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SL Benfica are welcoming the distraction of UEFA Champions League football again and a first knockout round meeting with holders Liverpool FC at the Estádio da Luz after a run of poor domestic results.
The Portuguese title-holders have lost three of their last four Liga matches and coach Ronald Koeman is looking forward to the Liverpool challenge. "It will be good to play in a different competition," said the Dutchman. "We can leave behind the results we have been having. It is a great opportunity to show we have quality against the champions of Europe."
Koeman guided Benfica to a 2-1 win against Manchester United FC on Matchday 6 but expects a sterner challenge from their English rivals. He added: "Beating Liverpool is more complicated than defeating Manchester United. They are much more aggressive in midfield. They have a mixture of Spanish and English qualities and play a 4-4-2 system in which the four defenders and midfielders work a lot so they have eight players trying to keep the ball or win it when they've lost it. Manchester United may have more individual quality but the Liverpool team at the moment is much stronger."
A European champion with FC Barcelona in 1992, Koeman is aware that Liverpool conceded only one goal in the group stage and have not been breached in their last three matches, but sees a glimmer of hope. He said: "I'm not worried about their defensive record but I respect that and that is the way they play. They have defended very well in their last two matches: Arsenal [FC] and Manchester United did not have a clear chance. But I also watched them one day, against Luton [Town FC] in the FA Cup, and they conceded three goals. So tomorrow they might have another bad day."
Koeman must plan without the injured Fabrizio Miccoli and Geovanni and hinted that Laurent Robert, who had a great scoring record against Liverpool during his time in English football, may start. "He is fit to play and he will be very motivated tomorrow and that will be important for us," said the coach. Another player with a point to prove is Portuguese international winger Simão, who almost joined Liverpool last summer. Koeman noted: "He has a reason to demonstrate why they were interested. The team is very motivated but sometimes you need something extra from outside."
Having defeated Arsenal on St Valentine's Day, Liverpool received a further boost at the weekend as they won an FA Cup tie against Manchester United for the first time since 1921. Manager Rafael Benítez said of those 1-0 victories: "We have played two good games and we have a lot of confidence but also a lot of respect. When people talk of confidence, people think of complacency. We have no time for complacency. We have to have respect for the opposition."
Speaking of Benfica's recent travails, the Spaniard went on: "This is a different competition. This is the Champions League. They know how important this is, so it will be a very difficult game for both teams.
With a full stadium, it will easy for them to be motivated." Benítez then praised Benfica, remarking that their centre-backs are both "good in the air" and also singling out Alcides and Petit as key figures, adding that "we cannot think just of Simão". He revealed too that Xabi Alonso was fit to play and suggested that Robbie Fowler, who last appeared in the competition in 2001, could start on the bench.
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