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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Midweek Football Picks (February 12-14)

There are a lot of people out there looking forward to Valentines Day this week on Thursday evening, but personally I haven't been able to think of anything but the Real Madrid-Manchester United game for weeks now.

That's right, the Champions League is back this week and I am sure UEFA couldn't have asked for a better game to shine a light on the competition than the two most famous clubs in World football.

I have also noticed it is an interesting time that a lot of people pick who they think will win the Champions League this season- I think it is dead right to say it is the most open competition for a few years with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund all genuine contenders.

Personally I don't believe United are good enough, but if they can knock out Real Madrid then anything is possible. I have noticed that a lot of people have tipped up Bayern Munich and anyone who has read this blog over the last couple of years will know full well that they are the team I have admired most (not 'supported', I only support Manchester United).

Unsurprisingly, I also think Bayern are more than capable of going all the way this season as they continue to look the most balanced team, while there seems to have been an improvement in their defensive performances. The draw will play a big part in deciding who will get to Wembley with the path set through the Quarter Finals and Semi Finals after this Round, but if I was given a free £1000 and had to pick someone, I would back the Bavarians to go one step further than they did in 2010 and 2012.

The Champions League is actually played over a month with the Second Round games split into 4 games per week- at the same time, we will see the Europa League pick up from the last-32 stage of the competition and they will play through two Rounds to also reach the Quarter Final stage.

Celtic v Juventus Pick: Celtic have already overachieved by reaching the Second Round of the Champions League this season, especially from a Group containing Barcelona and Benfica, but they clearly want more and are not daunted by the prospect of facing Juventus.

Neil Lennon has the luxury of resting his entire team ahead of Champions League ties as Celtic are in a domestic League that has less competition than the majority of those in Europe after Rangers' demotion to the Third Division. It says it all when Celtic make wholesale changes yet are still good enough to win 1-3 away from home against the side that was 2nd as they did at Inverness this weekend.

Fans of the home side will have total belief they can upset the apple-cart again in this one after Celtic beat Barcelona here in the Groups, but they only managed a draw with Benfica and needed a late goal to beat Spartak Moscow so nothing is as clear cut as that.

They are also playing a significantly improved Juventus from the side that has most recently been involved in the Champions League. However, any odds on backers should look at the 1-1 draw the Italians managed in Nordsjaelland as a good reason why they might not be worth backing in this one at the price.

Then again, Juventus showed tremendous heart to earn a 2-2 draw at Chelsea despite being 2-0 down and also beat Shakhtar Donetsk 0-1 to finish top of the Group so do have the pedigree to come into a boisterous Celtic Park and get a result.

I just feel this is a game where both sides may end up being fairly satisfied with a draw as Celtic will feel they are still in with a chance of qualifying for the Quarter Finals and Juventus will feel they can complete the job in their new stadium in Turin. I can see this one finishing 1-1 so the draw could be the way to go.

Valencia v Paris Saint-Germain Pick: This looks like one of the ties that could really go either way as Valencia have the European pedigree, while Paris Saint-Germain have brought in a number of experienced players to help them make an impact in this competition as soon as possible.

I think the extra experience that Valencia have as a team will enable them to take a lead to Paris next month, although this should be a tight contest tonight. Valencia have a very strong home record in recent games in the Champions League and have gone 10 games unbeaten there since Manchester United won 0-1, while they also reached the Semi Final of the Europa League last season with 3 straight wins at the Mestalla before Atletico Madrid won here on their way to winning the trophy.

Paris Saint-Germain have only faced one team with the same kind of level of experience as Valencia in the competition this season and that was Porto. While PSG beat them at home, they did lost 1-0 in Portugal and I can see a similar result being recorded by Valencia in this one.

Real Madrid v Manchester United Pick: Let's not beat around the bush here- I am a proud Manchester United fan whose heart excepts them to win every single game they play and win convincingly... However, my head in this case has been screaming that this could be a bad day in the office for the Red Army as they descend on one of the toughest away European ties they could play.

Even though Barcelona have beaten United in two Finals in recent seasons, I always felt their style of football is a little easier to play against than the direct, pacy style that Real Madrid produce (easier for United and English teams in general rather than just plain easier).

It is that pace and direct style that I think will be too much for United in the Spanish capital- far too often this season I have seen our midfield not be in the correct position in games and unless United plan on loading that area and playing for a low scoring draw, that is an area that concerns me heavily.

Real are going to attack- anyone who points at the fact that City came away with an 'unfortunate' 3-2 loss should go back and watch how City were dominated and I then ask them not to be concerned. The likes of Sporting Braga, Cluj and Galatasaray have created enough chances against United this season, but they don't have Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Mezut Ozil or Gonzalo Higuain as players in prominent positions of their sides (well Galatasaray didn't when we played them).

We will have our chances out there to get on the front foot, but that may lead to counter attacking opportunities when Real Madrid are even more dangerous.

No matter which way I look at this game, I can't see anything but a fairly comfortable Real Madrid win and I hope I am completely wrong about my assessment of this game...

Since the draw came out, I have been convinced that Real Madrid are going to expose the short-comings that a lot of United fans know the team have, that lack of midfield control. Hopefully I am wrong, but I can't see anything but a Real win by at least a couple of goals.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund Pick: I won't write so much about this game, but I think Borussia Dortmund are worth backing for a small interest to take a lead back to Germany next month.

I am not happy that we have already seen two away wins in the first legs of the Second Round as this is not usually a Round when there are a lot of away wins. However, Dortmund are focusing on the Champions League fully with the Bundesliga likely gone, and they have the counter attacking ability to win here.

Dortmund were unlucky to only draw at Manchester City and Real Madrid with late goals stopping them winning both games, but Shakhtar Donetsk did lose to Juventus here. The other news is their star player Willian has moved on and I just fancy the German side to nick a win here.

I haven't got time to put down my full reasons for the Europa League picks I am making, but those can be seen below.

MY PICKS: Celtic-Juventus Draw @ 3.60 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Valencia @ 2.50 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Real Madrid - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.45 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Borussia Dortmund @ 2.88 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Zenit St Petersburg @ 2.50 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Sparta Prague-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Newcastle United @ 2.30 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur @ 2.10 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

February Update5-8, - 1.20 Units (21 Units Staked, - 5.71% Yield)

January Final10-22, - 10.89 Units (45 Units Staked, - 24.2% Yield)

December Final17-24-1, - 0.83 Units (53 Units Staked, - 0.02 % Yield)
November Final8-21, - 8.25 Units (37 Units Staked, - 22.3% Yield)
October Final9-9, + 5.44 Units (27 Units Staked, 20.1% Yield)
September Final17-11, + 21.19 Units (46 Units Staked, 46.1% Yield)
August Final12-13, + 1.29 Units (40 Units Staked, 3.22% Yield)

Season 2012/13+ 7.95 Units (248 Units Staked, + 3.21 % Yield)

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