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Barcelona “aim to improve” in UEFA Champions League, as Gerardo Martino enters Europe’s elite

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On the eve of his first-ever Champions League game, FC Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino has urged his side to improve their play.

After failing to win the Champions League title for the past two seasons, plenty of Barca fans have earmarked this year as being key to the Catalan giants’ fight back to take Europe by storm.

But it won’t be easy. Martino knows that.

“I am very excited about the chance to coach in the Champions League,” Martino admitted. “I am also a little nervous to be involved in such a prestigious competition. Barcelona have had problems dealing with set pieces and we need to find a solution to that. We want to improve every day, be more solid.”

Yet despite a lack of defensive solidity in the last few Champions League campaigns, Barca have kept their sensational domestic form going this term, as they go into Wednesday’s UCL curtain raiser with Ajax on the back of four-straight La Liga wins. Last season Barca were humbled 7-0 on aggregate by eventual winners Bayern across two semifinal encounters, and in 2011-12 they were beaten by eventual champions Chelsea. So they’ve been close to clinching Europe’s most coveted title.

(MORE: Champions League Preview; Post-hipsterism in Naples, Arsenal’s next challenge highlights Champions League action)

However, Barcelona’s new Argentine boss knows he needs to lift at least one title in his first season in charge. Why not the biggest in world soccer?

“When I took the job, I knew that if we didn’t win a title this season it would be a failure,” Martino said. “I believe we can repeat the glorious moments of recent seasons but matching the standards we have set will be tough. Nobody can deny that Bayern are one of the best teams in the world, so it’s understandable to lose a game like that.”

(MORE: Champions League Group H Preview)

But as Martino said, failure in the Champions League would be deemed a huge step back, once again, for Barcelona. Can they get their Group H campaign off to a flyer at a packed Camp Nou against Ajax on Wednesday night?

Find out how Barcelona get on, and all the other teams in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday, right here on ProSoccerTalk. We will have video highlights, reaction and analysis from all eight games in the UCL.

Conte revels in Chelsea intensity in controlling win at Hull City

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The intensity from Chelsea’s players in their 2-0 victory at Hull City was a sight for Antonio Conte‘s sore eyes.

Actually, that might be understating it.

“I like it when the team plays in this way,” Conte said after the win. “I like it so much.”

[ MORE: Hull City 0-2 Chelsea ]

The Blues controlled the match at the KC Stadium long before Willian and Diego Costa hit bullets past a helpless David Marshall to seal Chelsea’s 11th, 12th, and 13th points of the young Premier League season.

Conte loved the industry from his club in breaking a three-match losing streak.

From the BBC:

“We are working very hard and I am sure we can improve a lot if we continue to work in this way. I am pleased for all the players because in these situations because we have a clean sheet. In previous games we conceded too many goals. To finish with a clean sheet is very important. We also scored two and the performance is good. We must follow this with work, work, work!”

“We can improve and we must improve a lot and continue to work. After these two defeats it’s not easy to work because two defeats for Chelsea are heavy defeats. But this was a good answer.”

Yeah… he’s pretty intense.

Adrian, Bilic praise Messi-like equalizer from “pure magic” Payet

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, left, and Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Middlesbrough at The London Stadium  in London, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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To hear West Ham goalkeeper Adrian describe it, the Irons should start streaming their training sessions so we can see more magic from Dimitri Payet.

West Ham’s talisman rescued a point for his struggling club when he essentially worked six Middlesbrough players and delivered a terrific finish in a 1-1 draw at Olympic Stadium in London.

[ WATCH: Payet’s wondergoal ]

Adrian says they see that a lot.

“Payet is like that in training,” the goalkeeper said. “He scored like a Lionel Messi goal at Barcelona. It is a massive goal to us.”

[ MORE: West Ham 1-1 Middlesbrough ]

The goal truly was massive, as the Irons avoided losing five in-a-row. They are still in the relegation zone, but baby steps.

Here’s WHUFC head coach Slaven Bilic:

“It was an unbelievable goal, it was a pure magic. It was only a shame it wasn’t a winning goal. We needed that moment of class from our best player to lift the whole team up.”

Sunderland: Moyes disappointed with Defoe miss in draw vs Baggies

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: David Moyes, Manager of Sunderland reacts during the Premier League match between Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion at Stadium of Light on October 1, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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One of the few bright spots for Sunderland last season was Jermain Defoe, and he has four goals this season through seven starts.

But the English striker missed a chance that could’ve given the Black Cats a much-needed lead in a match they wound up drawing 1-1 with West Brom at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

[ MORE: Sunderland 1-1 West Brom ]

Sunderland manager David Moyes is frustrated, obviously, with his club gained just two points from their first seven matches.

But pointing in the direction of the man who has four of your six PL goals on the season is a bit… odd, especially when Defoe is being mentioned as a possible England call-up.

From the BBC:

We didn’t get the three points. We didn’t deserve to be 1-0 down. We had a great chance through Jermain Defoe – expected him to score. We’re pleased we got a point out of it.

…”There was bits of play that got us a chance. Jonny Evans made a good block from Jermain Defoe.

“We need Jermain to score more, although he has got us goals.”

Troubling times in the Northeast, where the Black Cats are again off to a downright horrible start to the season. Eventually, one of these is going to break them.

Watford 2-2 Bournemouth: Thriller sees Cherries pegged back

WATFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: Troy Deeney of Watford scores his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Watford and AFC Bournemouth at Vicarage Road on October 1, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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  • Wilson, King twice gave Cherries lead
  • Deeney, Success equalized
  • Wilshere hit post twice, Stanislas hit bar
  • Both teams on eight points

Watford and Bournemouth shared the points at Vicarage Road in a thrilling 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Bournemouth twice took the lead through Callum Wilson and Josh King but Watford equalizes through Troy Deeney and Issac Success. The Cherries went agonizingly close to taking all three points as Jack Wilshere hit the post twice (his second attempt a contender for miss of the season) and Junior Stanislas hit the crossbar.

With the point both teams move to eight points for the season but there’s no doubting Walter Mazzarri will be happier than Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Watford started well with Odion Ighalo going close and Troy Deeney had a shot blocked with the home side looking to get back to winning ways. Bournemouth recovered and went close via Junior Stanislas’ free kick which forced Heurelho Gomes to tip over the bar.

Bournemouth took the lead as Stanislas whipped in a great cross from the right which Wilson nodded home and under Gomes. 1-0 to the Cherries.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Watford went close to equalizing before half time but Artur Boruc saved twice from Nordin Amrabat from close range and then Wilson cut inside and teed up Andrew Surman but he fired over from a great position.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Watford were level within five minutes of the restart as Amrabat dribbled in from the right and teed up Deeney to make it 1-1.

Moments later Bournemouth almost went ahead as Jack Wilshere danced through the Watford defense but his low effort hit the post and came out. At the other end Amrabat again provided a great cross which found Deeney but his header was superbly clawed away by Boruc.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Substitute King then came onto the pitch, beat Amrabat and ran at Watford’s defense before seeing his shot from outside the box deflect in. 2-1 to Bournemouth.

The Cherries’ lead didn’t last for long as a free kick from the left flank found Success at the near post and he flicked home into the far corner. 2-2.

Wilshere missed a glorious chance to put Bournemouth ahead as Smith drilled a great cross in from the right and from six yards out he somehow hit the post. Bournemouth continued to push forward and came agonizingly close to grabbing all three points but Stanislas’ curling free kick bounced off the crossbar and out.