Europa League Preview: Olympique de Marseille - Benfica

Posted Friday, March 19, 2010 by Goal.com

After a close run thing in Lisbon last week, les Phoceens and os Gloriosos meet in Provence to decide which team will progress to the last eight of the Europa League...

Kick Off: Thursday, March 18, 2010. 19:00 CET
Stade Velodrome, Marseille

Seeking A Shut Out

Eliminated from the Champions League by Real Madrid and Milan, Olympique de Marseille appear intent on making the most of their Europa League adventure, though the French club face a very tricky encounter against Portuguese giants Benfica on Thursday evening.

Poised at 1-1, OM have Hatem Ben Arfa to thank for their away goal, which was struck in the dying embers of the game, breathing real life into the challenge of Didier Deschamps’ side. Both teams enjoyed positive moments in the first leg, though it was Benfica who looked the more adept side for significant periods and it is therefore les Phoceens who are more pleased to be playing the second leg starting on level terms.

Deschamps has hinted that the performances of his team need to improve a little of late. Though the Provence outfit have gone unbeaten since a February 10 loss to Racing Club de Lens in the Coupe de France – a run of eight encounters – they have been far from perfect, especially in recent times.

Most worrying is the club’s defensive record. One clean sheet in 16 games is not an impressive return, and though they have only lost more than one goal on one occasion during that run, should they slip early against their Portuguese guests it will leave them walking an extremely uncomfortable tightrope for the remainder of the match.

With a hat-trick of 1-1 draws behind them, Marseille have not been in especially clinical form of late, so the Stade Velodrome club will be looking to make a positive start to Thursday’s encounter to get some much needed momentum in their sails.

Scoring For Fun

Like Marseille, Benfica are a club doing some damage in their domestic league, which has become a two-horse race between themselves and surprise challengers Braga, whom they will tackle ten days after their return from France. Os Gloriosos are therefore bullish over their chances of qualification, drawing heart from an encouraging first leg draw and four successive victories in the Portuguese Liga.

“It was a pity we conceded at the end, but we were able to leave with our heads held high because we'd done a great job,” Javi Garcia told UEFA’s official website, ruing the fact that his side allowed Maxi Pereira’s opening goal to be levelled in the closing stages of the game.

Benfica, however, have travelled well on the continent this season, picking up valuable successes in the group stage against Everton and BATE Borisov. Arguably more importantly, they have found scoring on the road to be almost second nature, with only AEK Athens able to shut the Portuguese league leaders out.

“We'll do exactly the same as we did in those difficult away trips and we'll look to win the match and decide the tie,” Garcia pledged ahead of the trip to France.

The runners-up in Europe’s silver medal competition in 1982-83 seem to have an aura of belief about their play at the present time, with coach Jorge Jesus emanating quiet confidence in the build-up to this encounter.

FORM GUIDE

Marseille

DREW 1-1 (a) Toulouse (Ligue 1, March 14)

DREW 1-1 (a) Benfica (Europa League, March 11)

DREW 1-1 (h) Lorient (Ligue 1, March 7)

WON 3-0 (a) Paris Saint-Germain (Ligue 1, February 28)

WON 3-1 (h) Copenhagen (Europa League, February 25)

Benfica

WON 1-0 (a) Nacional (Liga, March 14)

DREW 1-1 (h) Olympique de Marseille (Europa League, March 11)

WON 3-1 (h) Pacos de Ferreira (Liga, March 7)

WON 4-0 (a) Leixoes    (Liga, February 28)

WON 4-0 (h) Hertha (Europa League, February 23)

TEAM NEWS

Marseille

Gabriel Heinze is the only member of OM’s first team squad expected to miss Thursday’s game because of a physical complaint. The Argentine is hopeful of returning to the squad for the Coupe de la Ligue final at the end of the month.

Sunday’s big match against Olympique Lyonnais could prompt Didier Deschamps to rotate his team somewhat, though Mamadou Niang will be hopeful of starting having been left on the bench last weekend after suffering through illness earlier in the week.

Probable Starting XI: Mandanda; Kabore, Mbia, Diawara, Tiawo; Lucho, Cisse, Cheyrou; Abriel, Niang, Ben Arfa

Benfica

Os Gloriosos should boast their strongest XI on Thursday night. Only Luis Filipe and Mantorras are out because of physical complaints, yet neither is a regular in the squad.

Probable Starting XI: Cesar; Pereira, Luisao, Luiz, Peixoto; Ramires, Garcia, Aimar, Di Maria; Saviola, Cardozo

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Marseille

OM’s talisman this season has undoubtedly been Senegalese ace Mamadou Niang, who has plundered 15 Ligue 1 goals for himself over the course the campaign to date. Approaching the veteran stage of his career, the former Racing Strasbourg forward is well on course to beat his personal best goals tally for the campaign, which stands at 18, and has already enjoyed six seasons of scoring into double figures – a remarkable achievement in Le Championnat.

Benfica

Creative midfielder Pablo Aimar could be vital to the visitors’ chances of progressing in midweek. He will provide the heartbeat of the team’s offence as he chases his second career Europa League title, having won the competition when it was still known as the UEFA Cup in 2003/04. The team he helped Valencia defeat in the final? Marseille.

PREDICTION

Didier Deschamps’ side are marginally in the driving seat for this encounter, though their league commitments may means their focus is lost elsewhere. Sunday’s game against Lyon promises to be a huge affair, and with that in mind, Benfica must believe they can cause an upset. Away victories in Europe are rare, but the Portuguese have the firepower to knock les Phoceens out. Should this game go to penalties, it’s worth noting that visiting forward Oscar Cardozo missed a spot kick last weekend.

Olympique de Marseille 1-2 Benfica



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