Featured post

United Corner- Manchester United, New Season, Increased Expectations (August 11th)

United Corner- Manchester United, New Season, Increased Expectations (August 11th 2017) If you were going to grade the 2016/17 season...

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (August 22-24)

We are into the final week of domestic football around the European Leagues with the next set of World Cup Qualifiers beginning at the end of the month.

Some teams will be desperate to put a win or two on the board to build some momentum, while others want to put an exclamation mark at the end of fixtures for the month.

This week we have the Second Round of the English League Cup being played as well as the Second Legs of the Champions League and Europa League Play Off Rounds. That means the excitement should be building for the Group Stage draw for the two competitions as the top teams begin to plan out the next three months of playing domestic and European football side by side.

As a Manchester United fan of course the excitement is being back in the Champions League with the team secured in the second pot for the draw. That means there is a chance of landing one of the big Champions from the top European Leagues, but importantly United will get a chance to avoid the likes of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain who all join the team in the second pot.

It could have been a really tough draw if United had slipped into the third pot, but that fate has been left to Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, if they complete their win over Hoffenheim.

I am looking forward to that on Thursday night, but before we get to the Champions League draw there are plenty of football matches to get through this week.

The weekend proved to be a really difficult one for the football picks but early in the season that can happen. There are still a couple of big weeks to go this week which can turn things around and hopefully that will begin this week with the Champions League, Europa League and League Cup Second Round matches to be played.

Astana v Celtic Pick: As an actual competitive tie, you would have to think Celtic’s 5-0 home win over Astana has given them more than one foot into the Group Stage of the Champions League this season. There is still the Second Leg to be played, but Celtic simply haven’t been beaten by this kind of margin too often in their history and Astana are not Barcelona (who did beat Celtic 7-0 at the Nou Camp last season).

Pride is about all that is at stake for Astana who are unbeaten in 19 home games in all competitions and in their last 14 home European ties as they get set to enter the Europa League Group Stage. They will want to show they are better than the performance at Celtic Park six days ago, but the chance of turning this tie in their favour looks long gone.

Despite the defensive injuries that Celtic have been dealing with, Brendan Rodgers has shown he can put together a solid enough team to make life difficult for Astana. There is almost no need for Celtic to come out of a tough defensive shell in this one and try and hit Astana on the counter attack, and that may make for a tight Second Leg.

I do think Rodgers will make changes to his starting eleven to keep players fresh even at this early stage of a new season. His approach away from home in the Champions League over the last thirteen months has been good enough to help Celtic make it into the Group Stage two years in a row and it would be a surprise if he changes that.

Since Rodgers has come in, Celtic have suffered narrow defeats at Lincoln Red Imps and Hapoel Be’er Sheva, drawn 1-1 at Astana, Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City, and then beaten Linfield and Rosenborg without conceding.

Goals have been in short supply in those games for both Celtic and the opposition with the game at Barcelona the exception to the rule. Only once in the 7 games mentioned above have Celtic conceded more than a single goal away from home, while they haven’t been as free-scoring as they are in Scotland with only one of those games seeing Celtic score more than once.

With the tie in the position it is, I don’t think Celtic will take too many risks and Rodgers will look to make his side tough to beat and hit Astana on the counter. Of course there is a chance Astana leave gaps late in the game that can be exploited, but they have shown they have been tough to beat at home in European competition.

Goals have been at a premium in Celtic away European games under Rodgers, while 5 of the last 7 Astana home European games have seen more than two goals shared out. The layers may have overestimated this Second Leg following the trend of the first and I will look for fewer than three goals shared out in the Kazakhstan capital at a decent price.

Nice v Napoli Pick: Go back a few years and backing an Italian side away from home in a European game they didn’t need to win would have been a foolish decision. However I think the Italian mindset is much more positive these days and no team underlines that point more than Napoli who are fantastic to watch going forward.

In all honesty Nice may just be glad to get back home only 2-0 down in this tie having been outplayed for long periods last week in Naples. Poor finishing cost Napoli a bigger lead, but they will be all the better having had two games under their belt before the Second Leg on Tuesday.

The winning momentum has continued for Napoli who have won both games played this season to make it 7 in a row in all competitions going back to the end of the 2016/17 campaign. That is a huge positive for Napoli who have the pace and precision in the final third to punish their hosts once Nice get into a position where they have to chase the game.

All respect has to be given to Nice having finished behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain last season, but they have not opened this season in good form. Snapping an 8 game run without a win with a 2-0 win over Guingamp here this weekend will help the players, but Napoli are far better than Guingamp and very dangerous in the final third.

I will admit I thought Napoli may be priced up at odds against here, but Nice’s form has contributed to the price. Chasing the deficit is likely to occur at some point and Napoli have won 5 of their last 8 away European ties to show they do have what it takes to win on the road.

The exceptions have been losses in Villarreal and Real Madrid and a draw in Besiktas in that time, but all three of those sides would be considered superior to this Nice one. Wins in Dynamo Kiev and Benfica in the Champions League Group Stage last season shows what Napoli can do and I am going to look for them to punish Nice on the counter attack and help themselves to a third consecutive win to open the new campaign.

Sevilla v Istanbul Basaksehir Pick: When this tie was drawn in the Champions League Play Off Round, it felt that the First Leg in Turkey was going to be the key for Istanbul Basaksehir if they wanted to stun Sevilla and make it through to the Champions League Group Stage. The 1-2 home loss in a rainstorm has put the Turkish club in an incredibly difficult position even if Sevilla don’t look as strong as last season.

The experiences Sevilla have had helped in dealing with the conditions last week and being at home should give them a clear advantage. The onus is on Istanbul Basaksehir to search for at least two goals to give themselves a chance and that should play into the hands of the hosts.

Key players and Jorge Sampaoli have departed Sevilla this summer and the 1-1 home draw with Espanyol perhaps underlines what is expected to be a tougher season than they have experienced for some time. However they showed they still have enough quality in the final third to hurt Istanbul Basaksehir who come into this one having conceded three goals in both away games played this season.

At some point Istanbul Basaksehir have to take a risk and I think that is when Sevilla will begin to pick them off and create chances to win the Second Leg. Istanbul Basaksehir showed enough last week to think they could be a threat if Sevilla are a little complacent, but I think Sevilla have enough experience in recent years to know how to handle the lead they have.

Sevilla have won 4 of their last 5 home European ties and I think they may be able to pick Istanbul Basaksehir off the longer the game goes on. That should give them every chance to cover the Asian Handicap on their way to the Champions League Group Stage draw on Thursday.

