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De Boer takes over Atlanta United with big shoes to fill

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) Frank De Boer was sacked by Inter Milan after less than three months on the job.

He lasted just four Premier League games at Crystal Palace.

Now, after two short-lived coaching stints, de Boer has a chance to revive his career with the wildly popular champions of Major League Soccer.

[READ: Report: Kane could miss at least a month with injury]

The longtime stalwart of the Dutch national team has taken over at Atlanta United, which won the MLS Cup in just its second season while breaking numerous attendance records.

De Boer said it is a shot at redemption, while also stressing that his chances of success are much greater in Atlanta.

“Of course, you have to learn from your mistakes, but also about organizations that aren’t good and organized and structured like Atlanta United,” he said Monday during a news conference at the team’s suburban training facility.

With his two previous employers, de Boer added, “There was no cohesion between all the departments. Everything was separate. Now, we have a feeling, `OK, I don’t have to look around for the dead body in the closet or behind the closet.’ Everything is very clear and structured.”

He represented his country 112 times on the field, most notably delivering a towering 60-yard pass that set up Dennis Bergkamp’s winning goal against Argentina in the closing minutes of a 1998 World Cup quarterfinal. De Boer moved into coaching after his playing career ended, leading Dutch powerhouse Ajax to a record four straight Eredivisie titles.

Taking over at Inter Milan in 2016, de Boer failed to match the success he had in his native country. The Italian club struggled in both Serie A and Europa League competitions, which led to his firing on Nov. 1 with the club mired in 12th place.

His tenure lasted just 85 days.

The following summer, de Boer was hired by Crystal Palace. Despite modest expectations – the team was coming off a 15th-place showing the previous season, finishing just five points above the relegation zone – the coach was quickly fired again after Crystal became the first team in 93 years to lose its first four matches in the top flight without scoring a goal.

Atlanta United is in a much different position, having quickly become MLS’ flagship franchise on and off the field. The team has a clear power structure led by owner Arthur Blank, team president Darren Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra – a setup that was appealing to de Boer.

“For me, that is so much easier,” he said. “The 5 1/2 seasons that I was working for Ajax as a head coach … it cost me less energy than the eight months at Inter and Crystal Palace. I was already starting to get gray hairs.”

De Boer certainly has some big shoes to fill.

In two years as United’s coach, Tata Martino instilled an attacking style of play that was a big hit with the fans and hugely successful on the field. The club averaged more than 53,000 per game this season, easily eclipsing its own record, and thrilled the city by capturing the MLS Cup championship in December.

Martino stepped down to take over as Mexico’s national coach.

The expectations remain the same.

“Everybody expects a lot from Atlanta United,” de Boer said. “That’s normal when you’re a champion.”

De Boer’s team is still a work in progress. MVP runner-up Miguel Almiron was expected to transfer to the Premier League during the January window, but no deal has been reached. He reported Monday for the start of Atlanta’s training camp.

River Plate star Pity Martinez announced last month that he had a deal to come to Atlanta, supposedly as Almiron’s replacement in the midfield, but that’s on hold for the moment. United already has three designated players who are exempt from the salary cap: Almiron, record-setting goal scorer and league MVP Josef Martinez, and 19-year-old Ezequiel Barco.

Less than six weeks removed from its MLS Cup triumph, Atlanta United reported for camp to begin preparing for its first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League. The team opens with a home-and-home series against Costa Rican club Herediano late next month, just ahead of the MLS season opener.

Atlanta United is eager to become the first MLS club to win the continental championship since the league format began in 2008. Mexican teams have won 10 straight titles, including Chivas’ thrilling victory over Toronto FC last year that came down to penalty kicks.

“We need to have an MLS club win it,” Eales said. “It would be great if that could be Atlanta United.”

But pulling off a CONCACAF title, while also maintaining success in league play, presents a daunting challenge for the new coach. Toronto put its emphasis on winning the Champions League and wound up missing the MLS playoffs.

“We’re not naive. We saw what happened to Toronto,” Eales said. “It’s going to be tough. But we want to be competing on all fronts.”

Brazilian player Taison banned in Ukraine for response to racism

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) Brazilian player Taison has been banned for one game for his reaction to racist abuse in a Ukrainian league game.

The Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder showed his middle finger to Dynamo Kyiv fans who had abused him with monkey chants and kicked the ball into the stands during a game Nov. 10. Taison was shown a red card.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

The Ukrainian Football Association ordered Taison to serve a one-game ban plus a suspended two-game ban.

