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Villarreal bet on Lotina in safety bid

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By David Redshaw

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Villarreal’s have named Miguel Ángel Lotina as their third Coach of the season to replace the axed José Francisco Molina as they seek top-flight safety.

Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Levante means the Yellow Submarine have taken just one point from the last 15 available and are teetering on the brink of the relegation zone, with just three points separating them from Racing Santander in 18th place, and the club’s hierarchy has decided to act sooner rather than later in a bid to avoid the drop.

Molina, a former goalkeeper and Coach of the club’s B and C teams, had only been in charge of first team affairs for three months having replaced Juan Carlos Garrido just before the Christmas break. In spite of getting off to a good start - a point taken against both Valencia and Barcelona and wins over Sporting Gijón (3-0), Sevilla (2-1) and Granada (3-1) in his first six games - his team was unable to sustain that impressive form, with the recent slump prompting President Fernando Roig to bring in the experienced Lotina, who numbers Osasuna, Celta Vigo, Espanyol, Real Sociedad and Deportivo la Coruña among his former clubs.

“In the world of football it is normal to change the Coach, but I don’t like it,” said the club’s Brazilian international striker Nilmar on Tuesday, “because it is the players who are to blame. We are in a difficult situation and we need to give much more in the remaining games, as what we have given so far has not been good enough.”

With a home fixture on Wednesday night at El Madrigal against runaway league leaders Real Madrid things do not get any easier, a fact Nilmar admitted whilst acknowledging moral right now is at a low ebb.

“It is at times like this that great players come to the fore, although we are normal human beings and our confidence at the moment is low. Real Madrid are favourites because they are one of the best teams in the world. It will be difficult but not impossible and if we get something from this game then moral will return ” he added.

It has been an unlikely turnaround for one of Spain’s most successful outfits of the last few years, one that only last season finished a creditable fourth in La Liga and qualified for the Champions League play-off rounds. Indeed, since 2004 the lowest finish has been seventh, including a runners-up spot in 2008: there have also been semi-final appearances in both the Champions League (2006) and Europa League (2011).

Nonetheless, despite starting this term in the Champions League proper, Villarreal were knocked out of a group containing Manchester City, Napoli and Bayern Munich, losing all six matches and scoring just two goals with 14 conceded. A disastrous opening to the league campaign also saw then boss Garrido’s men win only one of their opening nine games, with a 2-0 home defeat to minnows Mirandés in the Copa del Rey eventually sealing the Coach’s fate.

To be fair to Garrido his team was decimated by early season injuries to several key players, particularly star striker Giuseppe Rossi who suffered cruciate ligament damage in a 3-0 defeat at Real Madrid in October and has not been seen since: Nilmar also spent two months out with a knee injury and there have been spells on the sidelines for Marcos Senna, Javier Camuñas, Christian Zapata, Marco Ruben and Cani.

With fans becoming increasingly impatient, Roig’s decision to try and bring about a reversal in fortune is one that may have surprised a few people, given Villarreal is not a club usually associated with chopping and changing bosses.

“We have made a decision that in this club’s history is not one we have normally taken, which is to change our Coach twice, said Roig. “It was necessary and we have gone for somebody with lots of experience. We are all aware of what we are playing for and will do everything possible to change the situation. There are now 11 finals left and we are convinced we will get out of this.”

Not all Villarreal supporters are thought to be ecstatic at 54-year-old Lotina’s appointment, however, with former Spain boss Luis Aragonés, who is believed to have been Roig’s preferred option, understood to have turned the job down after failing to agree terms.

To make sure you don't miss any of A Different League's Spanish coverage this season, follow the La Liga dedicated Twitter feed: @differentliga

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