CSKA Moscow v Young Boys Pick: Since reaching the Last 16 of the 2011/12 Champions League competition, CSKA Moscow will be looking for a fifth consecutive Group Stage appearance. The last four have proven too difficult for CSKA Moscow who have finished 4th in their Group each time, but they have made it through the Qualifiers before and look set to do that again this season.

A 0-1 win in Switzerland puts CSKA Moscow in a commanding position in this Play Off Round tie and they get set to host Young Boys on Wednesday. Recent home games in the Champions League have not been the best for CSKA Moscow, but the majority of those have been played against teams considerably stronger than the opposition they will be facing in the Second Leg.

Young Boys have plenty of experience in their third straight year in the Champions League Qualifiers and aggregate wins over Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev deserve the respect they should get. However in both ties Young Boys overturned First Leg away deficits to get past the Ukrainian teams and things are different having lost the home Leg of this tie.

This is simply not a team who has travelled well in Europe with Young Boys losing 7 of their last 9 away European ties. That includes heavy losses in their last 5 away Champions League ties where they have conceded at least twice in each.

In this one Young Boys don’t have to rush to look for the away goal they gave up last week, but I do think at some stage they will have to commit men forward. That is because I believe CSKA Moscow will have the majority of the play considering they have been better at home.

CSKA Moscow did have to ride out the storm in Switzerland and perhaps are fortunate to be in front, but now they are there I do think they complete the aggregate win on Wednesday. There could be chances to win the game late on as Young Boys are perhaps pushed into a position to chase the game and I will look for CSKA Moscow to secure a second straight Qualifier win by being victorious in both Legs.

Liverpool v Hoffenheim Pick: A 1-2 away win in a European knock out tie is a very positive result and one that will give the returning home team every belief they have one foot in the next Round. However Liverpool will know it could have been all so different in Hoffenheim last week and Jurgen Klopp will have to ensure there is no complacency in the squad.

Hoffenheim missed an early penalty and then had the bulk of the first half chances but could not show the composure in front of goal they needed. Liverpool were much more clinical and they will appreciate their position as Hoffenheim can’t really afford to dig in at Anfield for the same length of time Crystal Palace were able to on Saturday.

At some point Hoffenheim have to find at least two goals to give themselves a chance, but there has to be a concern with the high line played last week. A similar line may give the likes of Mohammad Salah, Sadio Mane, Robert Firmino and possibly Daniel Sturridge plenty of room in which to operate and create chances.

Once Liverpool got in front last week they did look dangerous when going forward and I think that will be a real problem for Hoffenheim in the Second Leg. With the positive approach, Liverpool can play with the pace in the final third to expose their visitors and I do think the English club are going to be too strong.

It was the home form that helped Hoffenheim reach the Champions League Qualifiers with their 4th placed finish in the Bundesliga, so losing 1-2 at home is a huge blow for their chances. As much as you can point out Hoffenheim having the 3rd best away record in Germany last season, you can’t ignore they won just 5 of 17 away games.

Only 1 of those came against a team that finished in the top 7 in the Bundesliga and 2 of their 4 away League defeats came against teams that finished above them.

Liverpool may be missing Philippe Coutinho, but they have tended to play well against the top clubs. Last season they beat Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Arsenal and Everton here with both Chelsea and Manchester United escaping with draws. That shows how tough it will be for Hoffenheim who I believe missed their only real chance in the tie in the First Leg last week.

As Hoffenheim get a little desperate, Liverpool’s pace in the final third can exploit spaces as they began to last week in the First Leg. I think that leads to an impressive Liverpool win on the evening and gives them momentum to take into the big Premier League game against Arsenal on Sunday.

Accrington Stanley v West Brom Pick: Anyone who invests too much of their bank on the League Cup early Rounds has to question themselves with the uncertainty surrounding team selection throughout the Leagues a minefield to negotiate.

However I do think a small interest is warranted on an in-form Accrington Stanley side with the start on the Asian Handicap against the hot starting Baggies from the Premier League. The back to back wins for West Brom seems to have heavily influenced the price here as they look plenty short to win considering Tony Pulis’ previous lack of success in the Cup competitions.

He did reach the FA Cup Final with Stoke City in 2011, but generally Pulis’ aim is to make sure his players are ready to compete in the Premier League and get to the 40 point mark. The League Cup is a distraction early in the season for the manager and last season Northampton Town from League One beat West Brom in this Round.

Accrington Stanley also put pay to Burnley this time last season and have beaten 3 teams from higher Divisions at home in the League Cup over the last twelve months. That includes a win over Preston North End in the First Round and I think the home side can make life difficult for West Brom.

I might be being a little disrespectful to the Pulis League Cup record at his last three clubs, but I have no doubt the fixture against Stoke City on Sunday is taking priority. With Accrington Stanley scoring goals for fun at home, I will look for the League Two club to keep this competitive but restrict stakes to a minimum unit.

Brighton v Barnet Pick: There looks to be little doubt that Chris Hughton will be making wholesale changes to his Brighton team with the Premier League taking priority over any potential League Cup run. However that doesn't mean Hughton is going to be willing to throw away this competition, while the fringe players who get an opportunity have to take this chance to show they are good enough to be considered for Premier League starts.

Brighton are in a position where they will be keen to put a first win on the board in the 2017/18 season and try to use that to build some momentum. Lose this and then the tough game at Watford will be one that Brighton wouldn't be able to afford to lose and head into the international break with a poor August behind them.

On the other hand Brighton have to think a win here may give them squad a confidence boost before the trip to Vicarage Road.

Playing lower League opposition at home will give Brighton every chance to put their first win on the board even if the wide changes are made to the starting eleven. Barnet have made a decent start to the season which will give them belief, but they are a League Two club who struggled in 2017 before this month.

This is a team that has lost plenty of games away from home in recent months and I think Barnet may struggle to just cope with a squad of players that is at the very least a strong Championship one. If they were home perhaps Barnet could have sprung a surprise, but being at the Amex Stadium I would expect Brighton to win this one by a couple of goals on the night.

With the changes expected in the home team, I would again keep stakes to a minimum though.

Leeds United v Newport County Pick: A chance to have a really good Cup run is not really what the Leeds United board will be interested in if it affects the way the side perform in the Championship. In previous years that would not be the case, but more and more we have seen the clubs outside the ‘elite’ of English Football decide to rotate squads for these early League Cup Rounds.

That should be the case for both Leeds United and Newport County in this Second Round tie, although the former will make more of those changes than the latter.

