hercules, said: "If we win all our games then we have a chance. If we drop any more points then the league is over. It will not be mathematically impossible but the people are not stupid and neither am I – it will be over."
Real Madrid trail Barcelona by seven points and Mourinho is on course to miss out on the league title in his debut year at a club for the first time, having taken the domestic crown first time around with Porto, Chelsea and Internazionale.
In the build-up to today's game, he also accused the television companies who schedule matches of helping Barcelona by giving Real Madrid less time between fixtures. Suggesting he might drop his first-choice goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, for the upcoming Madrid derby, he said: "Maybe I will not pick him against Atletico. If they [the TV companies] really want the championship over soon then maybe I will make it even easier for them."
Reflecting the gloom over Real's domestic chances, Mourinho has left Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho out of his squad for tonight's match, though he confirmed both would start against Lyons next week in the Champions League second leg.
Real's opponents Hercules are the only side to have won at the Nou Camp all season. Barcelona visit Seville tomorrow with Carles Puyol still out injured but expected to return for the Champions League quarter-finals.
In Italy, Milan must get over the disappointment of not making the European Cup quarter-finals for the third year running with a home game against Bari tomorrow.