Julian Nagelsmann

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Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

USMNT star Adams returns to RB Leipzig training

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American midfielder Tyler Adams is finally returning to training with RB Leipzig.

Adams, 20, played in 12 matches for the Bundesliga side last season, and Leipzig only lost two.

[ MORE: Agudelo heads to Toronto FC ]

He’d missed USMNT duty at the Gold Cup as well as the entire RBL preseason with a groin problem, as well as Leipzig’s first three months.

In his absence, the club is a point off the league lead and has already advanced to the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League under new coach Julian Nagelsmann.

The question is whether the new boss will rate him as much as Ralf Rangnick. He’s unquestionably a wonderful talent, but faces a similar challenge to what Christian Pulisic stared down in his start at Chelsea (although Adams has a half-season under his belt with Leipzig).

Mourinho to Tottenham? Nagelsmann to Man United?

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Now, we of course take these kind of reports with a pinch of salt, but can you imagine Jose Mourinho and Daniel Levy working at the same club…

Let’s start with that report linking Mourinho with a sensational return to management. With Mauricio Pochettino struggling to galvanize his slumping Tottenham squad, his friend Mourinho is reportedly waiting in the wings to replace him.

A report from the Daily Mail says that Mourinho wants to take over at Spurs should the job become available.

Mourinho, 56, has been out of work since being sacked by Manchester United last December and is waiting for the right opportunity to crop up. Is this it?

At Porto, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter Milan he won titles and even at United he won the Europa League and League Cup and finished second in the Premier League. Mourinho would probably see the Tottenham job as something similar to Porto, a club where he could play the underdog role as Spurs’ finances aren’t on the same level as Europe’s elite.

But would his style of management really work with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Co.? It didn’t seem to work with the younger players at United last time out and unless he has transformed his management style, and his personality, radically over the past 10 months it is unlikely Mourinho is going to change his methods that much.

Spurs would probably be able to attract big name players to play for Mourinho, but Levy would likely be unwilling to pay them huge money to do so. This link seems like a bit of a non-starter, no matter if Pochettino is fired (which seems highly-unlikely given all he has achieved at Spurs) or leaves in the coming months. Max Allegri has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Pochettino and seems a much better fit.

Mourinho will probably be back in management sooner than we all think, and the bookmakers have made him the new favorite to be Spurs’ next manager.

As for another ailing Premier League club linked with a new manager, Manchester United have reportedly made young German coach Julian Nagelsmann their top target if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is fired.

With United in 12th place and struggling under Solskjaer, the Red Devils are hesitant to fire the club legend but another report from Adrian Kajumba in the Daily Mail claims that Nageslmann is the man United (no pun intended) are looking at closely.

The report says that United are gathering plenty of information on the current RB Leipzig manager who is just 32 years old, and are keen to make him their manager one day, even if it isn’t imminently. Nagelsmann is in his first season in charge of Leipzig and is contracted to the Bundesliga side until 2023.

Nagelsmann has already managed Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga (he started that role at 28 years old) and is a rising star in European soccer after leading them to a top four finish.

Solskjaer could hang on until the summer and be given another transfer window to bolster his attack, but if things don’t work out for the Norwegian after United’s worst start to a season in 30 years, Nagelsmann will be right at the top of their list as they aim to turn things around.

Klopp joins Common Goal, will donate 1 percent of salary

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Jurgen Klopp has joined the Common Goal Initative, pledging 1 percent of his salary to disadvantaged youth around the world.

Klopp made the announcement after winning the top honor for men’s manager at FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony on Monday.

[ MORE: Messi win’s men’s honor, City shut out ]

He joins Megan Rapinoe, who was honored as FIFA’s top women’s player, and a host of others including USWNT star Alex Morgan, RB Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann, and San Jose striker Chris Wondlowski.

“As a team, even with a minimum pledge of just 1%, together the football industry is capable of transforming the world,” Klopp said. “Now is the time for those interested to take a step forward.”

Generous move from a classy man.

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata launched the Common Goal Initiative in 2017, describing why in a Players’ Tribune post.

Ambitious Leipzig bullish with new coach before Bayern clash

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BERLIN (AP) Fast-rising Leipzig is betting on new coach Julian Nagelsmann to provide the edge it needs to finally end Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga hegemony.

The sides meet in the league on Saturday.

Leipzig, which has made no secret of its title ambitions, has been making steady progress since its formation in 2009, rising through the lower leagues, clinching Bundesliga promotion in 2016, and qualifying for the Champions League.

[ MORE: Poch has Spurs “re-focusing” ]

Former coach of the year Nagelsmann is supposed to build on last season’s third-place finish, and has made a good start.

The 32-year-old Nagelsmann is the only remaining coach in Germany with a perfect record – three wins from three in the league and progress secured to the second round of the German Cup.

Protests away from home – at Union Berlin and Borussia Monchengladbach – have had little effect on the players. Leipzig is unpopular among rival fans due to its fast ascent financed since its foundation by energy drinks manufacturer Red Bull.

Nagelsmann is used to the animosity. Former club Hoffenheim was also unpopular due to its financial reliance on billionaire backer Dietmar Hopp, though not to the level of Leipzig, which has became a favored target for rival fans.

Nagelsmann has compared himself to Jurgen Klopp, saying it took three years for Klopp to win titles at Borussia Dortmund and then Liverpool.

[ MORE: USMNT’s first year with Berhalter ]

His goal is to do the same at Leipzig.

“Three years would be fine for all of us or even sooner. Four years would also be OK. Anyway, it would be great to do it and that’s my aim,” Nagelsmann said.

He can approach Saturday’s game relaxed knowing he has been given time to settle in at Leipzig.

“He doesn’t need to be nervous when there are one or two defeats,” Leipzig chairman Oliver Mintzlaff said before the season. “We know that it’s a new start and that there’s a certain settling in period as things adjust.”

Bayern counterpart Niko Kovac has had no such luxury, being under constant pressure since he took over the Bavarian powerhouse last year. Kovac had to dampen speculation over his future in the run up to Bayern’s 3-0 win over Leipzig in the German Cup final, and will be expected to do better after winning the league and cup double last season.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who has been openly critical of Kovac at times, says he welcomes the competition that Leipzig has brought to the league.

“We’re always interested in competition for Bayern, because competition provides football with excitement and emotion. Leipzig is definitely one of the clubs that will establish itself at the top of the Bundesliga,” Rummenigge told Kicker magazine on Thursday.

But not just yet, he hopes.

“Our goal is to take over the league-lead with a win,” Rummenigge said.

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