It may make Leeds United vulnerable to a surprise defeat, but the squad showed their depth in dismissing Port Vale in the First Round. With an unbeaten run to protect, Thomas Christiansen will be picking a team he believes is capable of winning this match and I think Leeds United may be able to do that.

All credit has to be given to Mike Flynn for engineering an incredible escape from relegation for Newport County at the end of last season. The confidence he has given the players has been evident this month and Newport County did stun Southend United in the First Round.

However this is a much different challenge for Newport County and the additional quality Leeds United have should eventually prevail. I expect Newport County to have their moments, but Leeds United may be able to take control in the second half as they did against Port Vale, and that could see them win this and cover the Asian Handicap.

I would keep stakes to a minimum simply because of the up and down nature of the League Cup, but Leeds United to win by a couple of goals on the night is my selection.

Cheltenham Town v West Ham United Pick: The television cameras will arrive at the LCI Rail Stadium on Wednesday in the hope that they may capture a real 'giant-killing' in the Second Round of the League Cup. The consecutive losses suffered by West Ham United in the Premier League may make them vulnerable, although Cheltenham Town are hardly in the best of form themselves.

However Cheltenham Town had won 4 in a row at home before the loss to Swansea City Under 21 last week and the side will be hoping to expose the unfamiliarity the likely West Ham United starting eleven will have with one another.

Making wholesale changes can be tough, but West Ham United have a deeper squad this season and a strong enough team should still take the field. Slaven Bilic will have read his name being linked with the sack at the London Stadium and he won't want to increase the pressure on himself by being knocked out of the League Cup by a League Two club.

Playing away from home can be difficult, but West Ham United have been one of the better away teams in the Premier League despite the losses suffered so far in August. Against a lower League team West Ham United should be able to produce the first win of the new season and ease some of the pressure on Bilic.

Cheltenham Town will cause problems for the Premier League club, but I think eventually West Ham United will have too much and I will have a small interest in them winning and covering the Asian Handicap.

Huddersfield Town v Rotherham United Pick: Four months ago Rotherham United and Huddersfield Town were playing in the same Division, but one was promoted and one relegated at the end of the 2016/17 season.

It is the promoted team, Huddersfield Town, who will get to host this Second Round League Cup tie and David Wagner has made it clear that he would like to have a Cup run or two this season. While I expect changes to the starting eleven, Wagner should have a decent team out on the field and one who should be confident of getting past Rotherham United.

The Millers have been really poor away from home at the beginning of this season to continue from where they left off last season. While Rotherham United can play with a little less pressure away at a Premier League club, I think the difference in quality will be telling and Huddersfield Town can make it three wins in a row.

The changes expected to David Wagner's starting line up is an obvious concern, so keep stakes to a minimum. However I do think Huddersfield Town can cover the Asian Handicap in their move through to the Third Round.

MY PICKS: Astana-Celtic Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Napoli @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sevilla - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet Victor (2 Units)
CSKA Moscow @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Liverpool - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Accrington Stanley + 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Brighton - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Leeds United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet365 (1 Unit)
West Ham United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Huddersfield Town - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet365 (1 Unit)

August Update: 17-22, - 8.64 Units (64 Units Staked, - 13.5% Yield)

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Boxing Picks 2017- Terence Crawford vs Julius Indongo (August 19th)

There is a mega-event on the horizon, but don't mistake the Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor fight as the 'best' one remaining in boxing over the remainder of 2017. In fact I would argue the more competitive fight on the night will be Nathan Cleverly facing Badou Jack for a portion of the World Light-Heavyweight Title on the same night.

If you're a real fan of boxing, this weekend the chance to see all the belts on the line at the Super-Lightweight level has to be one to savour. This should be a really good fight and then we will only have a couple of weeks to wait until the start of the World Boxing Super Series and Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golovkin in early September which are some 'real' fights.

I will be watching next weekend as it is an event that shouldn't be missed, but this week is a genuine boxing fight compared to the hype that is generated over a fight the casual fans have been drawn into.

Terence Crawford vs Julius Indongo
The first thing anyone should do is admit when they have been wrong.

And I was certainly wrong when considering how Julius Indongo would do on his visit to Glasgow to take on Ricky Burns.

The little known Namibian was a dominant winner over Burns and that means he has picked up two Super-Lightweight belts in two dominant road wins. Now he goes for the hat-trick against arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world as he visits Nebraska to take on Terence Crawford.

The American also has a win over Ricky Burns having visited Great Britain to relieve the Scot of his Lightweight Title and his dominant win over Viktor Postol since then was impressive.

This is a different kind of test for Crawford though as Indongo is someone who has shown solid boxing skills and there isn't enough known about him to mean the home favourite is able to have the perfect game plan from the off.

However I do think Crawford is intelligent enough to find a way to change things in his favour during the course of this one. He will be able to show why he is in the top five of most pound for pound lists, but I don't think Indongo is going to go away in this one having shown a good gas tank in a dominant win over Burns.

That win is against a boxer who is a step behind Crawford though and I expect the American will find a way to start putting the Rounds on the board. It should be competitive enough to see Indongo hear the final bell, but it will be tough to get the Decision against a boxer as good as Crawford and I will be looking for the home fighter to win this with a Unanimous Decision.

Backing Crawford to win any Decision can be found at odds against and I will back that to be the outcome of this one.

MY PICK: Terence Crawford by Decision/Technical Decision @ 2.38 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Friday, 18 August 2017

Weekend Football Picks 2017 (August 19-21)

The second week of the new Premier League season begins on Saturday lunchtime and will be played through to Monday night.

This week is a big one with the Champions League and Europa League Group Stage draws being made on Thursday and Friday respectively and then we get into the final round of domestic League matches before the two international break as the World Cup Qualifiers reach the business end throughout the world.

I hate that international break so soon into the new season, and teams could be trying to gel new faces that have been signed before the transfer window closed. After the long wait for football it feels like we should be allowed to really get our teeth into the new season before having another break, but it does mean the matches will be coming thick and fast in September.

This weekend also sees the beginning of domestic football in the other major European Leagues with Germany, Italy and Spain all getting underway.

It should mean a fun weekend with some top matches to come as we get to see all the top teams in action.

Before we get onto the picks, I will mention the short piece written about Manchester United before the season started. You can read that here and the weekend picks follow below.

Swansea City v Manchester United PickYou don't want to read too much into the opening weekend of a new Premier League season when results can be a little funny as some teams will naturally be further along with their preparation than others. However Swansea City are going to need to be a lot better than they were last weekend if they are going to contain this Manchester United side.

