Villarreal fires coach Fran Escriba after team’s poor start

VILLARREAL, Spain — Villarreal fired coach Fran Escriba after the team’s poor start in the Spanish league and replaced him with B team coach Javi Calleja on Monday.

The moves came a day after a 4-0 loss at Getafe, Villarreal’s third defeat in six league games. Villarreal was 14th in the 20-team standings.

Villarreal opened with two losses but appeared to be recovering with two wins and a draw. It also won its opening Europa League game, against Astana. It plays its second Europa match on Thursday at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The 39-year-old Calleja is a former striker who has been coaching Villarreal’s youth squads for six seasons. He played seven seasons for Villarreal, including when the club made it to the semifinals of the Champions League in 2006.

"This club means everything to me," Calleja said. "I’ve always dreamed about this moment (of becoming coach). I’m thrilled."

He led practice on Monday.

"The players are committed and there are no limits for this team," Calleja said.

The 52-year-old Escriba was the second top-flight coach to lose his job this season, following the dismissal of Luis Zubeldia by last-place Alaves last week.

Escriba’s assistants also were let go by Villarreal.

The team’s next league match is on Sunday against Eibar.