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Bartra to fight for Barca place

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By ESPN Staff

Lotina relishing daunting first game

Villarreal coach Miguel Angel Lotina has welcomed the challenge of facing La Liga leaders Real Madrid in his first match in charge.

Lotina has taken over until the end of the season, replacing Jose Molina who was sacked on Sunday following the 1-0 defeat at Levante.

The Yellow Submarine are precariously placed in the standings, just one place and three points off the relegation zone following a run of three defeats.

Madrid are the visitors to El Madrigal on Wednesday and Lotina is hoping to see the home fans get behind their team.

"It would have been nice to get a week of training, but Real Madrid will be a good test for us,'' he said on the club's official website. "Getting a win against the leaders will not be easy, but we'll try our hardest.

"We need the fans at home matches. There are many chances to achieve our goals if we are all together.''

Villarreal can take some encouragement from the fact Madrid saw their 11-match winning run ended at the weekend with a 1-1 draw at home to Malaga.

They still hold a healthy eight-point lead at the top over Barcelona, who entertain Granada on Tuesday night.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola has already suggested his side are unlikely to catch their great rivals in the title race, but defender Dani Alves insists that does not mean the players will give up.

"The most important thing is that we keep on competing right to the end, in the league as well, since it helps us in the rest of the competitions,'' he said.

Osasuna play host to Getafe on Tuesday, knowing three points will take them past the 40-point mark which is usually enough to ensure top-flight survival.

However, coach Jose Luis Mendilibar has warned his players it would be dangerous to adopt that mentality.

"We cannot say we are mathematically safe, some years it takes 39 points and others 43 or 44,'' he said.

"We are 15 points above the drop zone and many teams envy our position, but we are not saved. We will try to add to that, we will try to win and remain closer to the top.''

Europa League quarter-finalists Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao meet on Wednesday, with both teams hoping to bounce back from weekend defeats.

Valencia will look to consolidate third place when they face Real Zaragoza, while Levante travel to Real Sociedad and Sporting Gijon take on Real Mallorca.

Thursday's matches pit struggling Racing Santander against Sevilla, Malaga against Rayo Vallecano and Real Betis against Espanyol.

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