Villarreal set to go on the defensive (and dour), but Barça back in business

A large, dark shadow has fallen across the land in la Liga. No, Maniche isn’t blocking out the sun again, the Lord of Doom, the King of Crying, the Price of Appalling Football, Miguel Angel Lotina has returned.

Last seen relegating Deportivo last season in abysmal style, Lotina has been appointed as the new coach of Villarreal after Sunday’s sacking of José Molina, who was in turn appointed Villarreal coach after December’s sacking of Juan Carlos Garrido.

The first question on everybody's lips is whether Lotina is going to ruin what few positive aspects are left to Villarreal, a team lying fourth from bottom, three points from the relegation zone. The message from the former Deportivo man is ‘absolutely not, promises, promises’.

“I’m not going to change the philosophy of the team after ten years of great football,” claimed Lotina at his unveiling on Monday. “I’m so happy to be here,” added the new Yellow Submarine Admiral, trying his best to force a smile. ™â€œThe excitement I have is tremendous.”

AS scribe Javi Mata, for one, is less than convinced the El Madrigal faithful are going to be backing the appointment of Lotina, a coach who makes his Villarreal debut against Real Madrid on Wednesday. “After testing the waters of Villarreal fan reaction, I don’t know whether they’ve signed Lotina or one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

Although a brand new midweek round of two matches - Barça vs Granada and Osasuna vs Getafe - is about to begin, the dust has barely settled on the final fixture of the last round, with Espanyol beating Racing 3-1 on Monday evening to move the Pericos into sixth and leave the side from Santander stuck fast in the relegation zone. “A big week for Espanyol, a point against Betis on Thursday and victory at home to Málaga next Sunday will mark them dow as serious contenders for fourth. Racing will be lucky to avoid the drop. Commitment, yes. Ability, not really,” was the verdict from LLL correspondent, Paul from Barcelona, watching the game in Cornella.

The talk in both the Real Madrid and Barcelona corners of the press is whether or not the league title race is back on. As the answer is "probably not, but hey, no-one really knows. Football is a funny old game," there is much pouring over fixture lists and fretting in Marca and AS over why Madrid didn’t beat Málaga on Sunday. “Is eight points enough?” asks Marca’s concerned front cover on Tuesday.

Pep Guardiola continues to think so, with the Barça coach admitting that “I keep on thinking that it is going to take a lot and we won’t manage it. I still see it as impossible.”

“Pants on fire,” says AS editor, Alfredo Relaño, “He’s not going to convince anyone, let alone the club’s fans.”

Barcelona have the chance to temporarily close the gap at the top of the table to five points against Granada on Tuesday evening - cue giant “FIVE POINTS” headline on front cover of Sport on Wednesday morning.

Eagle-eyed fans will spot Carlos Martins lining up for the opposition, despite the midfielder being sent off on Saturday. However the relevant FA committee which deals with bans and suspensions and what-not did not meet on Monday due to a bank holiday in Madrid. Of course. “It’s details like this, unquestionable, in other countries that put the quality of the league into doubt,” tuts another completely balanced Marca editorial.

LLL Predictions:Osasuna v Getafe - Home winBarcelona v Granada - Home win