The goalless draw at Southampton may be seen in a positive for the simple fact that Paul Clement's men earned a point from the game. However Southampton had enough chances to win two games of football and only a lack of composure in front of goal prevented them doing that.

Not many will accuse Manchester United of a lack of composure after ripping apart West Ham United at Old Trafford last Sunday. No one will be patting themselves on the back though and Jose Mourinho will know there is room for improvement which I expect Manchester United to make the more the team gels together in the months ahead.

The goals scored by Romelu Lukaku will give him plenty of confidence though and the likes of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba adding goals will be encouraging to Manchester United too. The attacking players at the Liberty Stadium should be encouraged if Swansea City defend as poorly as they did at times at Southampton and I do worry for the home team unless they can make some significant transfer moves before the summer transfer window closes.

Swansea City lost Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton this week and Fernando Llorente is expected to miss out which takes away big attacking options for the home team. They didn't threaten Southampton enough and Manchester United have a strong defensive shape which should lay the foundation for success here.

The home team were beaten by 5 of the top 6 here last season and 4 of those losses have come by at least a couple of goals. 8 of Manchester United's 10 away Premier League wins came by that margin too and I will look for Jose Mourinho's men to make it two wins out of two on Saturday and in impressive fashion too.

Leicester City v Brighton Pick: The last two years have given Leicester City the kind of rollercoaster ride their fans could never have imagined. In fact no one in football would have picked Leicester City as Premier League Champions and then following that up with a run to the Champions League Quarter Final, the best any English club did in the Champions League last season.

Expectations are in a funny place going into the season but most would probably be looking for a top half finish and perhaps a strong run in one of the domestic Cup competitions. Leicester City will also hope to maintain the strong home form of the last couple of seasons which have seen them win 22 of 38 Premier League games here.

Last season Leicester City beat all but one of the teams that finished in the bottom half at the King Power Stadium and they will be confident they can get off the mark for the new season here. Of those 8 wins against teams in the bottom half, Leicester City were able to win 6 of them by at least a couple of goals as their home form proved critical to avoid any relegation concerns.

The Foxes will be hoping to continue the dominance of teams in the bottom half at home when they face Brighton this weekend as the newly promoted side are expected to be fighting to avoid relegation for much of the coming season. Brighton were given a lesson by Manchester City last weekend as to how tough life can be in the Premier League and now they have to head to Leicester City which has proved to be one of the stronger home teams in the Division over the last couple of years.

The layers seem to have recognised that with the price on offer for a Leicester City win, but I will look to back them on the Asian Handicap. A one goal win will offer a profit, but a win by a wider margin could provide solid profits and Leicester City showed last season they can beat the 'lesser' teams in the Premier League at home by comfortable margins.

The goals scored last week will give Leicester City more belief although they will feel they can handle Brighton's attack much better than they did against Arsenal. I will look for The Foxes to come through with a relatively comfortable win on the day and perhaps send Chris Hughton and Brighton searching for further squad members ahead of the transfer window closing.

Liverpool v Crystal Palace Pick: A big week is coming up for Liverpool with three games in a row at Anfield which can see them make a really positive start to the new Premier League season as well as earn them a place in the Champions League Group Stage. Jurgen Klopp would love to have complete focus on that, but the Philippe Coutinho situation looks likely to continue to dominate his press conferences despite the obvious irritation the German has towards that line of questioning.

At least Liverpool are coming into the weekend off a really positive win in Hoffenheim during the week to erase the memory of the 3-3 draw with Watford which saw Liverpool concede a late equaliser. The attacking performances in both fixtures will give the fans plenty to be excited about, but defensively Liverpool still look way short of the standards you would expect.

Set pieces have been a real bugbear for Klopp's Liverpool to deal with and Crystal Palace do have the size and quality to expose that vulnerable underbelly of the Liverpool defence. However Frank de Boer's new system is going to take some time for the players to be comfortable in and they showed that in their heavy loss to Huddersfield Town last weekend.

David Wagner is from the same school of thought as his 'best man' Klopp and I expect Liverpool to press from the front and look to exploit mistakes in the Crystal Palace passing game as Huddersfield Town did. With the added quality Liverpool have in the final third, I think there is every chance Liverpool can punish The Eagles as effectively as Huddersfield Town did and it could be a long day in the office for the visitors.

Losing Wilfried Zaha takes away a real counter attacking threat from Crystal Palace and I would be really surprised if they could make it four Premier League wins in a row at Anfield. Christian Benteke hurt his former club last season with two goals here, but he will need better all around service than last week and I think Liverpool will be too good on the day.

Even without Coutinho Liverpool have shown they can create chances and score goals and I expect them to do that here at Anfield. The home side can get this week off to a perfect start as Liverpool expose a Crystal Palace still getting settled into Frank de Boer's system and I will look for them to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.

Southampton v West Ham United Pick: There is plenty of room for improvement for both Southampton and West Ham United after their opening weekend performances in the Premier League. It will be Mauricio Pellegrino who is feeling better than Slaven Bilic going into the week, but there definitely feels like there was more expectation at West Ham United than Southampton.

Having to reverse fixtures due to the athletics at the London Stadium is not ideal for West Ham United even if they have been one of the better away sides in the Premier League over the last two seasons. After the thumping at Manchester United, Bilic may have wanted to get back home in front of their own supporters, but this is out of his hands now.

West Ham United do have a solid enough recent record at St Mary’s and you have to expect an all around better defensive performance than the one produced last Sunday. They will need that as I can’t see Southampton lacking as much composure in the final third as they did in their goalless draw with Swansea City.

It may have been a pretty easy day in the office for Southampton if their strikers had not left their shooting boots on a beach somewhere over the summer. In fact it has been longer than that as Southampton have now failed to score in 6 consecutive home Premier League games which makes it very hard to trust them here.

The odds on quote looks to be all about how the teams have been perceived to have performed last weekend with Southampton a little unfortunate and West Ham United outplayed. However the early weeks of a new season can see performances fluctuate wildly and these teams are perhaps more evenly matched than the layers think.

Southampton as an odds on favourite shouldn’t appeal with the struggles in front of goal, although they created enough chances to be respected. Defensively they have looked sound for the most part and a West Ham United side without Manuel Lanzini may not have the guile to break The Saints down, even without Virgil Van Dijk to call upon.

It feels like this is going to be a close match between these teams and one goal may be enough to decide with the current shyness in front of goal. Picking a winner doesn’t look straight forward but backing two or fewer goals to be shared out looks the call.

