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SL Benfica have already beaten Everton twice this season, but as the Portuguese Liga leaders prepare to host Liverpool FC in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final, coach Jorge Jesus insisted their Merseyside rivals are a different proposition.
Benfica beat Everton home and away in the group stage, including a resounding 5-0 victory in Lisbon. Rafael Benítez's side, the Eagles coach believes, will give Benfica a sterner test. "Liverpool FC are a completely different story, they are a better team," he said. "At the beginning of the season they were favourites to win the UEFA Champions League.
In my opinion the two best teams so far in UEFA Europa League will meet each other tomorrow."
Benfica defeated Olympique de Marseille, another team that joined from the UEFA Champions League, in the round of 16 and considers this latest test "like a final, with the best teams involved". For a team undefeated in 25 matches with eight wins from their last nine games, confidence is understandably high.
"We are ready," said Jesus, who is without Javier Saviola for both legs because of a toe injury but otherwise has a full squad at his disposal. "We know we face a great side. We'll do our best to keep them quiet up front, knowing if we manage that, victory will be closer. It will be a passionate tie with goals in both matches because both sides are strong offensively. We will need to be tactically and technically perfect to beat Liverpool."
Benfica are the competition's highest scorers with 21 goals so far and have won five of their six homes games. They represented a daunting prospect for Liverpool even before the news that midfielder Alberto Aquilani had sustained an ankle injury in training on the eve of the match and joined defenders Martin Kelly, Martin Škrtel and Fábio Aurélio on the sidelines.
It has been a difficult season for Liverpool, both domestically and in Europe, but after seeing off LOSC Lille Métropole in the last round manager Benítez believes his side will rise to their latest challenge. "It is important to approach the game with confidence," said.
"Benfica are scoring goals and are top of their league so we know it will be difficult over two legs. But we can go with confidence knowing we can score; it is very important to score away. Benfica played Champions League games in the past against us. They have experience and some good players. We also have experience at this level and it is an important game."
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