Villarreal changes coaches before Champions League playoff

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VILLARREAL, Spain (AP) — Villarreal hired Fran Escriba as its coach after parting ways with Marcelino Garcia on Thursday, less than week before it hosts a Champions League playoff first-leg match against Monaco.

The Spanish club says that Escriba, a former manager of Elche and Getafe, will take over immediately.

Villarreal did not give a reason for the departure of Marcelino in a short statement posted on its website earlier on Thursday.

It is a surprising exit given both the approaching start to the season and Marcelino's superb run with the club in recent years. Villarreal has played some of the most attractive football in Spain, despite its limited budget compared to powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Marcelino brought success to Villarreal after being hired in 2013 when the former Champions League semifinalist was in the second tier.

Villarreal won promotion to La Liga and had three straight top-six finishes, and reached the Europa League semifinals last season.

A fourth-place finish last season earned a place in the Champions League playoff round.

Villarreal hosts Monaco on Wednesday, and the return match is six days later with a place in the lucrative group stage at stake.

In-between those matches, Villarreal also starts the Spanish league season at Granada on Aug. 20.

Escriba has coached in Spain's topflight for the last three seasons after helping Elche win promotion in 2013. After two more seasons with Elche, he coached Getafe last season until he was fired in April following three months without a victory.

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