Before last season, 5 consecutive games between Southampton and West Ham United on the south coast ended with two or fewer goals and I will look for that trend to get going again on Saturday.

Stoke City v Arsenal Pick: You could almost hear the rustling of paper and cardboard being put away frantically when Arsenal took the lead against Leicester City late in the game last weekend. A vocal minority may have been ready to blast Arsene Wenger and the team when trailing 2-3, but there are more positives which come after a 4-3 opening weekend win.

That hasn’t stopped the layers putting the Arsenal price on the drift this weekend with the poor defending looking like it may play into the Stoke City hands. Set pieces proved to be a real achilles heel for the Arsenal defence last week and that is one area where you would think Stoke City will be able to cause plenty of panic.

Per Mertesacker’s likely availability will help Arsenal, but they have to defend better as a unit if they are going to avoid a defeat here. However if they can get the defending right from set pieces, visiting Stoke City isn’t as daunting as it once was and Arsenal could win here.

They did that very effectively at the end of last season with a 1-4 win here and Arsenal will feel they have the attacking threats to hurt Stoke City even without Alexis Sanchez. Last week they scored four goals from four different sources and Stoke City were massively outplayed by Everton while looking short of confidence.

Mark Hughes is likely to be active in the transfer window over the next couple of weeks, but this current Stoke City squad look short. The change in style means it has become easier to play here for the big clubs and Hughes has to be concerned that Stoke City didn’t beat any team at home that finished above them in the Premier League table.

In fact Stoke City had just 1 win overall against a team that finished higher in the League table and were beaten by the top 5 here at the Bet365 Stadium. They have usually caused plenty of problems for Arsenal but a weaker looking squad that may be short of confidence and only three months ago took a beating from The Gunners is perhaps ripe for the taking.

There is every chance this price drifts a little more to become even more attractive, but I will lock in Arsenal now and back them to win for a second season in a row at a venue they haven’t enjoyed too much.

Huddersfield Town v Newcastle United Pick: A lot of teams will struggle to beat Tottenham Hotspur this season, but Newcastle United fans have to be worried about the standard of the current squad at the club. After earning promotion last season, there was a hope that huge investment would be made but both Rafa Benitez and the fans have been disappointed.

Moves may be made before the end of the transfer window, but this current squad looks short of the standard required in the Premier League. It was the main reason I picked Newcastle United to be one of the sides relegated from the Premier League this season and there has to be a concern that confidence has been knocked ahead of this second game of the season.

The match with Huddersfield Town may be more to Newcastle United's liking when you think how well they played against Championship opposition for much of last season. They won here in the second half of the season which was a part of their best away record in the Division and Newcastle United will feel they can create chances against a Huddersfield Town that will push forward to score the goals to win games.

However Newcastle United have to remember Huddersfield Town had the energy to beat them at St James' Park twelve months ago and the high press worked wonders that day. David Wagner's tactics created errors in the Crystal Palace game which helped Huddersfield Town win comfortably and they will feel they can expose the injuries in the Newcastle United defence.

Jonjo Shelvey's ridiculously selfish sending off has shorn Newcastle United of some of their better quality players and you can see why the home team are favoured. However Newcastle United played well away from home against the top teams which included winning in Brighton and here and they showed they can create chances in those games.

I do expect a more positive approach from Newcastle United than the one they had last Sunday and I expect the players to be more comfortable against the level they face this week. I also think Huddersfield Town will be very positive in the tactics that David Wagner will send his team out with and this could make this a more exciting game than the layers are anticipating.

Both League games between the two teams featured at least three goals last season and I will look for a positive approach from both teams to see that outcome reached at a big price this weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea Pick: When the fixture list came out in June this was obviously the biggest game in the Premier League in the second week of the new season. Unsurprisingly it was quickly snapped up for television coverage, although Chelsea do come in with more problems than most would envision for the defending Champions.

Injury and suspension have shorn Chelsea of some of their key players, while Diego Costa has been ostracised and decided he won’t even return to the training ground. Selling off players like Nemanja Matic have upset Antonio Conte who has been desperate in calling for reinforcements before the transfer window closes.

All in all this has made Chelsea look vulnerable and the 2-3 home defeat to Burnley would have been another shock to the system.

The question is are Chelsea on the brink of imploding as they did in Jose Mourinho’s final season two years ago, or can Conte right the ship?

I think the latter will eventually occur once some of these early season injuries and suspensions clear up, and I do expect Chelsea to be active in the transfer market in the next two weeks. However this fixture may come a little too soon for The Blues and I am expecting Tottenham Hotspur to take advantage.

Tottenham Hotspur were not at their fluid best at Newcastle United last weekend until Jonjo Shelvey saw the red mist descend, but you can’t worry too much about performances in the early stages of a season. They have the more settled starting line up who will be familiar with the jobs expected of them and I think that makes more of a difference than anything else this weekend.

Obviously playing at Wembley Stadium rather than White Hart Lane changes some of the dynamics of the fixture, but this may be the best way for the players to believe in their new ‘home’ by winning their opening League fixture here.

I don’t want to read too much into Chelsea’s loss to Burnley when everything seemed to conspire against them. However losing Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas to suspension is a big blow for Antonio Conte and I think some unfamiliarity with the new partnerships at the heart of the defence and midfield goes against them.

I do think Chelsea have a reaction, but Tottenham Hotspur look the more settled squad and I will look for them to win this fixture at odds against.

Manchester City v Everton Pick: Last weekend we opened the Premier League season with the first Friday Night Football of the season and this weekend we have the first Monday Night Football. It looks a good game on paper and one that will perhaps show what we are going to come to expect from Manchester City and a new look Everton team during the course of the season.

There has been a lot of talk about the improvement Everton have made, but I will be honest and say I would be surprised if they finished in the top six. It would need one of those clubs to really have a poor season, like Chelsea did two years ago, for that to happen and I don’t believe this Everton starting eleven is better than the one they had back in May.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is a good purchase, but I struggle to see him getting into the first eleven of any of the teams that finished above Everton last season.

With that in mind I think Everton may have to settle for a decent Cup run or two and another 7th placed finish in the Premier League. I think that could be highlighted here against a Manchester City team who look strong and with options for Pep Guardiola which is going to make it tough to contain them for the full ninety minutes.

Manchester City won’t have a cakewalk to the Premier League title, because no team really achieves that, but I think they will be much improved from last season if everyone remains fit and healthy.

The big failure for Manchester City last season was the fact they beat only 1 of the top 8 clubs at the Etihad Stadium. However the performances in those games does bode well for them and a little better composure in front of goal and things would have looked a lot brighter for them. Keeping Vincent Kompany fit is huge for them but I do expect better from Manchester City in the big games this time around.

