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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.

Report says Impact will add 96-times capped Ivorian defender

Monaco's Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov (L) challenges Montpellier's Ivorian defender Siaka Tiene (R) during the French L1 football match between Montpellier and Monaco at the Mosson stadium in Montpellier on September 24, 2014.   AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT        (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference’s second-stingiest team is looking to enhance its already-strong back line.

Joining MLS Best XI defender Laurent Ciman could be Siaka Tiene, a longtime international teammate of Didier Drogba on the Ivory Coast squad.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

The 96-times capped Tiene will be 34 when next season starts, but will have fresh legs having not played since last season ended for Montpellier.

MLSSoccer.com does the translation work for us:

A report from RDS.ca states that the Impact have signed 33-year-old left back Siaka Tiéné, an Ivory Coast international who boasts World Cup and African Cup of Nations experience.

Aside from Ciman, Ambroise Oyongo is the only Impact back currently under contract.

Tiene played relatively well last season, but was limited to just 17 appearances in Ligue 1.

Phil Neville takes over Valencia training; Could he get job?

VALENCIA, SPAIN - AUGUST 19:  Valencia CF assistant coach Phil Neville gestures prior to the UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between Valencia CF and AS Monaco at Mestalla Stadium on August 19, 2015 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
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Phil Neville is one stroke of the pen from opening his full managerial career at a vaunted La Liga stop, with a club in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Nuno Espirito Santo stepped down from his manager’s role at Valencia on Sunday, with the Bats in ninth place, five points outside the Top Four.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup | Bundesliga wrap ]

In his place in former Manchester United and Everton legend Neville, who will take charge of the team in the interim.

As weird as it would be to give the job to a man who has only led Salford City — a club he co-owns — on a caretaker basis, the hire would be no weirder than Tim Sherwood being allowed to run Tottenham Hotspur.

Would it be a surprise, given the time of season, if Neville was at least given through the end of the year?

And consider, from the BBC:

The club’s Singaporean owner, Peter Lim, has a stake in Salford City, the non-league club co-owned by Neville with his former Manchester United team-mates Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.

Valencia needs to beat Lyon in its final UCL Group H game, and hope Gent draws or loses at home to first-place Zenit Saint-Petersburg. Otherwise, it’s on to the Europa League.

Porter’s Timbers just wanted in the playoffs, now they’re 90 mins away from a title

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers looks on from the bench before the match against the FC Dallas at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
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Midway through the season, it was reasonable to question whether Caleb Porter could hang onto his job as Portland Timbers coach. With two games to play in the regular season, the Timbers were on the verge of missing the playoffs entirely, that job status still hung in the balance.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

Yet, this is Major League Soccer, where anything is possible. “Hot at the right time” is a mantra, and Portland hasn’t tasted defeat since early October. The Timbers are 6W-2T since losing to Sporting KC on Oct. 3.

Whether that’s “more exciting” than another league’s system is a conversation for another day, because today’s conversation is about what Porter and the Timbers have done in rising to within 90 minutes of an MLS title.

From Timbers.com:

“When we started the year, we wanted to get into the playoffs and win a trophy,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said in his post game comments outside a champagne and beer-drenched locker room. “That was the goal, and here we are. We’ve won one, and now we want to win the big one. So it’s very satisfying.”

And that’s the thing: You just have to get in. I imagine most Portland fans aren’t thinking, “Does this feel good in relation to how it would feel if we went wire-to-wire as champions?” They are thinking, “This feels good.”

The Timbers just needed to get in. Columbus, too. And now they are playing for a title with some of the better all-around players in the league, running the gamut from veteran savvy (Nat Borchers) to youthful flair (Lucas Melano).

MLS Best XI comes from a wide variety of backgrounds

Toronto FC 's Sebastian Giovinco, center,  tries to take the ball between Columbus Crew's Harrison Afful, left, and Ethan Finlay during the second half of an MLS soccer game in Toronto, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Major League Soccer rolled out its Best XI on Sunday, with few surprises.

Though the lack of fullbacks perhaps rightly cause Taylor Twellman and others to roll their eyes, the MLS’ 3-4-3 formation looks daunting.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

With expected MVP attacker Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto pacing the field, the XI is strong and filled with players from different backgrounds.

From American College Soccer, to Costa Rica, Serie A and the Premier League, there’s no one unifying thread. Heck, Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara mark careers reborn with the win, perhaps shining as bright as ever.

Best XI
Goalkeeper: Luis Robles (RBNY)
Defenders: Laurent Ciman (Montreal); Matt Hedges (Dallas); Kendall Waston (Vancouver)
Midfielders: Ethan Finlay (Columbus); Dax McCarty (RBNY); Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC); Fabian Castillo (Dallas)
Forwards: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto); Kei Kamara (Columbus); Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy)

It’s hard to call out snubs on a team this loaded, but David Ousted from Vancouver certainly deserves a shout, and Darlington Nagbe is probably the most aggrieved omission. But who comes out for the recently-made USMNT star?