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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.”

PSG signs defender Thilo Kehrer from Schalke

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PARIS (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has signed defender Thilo Kehrer from German club Schalke on a five-year contract.

PSG gave no financial details but Kehrer reportedly cost 37 million euros ($42 million).

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

The 21-year-old German helped Schalke finish second in the Bundesliga last season. He also helped Germany’s under-21 team win last year’s European Championship.

Kehrer is seen as an eventual replacement for 33-year-old central defender Thiago Silva, who has been with PSG since 2012.

He will be working under German coach Thomas Tuchel, who is bringing more young players into the team.

Kehrer says “I am going to meet some extraordinary teammates and work with a coach that has done a great job in Germany in recent years.”

NDOYE RETURNS

Cheikh Ndoye has returned to his former club Angers on loan from second-tier English side Birmingham.

The 32-year-old midfielder, who has made 27 international appearances for Senegal, joined Birmingham last year on a three-year deal.

He played 40 games last season, but with Birmingham reportedly under pressure to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations, he was loaned out and thus reduced the club’s wage bill.

Ndoye captained Angers from 2015-2017.

Last weekend, Angers opened its first-division campaign with a 4-3 home loss to Nimes.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Dyche: “Strength of character” got Burnley past Istanbul Basaksehir

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Burnley manager Sean Dyche has his team one round from the Europa League group stage after another clutch goal from Jack Cork.

And the intense Clarets boss knows its down to their dogged work.

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

“The strength of character of the players is so important and before extra time I was talking to my group and they were all focused on me,” Dyche said. “I looked at theirs and there were bodies everywhere and two players catching eyes with their manager.”

“We have to do what we have to do to win games and we’ve never hidden from that. But in extra time I thought we were running all over them fitness-wise and therefore our play improved.”

Burnley moves onto play Olympiacos in the playoff round, and advancing past the Greek side would give them six more matches including three home dates at Turf Moor.

The Clarets bought Matej Vydra, Joe Hart, and Ben Gibson this summer. Ex-Middlesbrough defender Gibson made his Burnley debut on Thursday and  Hart has been sensational in posting three clean sheets in as many matches. Vydra is yet to debut.

Burnley’s status as a Europa League qualifier through Premier League play is about as impressive as anything this side of Leicester City’s miracle title run. The longer this goes on, the more strain it puts on their season, but it’s improbable to root against them.

Burnley drew Saints in its Premier League opener, and hosts Watford on Sunday.

Americans Abroad in 2.Bundesliga: Parker joins Green on Furth

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When it comes to Americans Abroad, few leagues have as many active USMNT-eligible players than Germany’s second tier.

Maybe it’s a knock-on effect of Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT tenure, but seven players with American blood have taken part in matches over the first two weekends in 2.Bundesliga (four with U.S. connections have not).

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

Julian Green has yet to find the goal for Greuther Fuerth, but not for lack of trying. Only one player in the league is averaging more than his four shots per game.

U.S. eligible forward Shawn Parker signed with Greuther Fuerth on Wednesday.

Like Green, American-born goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm has collected four points with club Holstein Keil this season, keeping a clean sheet.

U.S. U-19 midfielder Kevin Lankford is in his third season with Heidenheim, and has made a start and a sub appearance in his two appearances.

2.Bundesliga

Julian Green, Greuther Fuerth — 2 matches, 153 minutes, eight shots
Next: Saturday vs. Paderborn

Joe Gyau, Duisburg — 1 appearance, 10 minutes
Next: Friday at Darmstadt

Terrence Boyd, Darmstadt — 2 appearances, 10 minutes
Next: Friday vs. Duisburg

Ken Gipson, Sandhausen — 1 appearance, 26 minutes
Next: Friday at Bochum

Kenneth Kronholm, Holstein Keil — 2 appearances, 180 minutes, clean sheet
Next: Sunday at Jahn Regensburg

Kevin Lankford, Heidenheim — 2 appearances, 1 start, 83 minutes
Next: Sunday at Dresden Dynamo

Jann George, Jahn Regensburg — 2 starts, 175 minutes
Next: Sunday vs. Holstein Keil

Yet to appear: McKinze Gaines, Darmstadt; Lennard Maloney, Union Berlin; Mario Rodriguez, Dynamo Dresden; Andrew Wooten, Sandhausen; Shawn Parker, Greuther Fuerth.

Top Premier League storylines for Week 2

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Week 2 of the Premier League season brings another gigantic match-up, with Arsenal following up its visit from Manchester City by traveling across London to face lively foe Chelsea.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

All that and four more things to watch closely this weekend in England and Wales.

New managers Emery, Sarri helm big London rivalry
Chelsea vs. Arsenal — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC [ STREAM ]

Antonio Conte‘s probable hopes that Chelsea would be a shambles without him didn’t look true when the Blues bashed Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium on opening weekend, while some extreme Arsenal fan hopes that their stumbles were simply down to Arsene Wenger were washed away in a haze of Man City ball possession.

Now Chelsea has a chance to soak the Gunners’ early season in misery, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal will know they can make opening weekend a thing of the past by joining the Blues on three points with a big away win.

London Derby tests Kane’s August record
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN
[ STREAM ]

Harry Kane still hasn’t scored in August, and Fulham allowed a pair of goals in their return to the Premier League last weekend against Palace. The Cottagers have enjoyed Wembley recently in earning promotion through the playoffs, and new player Jean Michael Seri — a reported Spurs target before joining Fulham — looked exceptional in the loss to Palace.

Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham battles with Kieran Trippier of Tottenham Hotspur during an FA Cup fifth round match in 2017 (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Will Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds keep roaring at Selhurst Park?
Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Liverpool has won four-straight matches at Selhurst Park, but its record against Palace overall isn’t phenomenal over the last half-decade. That said, Jurgen Klopp’s men are clearly favorite to catch Manchester City if anyone can, and getting wins from matches like this is what contenders do along the way to Titletown.

Take two for Leicester and Wolves
Leicester City vs. Wolves — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold
 [ STREAM ]

Ruben Neves of Wolves announced his entry into the Premier League with a super performance in Wolves’ 2-2 home draw with 10-man Everton at the Molineux, but the one point gained somehow feel less than expected from the newly-promoted side. Leicester was outplayed by Manchester United in its opener, and will hope the King Power Stadium is what will kickstart their season… and maybe help save Claude Puel‘s job as Foxes’ manager.

The Premier League returns to Cardiff with a perceived six-pointer
Cardiff City vs. Newcastle United — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN
[ STREAM ]

Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds couldn’t get the job done at Bournemouth in Week One and their “doable” three-match stretch to restart life in the Premier League will feel really rough if they cannot land a point or better against Rafa Benitez‘s Newcastle.

This is Newcastle’s best chance at three points over the first month, and the Magpies could be staring at zero points through four matches if they fail to get the job done in Wales (which is a long way from St. James’ Park).