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SL Benfica coach Jorge Jesus is readying his players for "the strongest team we've faced in the competition so far" as they host Olympique de Marseille in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg.
The Portuguese Liga leaders have met FC BATE Borisov, AEK Athens FC, Everton and Hertha BSC Berlin this term, but the prospect of taking on OM is a step up for Jesus. "They've come in from the UEFA Champions League after being in a group with Real Madrid and AC Milan," said the 55-year-old, who has a full squad at his disposal after coming through Sunday's 3-1 win against FC Paços de Ferreira unscathed.
"They performed well even though they failed to qualify. As a team they are very strong." Though Jesus singles out Marseille's former FC Porto playmaker Lucho as one to watch, because of the way "he influences the way his team plays."
Didier Deschamps, meanwhile, has warned his Marseille players to be wary of Benfica's attacking threat. Top scorers in the Liga by some distance, the Eagles have been in free-scoring form at home in the competition this term, registering 17 and conceding only once as they won all five matches at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica. The signs are not great for an OM shutout, with Sunday's 1-1 draw against FC Lorient leaving them with just one clean sheet in nine outings.
"Benfica are a very offensive side with players such as Óscar Cardozo, Javier Saviola, Angel Di María and Ramires," said Deschamps, who played both legs of OM's loss to Benfica in the 1989/90 European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-final. "They're a strong team, who score lots of goals and are a very effective side. Given Benfica's attacking force, it's fundamental that we defend well and avoid conceding goals."
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