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Expectations high for Diego Costa’s long-awaited return to Atleti

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone finally has his favorite striker back at the club.

Now expectations are high in the Spanish capital that Diego Costa can again make Atletico a title winner.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City, Spurs in action on Tuesday (TV, stream info) ]

Costa helped the team win the 2013 Copa del Rey before topping that the following season with the Spanish league title — making Atletico the only team other than Barcelona or Real Madrid to win the competition in the last 13 years.

Costa also led Atletico to the first of two Champions League finals in the last four years, but he was forced to abandon the 2014 final early on due to injury and Atletico lost 4-1 in extra time to Madrid.

In the three years Costa was at Chelsea, Atletico only won the minor 2014 Spanish Super Cup.

Costa faces a challenge to win more silverware immediately. Atletico failed to advance from the Champions League group stage and, although it is second in the Spanish league, it trails leader Barcelona by nine points. Its best chances are in the Copa and Europa League.

[ MORE: No surgery for Gabriel Jesus after MCL injury ]

“We were eliminated from the Champions League, which was bad luck, but we still have a lot to do this year and we are going to fight for everything we can achieve,” Costa said at his presentation on Sunday before being greeted by more than 25,000 fans at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

His immediate goal will be to recover his full fitness after not playing since last season when he helped Chelsea win the Premier League but fell out of favor with coach Antonio Conte.

Six months have passed since Costa played his last official match, scoring in a 2-1 win for Spain over Macedonia. He has been training hard with Atletico since the Spanish club agreed to a transfer fee reportedly worth $72 million in September.

“I am feeling a lot better than when I arrived,” Costa said. “I have prepared well and I am anxious to play and do what I need to do, which is to help the team and score goals. I have been waiting a long time for this moment. I am tired of training, I want to play.”

His first opportunity will likely come Wednesday when Atletico visits Lleida in the Copa del Rey’s round-of-16. Next up is a league match against Getafe on Saturday.

Costa and fellow winter reinforcement Victor “Vitolo” Machin weren’t allowed to play for Atletico until 2018 when the club’s one-year ban on fielding new players expired. The ban was imposed by FIFA after the club broke rules regarding youth players.

Simeone is hoping that the 29-year-old Costa is still the same caliber as when he scored 20 goals to lead Chelsea to the PL title.

[ MORE: January transfer plans for Mourinho, Man United? ]

The Brazilian-born striker will rejoin a team that maintains its pillars from 2014. Center back Diego Godin and left back Felipe Luis feature in defense, Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion and Gabi Fernandez are fixtures in midfield, and most importantly Simeone still stalks the sideline.

Costa’s goals, physical play and “bad boy” attitude that rattles rivals are the perfect fit for Simeone’s emphasis on hard work and a united team.

Atletico tried several times to find a replacement for Costa. But neither Mario Mandzukic nor Jackson Martinez panned out, and current striker Kevin Gameiro has only given Atletico goals in bursts.

Costa will slot in beside forward Antoine Griezmann, the team’s most creative player and its top goal scorer in recent campaigns who is reportedly being pursued by other clubs, including Barcelona and Manchester United.

In theory, the two should make a deadly force.

“We have worked very hard to get Costa and Griezmann together. I hope we can enjoy them for a long time,” Simeone said Saturday. “We have two forwards coming to the team and the competition is good for Atletico.”

[ MORE: Top 5 PL matches to come in 2018 ]

Atletico has also strengthened its attack with Vitolo, who is similar in his large build to Costa. Vitolo spent the first half of the season on loan at Las Palmas after Atletico lured him away from Sevilla in the offseason.

The additions of Costa and Vitolo may mean Atletico will look to move one or more of its forwards. Besides Gameiro, Atletico’s attack also includes Fernando Torres, Yannick Carrasco, Angel Correa and Luciano Vietto.

Costa also has a lot to play for individually. His spot on Spain’s World Cup squad is in jeopardy after he was dropped by coach Julen Lopetegui given his hiatus from football.

“If I start scoring goals and the team plays well, it will be easier for me to make Lopetegui’s list,” Costa said. “I am ready to give it my all and later the coach will decide.”

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?

Man City into League Cup final (video)

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  • City outshoots Bristol 28-5
  • Sane, Aguero put MCFC up 2-0
  • Pack, Kent pulls two back for Bristol
  • De Bruyne answers in stoppage
  • City wins 5-3 on aggregate

A pair of late goals put a scare into Man City, but the Premier League leaders scored just before and right after halftime to insure its first leg lead en route to a 3-2 win over Bristol City at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

City wins 5-3 on aggregate in the League Cup semifinal, with Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, and Kevin De Bruyne scoring in the second leg.

Pep Guardiola moves to within 90 minutes of his first significant title as Man City boss, and will face either Chelsea or Arsenal on Feb. 25 at Wembley Stadium.

Marlon Pack and Aden Flint scored for Bristol City.

[ MORE: Full stats, box score ]

Sane scored in the 43rd minute and Sergio Aguero struck less than four minutes after the teams returned from the halftime break.

An errant John Stones clearance helped Bristol to the scoreboard in the 64th minute, with Pack scoring the goal.

Flint then nodded home in stoppage time to give the Robins hope for a miracle win, but new contract hero De Bruyne scored within a minute to burn those hopes to the ground.

Bristol would be in the Football League Championship playoffs if the season ended now, sitting in fifth place.

Midfielder Lassana Diarra joins PSG on short-term deal

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain has made its first signing of the winter transfer window by hiring midfielder Lassana Diarra on a short-term deal until June 2019.

The 32-year-old holding midfielder will once again try to revive his career in the French league after a successful stint at PSG’s bitter rival, Marseille, that ended last year.

The much-traveled Diarra, who was born in Paris, then played for a few months with United Arab Emirates club Al Jazira.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Diarra, a former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid player, won English and Spanish league titles in 2006 and 2012. He has 34 caps for France and featured at the European Championship in 2008.

His strong performances with Marseille earned him a recall from France, but he eventually pulled out of Didier Deschamps’ squad for Euro 2016 because of a left knee injury.

“I am very happy to have signed for my hometown club,” Diarra said. “Paris Saint-Germain represents a lot to me and, with the international dimension the club has taken in recent seasons, it is every player’s dream to play here. I am lucky enough to make this dream come true.”

Diarra joined on a free transfer and his signing won’t affect PSG’s bank accounts, which are under UEFA’s scrutiny.

PSG is under pressure to sell players to balance the books after splashing out 402 million euros ($473 million) on forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe last year. That led to Qatari-owned PSG being placed under investigation by UEFA for potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.