Everton were beaten at 6 of the top 9 clubs last season and half of those losses came by at least two goals. They are an organised team under Koeman which can make Everton tough to beat, but I am expecting the Manchester City pressure to pay off in this one and the home team can wear down their visitors.

I am expecting Manchester City to massively improve the home scoring this time around and I will look for them to beat Everton by a couple of goals in this one.

Bristol City v Millwall Pick: The Championship is already proving how highly competitive it is going to be this season and I have struggled to find any picks I am confident about from the fourth round of fixtures this weekend.

At this stage a watching brief can be the best way forward as teams continue to find new faces to bring in with the transfer window still a couple of weeks away.

The one pick that did stand out comes from Ashton Gate where Bristol City will host Millwall in what feels like could be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. Both Lee Johnson and Neil Harris like to see their teams go forward in search of goals and so far both Bristol City and Millwall have responded.

However neither has looked completely sure of themselves at the back and that should mean chances are created throughout this match. Millwall’s lack of composure against Nottingham Forest in their one away game this season is a concern with some gilt-edged chances missed in that one, but they have since scored 6 goals in 3 home games.

Bristol City have managed at least two goals in 3 of their 4 games this season, but have also only kept a single clean sheet.

With both teams likely circling this kind of fixture as one they ‘can win’, I will look for an exciting, attacking game to develop and at least three goals shared out between them.

Girona v Atletico Madrid Pick: The opening games in every League around Europe can be difficult for every club with the fitness issues meaning the differences in quality between clubs might not always show up.

We do get surprise results and you have to be wary of those, but I do think Atletico Madrid will be too good for the new boys Girona especially having kept Diego Simeone and Antoine Griezmann around.

The transfer ban is a problem in terms of Atletico being able to get closer to Real Madrid and Barcelona domestically, but they still look to be the third best team in Spain.

I expect their continuity will help early in the season and I do think Atletico Madrid will have a little too much experience for Girona to deal with. Girona have worked wonders to make their debut season in the Primera Division and being linked with Manchester City may mean some key players arrive before the transfer window closes to aid them in staying in this Division.

That has to be the only goal for Girona this season, but they are not coming up with a lot of momentum having struggled down the stretch in the Segunda Division. Some of that may have been down to feeling the pressure of earning promotion, but I do wonder if they will be able to compete with the higher level of the Primera Division.

Facing a side who pride themselves on being defensively organised will be a challenge for Girona and Atletico Madrid have had 21 clean sheets in their last 38 away League games.

I expect they can get another one here and I will look for Atletico Madrid to open their season with a narrow win. That should be based on a clean sheet too and I will back Atletico at odds against to win with one of those in the pocket.

Deportivo v Real Madrid Pick: The absence of Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t bother Real Madrid as they brushed Barcelona aside for the second time in a number of days in the Spanish Super Cup. A team who has won four trophies in their last five games has to be full of confidence even without their talisman and Real Madrid are strong favourites to get their season off to a positive start in the Primera Division.

It’s hard to see Deportivo really being able to stay with Real Madrid even if they did beat Barcelona here last season. This is a team who have generally been struggling since returning to the top flight and I am not sure this season is going to be much different for them.

Deportivo were able to raise their game against the top clubs last season, but they have not been able to compete with Real Madrid who bring plenty of firepower to the table.

That feels like being the difference again even if the layers are not so sure without Ronaldo playing. I still think Real Madrid have enough talent to win here by a couple of goals for the fourth season in a row since Deportivo returned to the top flight.

Real Madrid have had competitive matches under their belt which should mean they are to ready to come out of the traps in the Primera Division and they may catch Deportivo out here. The chances Real Madrid create should ensure they have every chance of covering the Asian Handicap on the opening weekend of the season and I will back the current Spanish and European Champions to do that.

MY PICKS: Manchester United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.89 Bet365 (2 Units)
Southampton-West Ham United Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Coral (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet365 (2 Units)
Bristol City-Millwall Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid Win to Nil @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Real Madrid - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)

August 2017/18 Update: 14-14-2, + 0.92 Units (42 Units Staked, + 2.19% Yield)

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (August 15-17)

After what has felt a long wait to bring back Premier League Football, fans all over the country had to be excited about the potential of the season ahead after seeing some of the football played on the opening weekend.

Only Chelsea disappointed out of the leading contenders for the Premier League title, while there is a renewed optimism about being a Manchester United going into the season which will only have increased after the impressive dismantling of West Ham United.

I wrote a short piece about Manchester United and the new season before the weekend and that can be read here.

About the only thing that bothers me about the beginning of the season is the awfully early international break which comes at the end of this month which means a break between Sunday 27th August and Saturday 9th September. Before that we will see the draw for the Champions League/Europa League Group Stage and also the Third Round of the League Cup in England which means the fixture list begins to be filled up going through to the Christmas period.

At least in England we get three rounds of top flight football before the international break, which is far better than Germany, Italy and Spain whose top Divisions begin this weekend and only have the two rounds of games.

It was a mixed bag of results from the weekend football which produced a slight profit, although August has yet to really get going. This midweek we have the First Legs of the Champions League and Europa League Play Off Round ties to be played before we go into the weekend and more Premier League and top flight football.

In this thread I will have picks from the Champions League and Europa League Play Off Round ties which are played from Tuesday through Thursday night.

Hoffenheim v Liverpool Pick: Getting into the Champions League Group Stage is where the financial reward of this competition is really met and next season finishing 4th in the Premier League or Bundesliga will mean direct entry into the Group. That doesn't help either Hoffenheim or Liverpool going into the 2017/18 Champions League as they have to negotiate this Play Off Round if they want to get into the Group Stage which begins next month.

The two Legs over the next week are vital for both clubs although the pressure is likely to be on Liverpool with the past European history they hold. For Hoffenheim this is a maiden European adventure and they will be hoping to build on what was a stunning Bundesliga campaign.

The home Leg is likely to be critical for Hoffenheim having been unbeaten here in the League last season and beating the likes of Bayern Munich in the process. Losing a couple of key players in Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy is going to be difficult for Hoffenheim to replace and they are facing someone who will be familiar in their style when Jurgen Klopp brings Liverpool to town.

It is an important First Leg for Liverpool too who have not been at their best in recent away European ties. Things have been much different at Anfield and Liverpool have to come here looking for at least an away goal and making sure they have a slight edge when returning home next week.

