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Martino sees room for Barcelona improvement

FC Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino is striving for an improvement ahead of his UEFA Champions League bow, while Frank de Boer wants AFC Ajax to "stick to our style".

New Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino at his first UEFA Champions League press conference
New Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino at his first UEFA Champions League press conference ©AFP/Getty Images

Nervous excitement prevailed as FC Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino looked forward to his team's opening UEFA Champions League Group H match at home to AFC Ajax.

The 50-year-old, who took over at Camp Nou from Tito Vilanova in July, is eager to make amends for Barcelona's previous foray into European competition when they succumbed to FC Bayern München in the semi-finals. Ajax boss Frank de Boer, meanwhile, is hopeful of a positive showing at the ground where he spent four years as a player.

Barcelona
Gerardo Martino, coach

I am very excited about the chance to coach in the Champions League. 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. On the other hand, despite our mistakes we have won four league games in a row. 

When I took the job, I knew that if we didn't win a title this season it would be a failure. 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.

The style of Ajax and Barcelona is very similar. Both teams place an emphasis on youth with several generations of players coming through the ranks. Ajax are in a permanent state of evolution – they sell their best players every year, and tomorrow they will count on [Siem] de Jong. Bojan [Krkić] is also very good, especially down the wings. He will be looking to get back to his best.

Weekend result
Saturday: Barcelona 3-2 Sevilla FC (Alves 36, Messi 75, Alexis Sánchez 90+3; Rakitić 80, Coke 90)
Valdés; Alba (Adriano 15), Mascherano, Piqué, Alves; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta (Fàbregas 74), Tello (Alexis Sánchez 63), Neymar; Messi.

• Leading 2-0 through Daniel Alves's effort and Lionel Messi's sixth Liga goal of the campaign, Barcelona suffered a scare when Sevilla mounted a comeback inside the last ten minutes. However, substitute Alexis Sánchez's strike deep into stoppage time helped the champions maintain their winning start to the domestic campaign.

Team news
Jordi Alba is expected to be sidelined for three weeks after tearing a hamstring in the early stages on Saturday. Carles Puyol is back in training as he continues to recover from knee operations in March and June. Isaac Cuenca and Ibrahim Afellay are still out.

Ajax
Frank de Boer, coach
It's not nice if everyone thinks Barcelona will win, but I'm sure we can cause problems for them. Barcelona are very offensive and we will have to be at our very best. Lots of teams have tried to beat them but if we stick to our style, I'll be happy.

We will try to stop Neymar and Messi from feeling comfortable. We need our players to be at their best. My players might not have as much experience, but they are talented. These players could reach a very high level but it takes time. We have placed a lot of trust in this squad.

I have watched all Barcelona's matches and they have tremendous quality. Neymar aside, 90% of the players have been at the club for years. Neymar has to adapt to the team and the team to him, but Neymar and Messi always create dangerous situations. He has connected with Messi. It'll be better and better from now on, the whole team works for them. But you never know what will happen with two stars in the team – it won't be easy for them.

I have great memories because I played here for four years. I enjoyed that time very much and it's a second home for me and my family. This is my first official match against Barcelona so that's emotional for me and also a huge challenge to face the best team in the world. I learned true football here. I wanted to prove what I could do. To join Barcelona was a big lesson and I have told some of my players about that.

Ajax and Barcelona have the same philosophy: to attack. There aren't many differences, except for the budget. We're very happy with Johan Cruyff's philosophy at Ajax, and Barcelona also have his influence. His philosophy is still here.

Weekend result
Saturday: Ajax 2-1 PEC Zwolle (Serero 73, Van der Werff 76og; Gravenbeek 89)
Vermeer; Van Rhijn, Moisander, Denswil, Boilesen; Schøne, Duarte (Sigthórsson 70), Serero; Sana, Hoesen (De Jong 63), Fischer (Krkić 63).

• Ajax inflicted early pacesetters Zwolle's first defeat of the season with their first win since 18 August, to move to within two points of the Eredivisie lead. Lerin Duarte made his debut for the club, having played in Heracles Almelo's opening five matches; Siem de Jong returned for the first time since 11 August, having been laid off with a collapsed lung

Team news
De Jong has travelled to Barcelona, although De Boer said: "He's ready to play. I don't know how long for, but for the moment he's ready."

Match fact
• Ajax are on an eight-game losing streak against Spanish opposition, their last success being a 1-0 home victory over RC Celta de Vigo in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League group stage. Ajax coach De Boer was playing – his brother Ronald scored – when the Amsterdam side last won in Spain, a 3-2 extra-time triumph at Club Atlético de Madrid in the 1996/97 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.