Dynamo has been fined 500,000 hryvnyas ($20,000) and ordered to play one game behind closed doors. Another one-game sanction is suspended.

World players’ union FIFPro says “sanctioning a victim of racial abuse is beyond comprehension and it plays into the hands of those who promote this kind of disgraceful behavior.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Top Premier League storylines: Week 13

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Yes, Jose Mourinho is back in the Premier League and, sure, both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini are in managerial hot seats, but is there any match more intriguing than Man City and Chelsea squaring off with the knowledge that a bad outcome could see them double digits out of first?

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

Below we take a look at the key storylines to keep an eye on across the PL this weekend.


The Jose Mourinho Era begins against a familiar foe

  • West Ham v. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have matched wits many times, which could help the former in his bid to get ready for a rankled Spurs side to kickstart the Premier League weekend.

Mourinho has only matched up with six managers more than Pellegrini in his career, and boasts a 7W-3D-4L record. Can he quickly get Spurs put together for a visit to a desperate Irons side.


Chelsea, Man City put slim title hopes on the line

  • Manchester City v. Chelsea — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Both Pep Guardiola‘s City and Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have lost to Liverpool, meaning their chances to directly affect the Reds’ title hopes are limited. Matches like this one are the ones that get the Reds salivating, in fact, knowing that only one team can snare three points.

City enters the day nine points back of first and a point behind Chelsea and Leicester City. The Top Four race sure looks clear cut right now — the chasing pack is eight points behind fourth — but failure to win on Saturday will likely leave either side double-digit points back of first.


Knock off the Red Devils? Wilder things have happened

  • Sheffield United v. Manchester United — Sunday, 11:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has the newly-promoted side in fifth place on the table, one point better than his celebrated visitors. The Blades will sit no worse than five points back of the Top Four if they can beat Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Red Devils, adding another big name to a season of results which already includes a defeat of Arsenal and draws against Chelsea and Spurs. United is still without Paul Pogba and now will also miss Scott McTominay. Another upset brewing?


Reds hope to get back to business as usual in title fight

  • Crystal Palace v. Liverpool — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

A week removed from a glitzy show against Man City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds now visit a Palace side who is probably getting sick of facing the Premier League’s best. Roy Hodgson‘s table rise has been stunted by a four-match winless run that includes 2-0 losses to Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea to go with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

A Liverpool win will boost it clearer of Man City and/or Chelsea, as the Reds seek a double-digit lead on the field (Second-place Leicester City is away to Brighton and Hove Albion).


Arsenal looks to right wobbly league ship versus slumping Saints

  • Arsenal v. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Unai Emery‘s Gunners may be doing fine in the Europa League, but they’ve taken just two points from 12 since an Oct. 6 defeat of Bourrnemouth at the Emirates Stadium. Saints only win since mid-September in any competition is a 4-0 demolition of rivals Portsmouth. If Arsenal cannot get right here, well…

The 2 Robbies break down Tottenham’s big switch from Poch to Mou

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Maybe you saw the firing of Mauricio Pochettino coming, and maybe you even though Jose Mourinho could be in the running to take his place, but the whole thing happening in rapid fire fashion calls for something different.

Call it an emergency podcast for The 2 Robbies.

[ MORE: Ederson back in training ]

Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle respond to the shocking and divisive news coming from North London earlier this week.

Tottenham Hotspur sacked Pochettino and quickly replaced him with The Special One. This episode also includes some of Jose’s first words as the new Spurs Head Coach.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Pochettino leaves emotional whiteboard message to Spurs

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Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom staff have left Tottenham Hotspur, but not without fond words for the North London set.

Pochettino’s backroom staff was also dismissed, with assistant Jesus Perez and coaches Miguel D’Agostino and Antoni Jimenez leaving to make room for Jose Mourinho’s crew.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

And Perez wanted to make sure that the world knew the final words Pochettino left for his players, something that has Tottenham supporters even more emotional.

It also surely plays as a political piece which will increase the villain status of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who’s been under fire for not helping Pochettino by selling players who did not want to be in North London.

Even Mourinho heaped praise on his predecessor.

“Mauricio, for the work he did, this club will be always his home,” Mourinho said. “He can come when he wants. When he misses the players, when he misses the people he work with. The door is always open for him. He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future.”

Get your tissues, Spurs fans.