It would be a surprise if Liverpool are not able to create chances with the pace they have in the final third and the likely space they are going to see in the away Leg. Liverpool should have a chance to play counter attacking football, although there will be a concern with how they have defended at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Goals look to be the outcome of this one and I would be a little surprised if there aren't at least three shared out by these two teams. I considered backing Hoffenheim with the start on the Asian Handicap, but the loss of Sule and Rudy means I am less sure about them. However they will have to attack at home and will likely create chances against a Liverpool defence that still needs some work, while the Liverpool pace in the final third is a threat to any club they face.

The layers are of the same mind, but I will back at least three goals to be shared out in this First Leg.

Sporting Lisbon v Steaua Bucharest Pick: After some of the recent defeats Steaua Bucharest have had at this stage of the Champions League, you can understand why Sporting Lisbon are considered such strong favourites to win this Play Off Round tie. Being at home in the First Leg gives Sporting Lisbon the chance to put themselves in a strong position ahead of the trip to Romania next week, but Steaua Bucharest will think their recent experiences in the Qualifiers can help them achieve the upset.

It is asking a lot from Steaua Bucharest, but they have shown some attacking intent when playing away from home in Europe. Earning an away goal here will give Steaua Bucharest a chance in the Second Leg, but the majority of the play is going to come from Sporting Lisbon.

Anything other than a Sporting Lisbon win will be a real surprise, but the Asian Handicap might be a tough one for them to cover. Sporting Lisbon have had 1 clean sheet from their last 8 home European ties although the majority of those games have come against teams that were considered stronger than Steaua Bucharest.

Even with that in mind, Sporting Lisbon may offer Steaua Bucharest some chances in this one, although the home team should have enough in the final third to score the goals to win this one. This is a team that has scored plenty of goals in home European ties against teams outside of the European elite in recent years and I am looking for this Champions League Play Off tie to also produce at least three goals on the night.

Both teams scoring is not of the question in this one, but there is always the possibility that Sporting Lisbon dominate the tie completely and overall it feels like a fixture that will produce at least three goals.

Celtic v Astana Pick: There will be familiarity with this Play Off Round tie in the Champions League having paired Celtic and Astana together twelve months ago in the Third Qualifying Round. On that occasion the Second Leg was played here at Celtic Park, but this time around the teams will meet in Kazakhstan in the Second Leg which does change some of the dynamics of the tie.

It is a big tie for both Celtic and Astana having dominated their domestic League and knowing the financial rewards that come with a place in the Champions League Group Stage. That increases the pressure on both teams and I imagine this is going to be a tight tie over the next two weeks with both Celtic and Astana confident in their chances to progress.

The injuries in the Celtic team have to be a concern when you think how close this tie was twelve months ago. It took an injury time penalty for Celtic to come through 3-2 on aggregate although the players may come in with more confidence than they did back then having played so well in the last twelve months.

Celtic have been very good in home Qualifiers having won 7 in a row before the home draw with Rosenborg in the Third Qualifying Round. They didn't play well in that game, but Celtic have Leigh Griffiths back in contention which should give them better balance going forward.

You have to respect Astana who are going to be playing in the Group Stage of a European competition for the third season in a row which is unprecedented for a side from Kazakhstan. Everything for them depends on the First Leg as they have lost 5 of their last 7 away European ties but at the same time have won 3 of 7 at home against those same teams.

Keeping it tight may be the play for Astana and I imagine they will be looking to frustrate Celtic. They should have some chances considering the injuries Celtic have at the heart of their defence, but I do think Celtic will have the majority of the play on the day and have shown they can pick up some real momentum when playing at home.

It may be a risk when you think how close it was when they played last season, but this time I am looking for Celtic to have enough to win by a couple of goals to put themselves in a strong position ahead of next week. I will back the Scottish Champions to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.

Hapoel Be'er Sheva v Maribor PickThis is a huge Play Off Round tie for both Hapoel Be'er Sheva and Maribor with the carrot of entering the Champions League Group Stage in front of them. Both teams will be going into a section with some huge names from European Football and the chance to host those names will only increase the pressure on the teams in the two ties to be played over the next seven days.

The home Leg is likely to be very important for both teams and I do give Hapoel Be'er Sheva the edge in the First Leg. They have won all 5 home Champions League Qualifiers played over the last thirteen months and the experience of reaching the Europa League Knock Out Round last season will surely help.

By the same token Hapoel Be'er Sheva have not been very good when playing away from home and so they have to have a lead to take to Maribor next week. Maribor have to be given their dues having won both away Champions League Qualifiers this season but they had lost 4 of 7 away European ties prior to this campaign.

The heavy losses at Astana and Qabala have to be a concern though and Hapoel Be'er Sheva have shown they are capable of winning home ties with some comfort. Both Celtic and Ludogorets Razgrad are experienced European teams who have lost by a couple of goals here over the last twelve months and I do think Hapoel Be'er Sheva will win this one.

Backing them to find a way to win by a couple of goals on the day at odds against looks the way to go. Maribor's last 4 away European losses have come by at least two goals each time and I think Hapoel Be'er Sheva will have the majority of the play in this First Leg and create the majority of chances.

Maribor will be looking to be in the tie when the Second Leg is played at their own home next week, but I will look for Hapoel Be'er Sheva to take a big step towards a first appearance in the Champions League Group Stage.

Napoli v Nice Pick: Both Napoli and Nice would have been hoping for an 'easier' Play Off Round tie in the Champions League than the one they have been handed. It is the Italian side who will go into the tie as the favourites to reach the Group Stage, but Nice showed last season that they are able to keep up with the likes of Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain domestically.

However they have made a relatively poor start to the 2017/18 season with no wins from their first 4 games in all competitions and needing a late equaliser in Amsterdam to get the better of Ajax. Back to back defeats to open the League campaign will have dented confidence, although Nice have to hope they can catch Napoli cold in their first game of the new campaign.

That may be a big ask considering how Napoli have kept their squad together this season compared with the last summer transfer window. A squad that knows exactly what is required of them could go very far in Serie A this season and Napoli are filled with goals which will make them dangerous to teams in the Champions League.

Better defensive performances are still required from Napoli if they are going to compete with the very best clubs, but this is a team who will be very good this year. Being at home in the First Leg should give Napoli enough of an advantage to build a lead in this tie before heading to the south of France next week.

With the goals they have in the squad and Nice's early season struggles, I think Nice will be looking to stay in the tie for as long as possible. However they were beaten comfortably in Schalke and Krasnodar away from home last season and I think Napoli will prove too good on the day.

