Leverkusen - Bayer 04 Leverkusen are aiming for a return to winning ways as Portuguese giants SL Benfica grace the BayArena for the first knockout round of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday evening (kick-off 19:00 CET).

Die Werkself were unbeaten on their own patch in all competitions before their loss to Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 20, but will be keen to preserve their record in Europe and take a positive stride towards the Round of 16.

"Tough challenge"

"It will be important to get a result in the home game to give us a cushion when we go to Benfica," explained Spanish right-back Daniel Carvajal. "They're a very, very good team and they will make life really difficult for us. It will definitely be a tough challenge for us to beat them."

Sporting director Rudi Völler echoed the youngster's sentiments, describing the first leg as a "difficult boulder to climb over" and one that only an "in-form team" can hope to win. Indeed, with Benfica striker Oscar Cardozo in prolific form - the Paraguayan boasts 21 goals in 26 appearances in all competitions this season - Carvajal and his defensive colleagues are going to need to be on red alert throughout.

Even game expected

Nonetheless, the Bundesliga high-flyers have little reason to fear their midweek opponents, according to Völler. "It will be a really tough challenge, but we're in with a chance if we can play at the top of our game. I'm expecting an evenly-matched encounter."