It is a risk backing a team to win with a margin when playing their first game of the season, but I think Napoli have enough goals to have a healthy lead before the Second Leg and I will look for them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Milan v Shkendija Pick: When I was growing up, the standard setters for the top European clubs came from Italy and the leading team were Milan who won five of their seven European Cups between 1989 and 2007. It is quite strange to see Milan in the Europa League rather than the Champions League and even stranger to think they have not played in Europe at all over the last four years.

Things look to have changed for Milan with new investment in the club which has seen them sign some quality players and be linked with a number more before this transfer window closes. They have improved their League position three years in a row in Italy but it still may take some time to really see Milan restore their name alongside the very best in European Football.

Getting into the Champions League is the goal for the season for Milan, but they won't want to drop the Europa League at this stage of the campaign. Milan were comfortable winners in the Third Qualifying Round and they are big favourites to beat Shkendija in the Play Off Round for a place in the Europa League Group Stage.

Shkendija have won three Qualifying ties in a row for the second season in a row having previously lost all four Qualifying ties in European competition. The step up in class in this Play Off Round is going to be tough to bridge for Shkendija and I think Milan are likely going to win comfortably with a few more of their bigger signings likely to earn a start ahead of the Serie A season beginning.

Covering the Asian Handicap is likely to happen for Milan, but I think the key will be to ensure they don't offer up an away goal and backing the Italian giants to win with a clean sheet is the call.

Ajax v Rosenborg Pick: Both Ajax and Rosenborg will have been hugely disappointed to go out of the Champions League in the Third Qualifying Round but have a chance to make it into the Europa League Group Stage.

Ajax reached the Europa League Final last season so will be hoping for another deep run in the tournament, although they have lost some key players from that squad that reached Stockholm. Home form is going to be critical for Ajax who won all 7 home Europa League games last season, but whose 2-2 draw at the Amsterdam Arena against Nice meant they were beaten on away goals in the Champions League Third Qualifying Round.

There will be confidence in the Ajax ranks that they can win this First Leg at home, especially when you think how difficult things have been for Rosenborg in recent away European ties. Rosenborg were unbeaten in draws at Dundalk and Celtic in the Champions League this season, but previously they had lost 5 away games in a row and that has to be a concern.

You can understand why Ajax are such strong favourites in the First Leg, but this is a team that is going to be missing Davinson Sanchez and may be a little vulnerable defensively. However Ajax will also believe they have the attacking talent to take the game to Rosenborg and this could be one of the higher scoring games in the First Legs of the Europa League Play Off Round.

I do think Rosenborg can play their part too and I will back at least three goals to be shared out by the teams on Thursday.

Osijek v Austria Vienna Pick: You have to imagine both Osijek and Austria Vienna are looking at this tie as a good one in their bid to get into the Europa League Group Stage. Anything other than a close one that is decided next week in Vienna would be a real surprise.

The home Leg is going to be important for both teams and I do think Osijek can force a narrow advantage even if they have to work hard to get it. Playing at home has been important for them so far in the Europa League with 3 straight wins here, including one over PSV Eindhoven, but Osijek may have to raise their game again to get the better of Austria Vienna.

I have to respect the fact that Austria Vienna have won 5 of their last 7 away European ties over the last fourteen months which includes in all 4 Qualifying ties they have played in that time. They have even overcome poor home Legs in that time by winning in Spartak Trnava and AEL Limassol after failing to do that in the home First Leg, while last season 4 of their 5 Group Stage points came on their travels.

That makes Austria Vienna a dangerous team to face for Osijek who are not blessed with a lot of European experience. However the wins over PSV Eindhoven both home and away shows a team that is confident in their own chances and I think Osijek can continue the fine form they have been displaying at the start of the 2017/18 season.

It won't come easy, but Osijek to hold a narrow lead when travelling to the Austrian capital next week is my pick.

Partizan Belgrade v Videoton Pick: It can be difficult for teams to accept that they are not able to match others in Europe despite being one of the best in their domestic League. That is what Partizan Belgrade have had to face in the Champions League, but the Serbia Champions will be favoured to get past Videoton in this Play Off Round Qualifier.

The First Leg in Belgrade is going to be very important for Partizan Belgrade and they did have a long winning run at home snapped in the Champions League by Olympiacos. However the bigger worry may have been the League defeat here by Vozdovac, while they are facing a Videoton team who have gotten the better of Bordeaux in the Europa League already.

Videoton have been one of the better teams in Hungary in recent seasons but they have not worked their way through the Qualifiers to get into the Europa League Group Stage for some time. The win over Bordeaux will give them confidence and the key for Videoton is to still be in the tie when heading back home for the Second Leg next week.

They should be able to do that, although I do think they may be faced with a narrow deficit after the First Leg. Partizan Belgrade tend to play their best football at home and I will be looking for them to find enough in the final third to have a lead in the Second Leg, although Videoton may eventually show a little more to go through to the Group Stage.

Everton v Hajduk Split Pick: At this stage of the season this is far from an easy tie for Everton despite being big favourites to see of Hajduk Split. The new arrivals will take time to gel into a team and Ronald Koeman has previous in failing to get into the Europa League Group Stage when falling short with Southampton.

However Everton are facing a team in Hajduk Split who have found the Play Off Round a little too good for them in each of the last three seasons. They have won plenty of Qualifiers in that time, but dropping out in this Round shows there may be a ceiling as to how strong Hajduk Split can be.

I do think they can make life difficult for an Everton team who have yet to find the fluency they would have liked in the final third. However Everton have also looked decent in defensive positions and will be looking for a fourth straight clean sheet to open the season which will put them in a strong position for the Second Leg in Croatia next week.

Ideally Everton would win this by a couple of goals, but Koeman is still looking to bring in reinforcements in the final third which can make up for the loss of Romelu Lukaku.

Instead Koeman may take a pragmatic approach to the First Leg and ensure Everton at least have a clean sheet which would put them in a strong position for the Second Leg. Having a narrow lead will mean Everton improve their position too and I think that is what they will ultimately have to settle for so I will back Everton to win this one with a clean sheet.

MY PICKS: Hoffenheim-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Sporting Lisbon-Steaua Bucharest Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Celtic - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.03 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Hapoel Be'er Sheva - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.09 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Napoli - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Milan Win to Nil @ 1.61 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Ajax-Rosenborg Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Osijek @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Partizan Belgrade @ 1.86 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)

Everton Win to Nil @ 2.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

August 2017/18 Update: 8-10-1, - 0.72 Units (25 Units Staked, - 2.88% Yield)