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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Midweek Football Picks (March 5-7)

It's that time again and the nerves are kicking in for the big one at Old Trafford on Tuesday night- with the way Barcelona played at Milan in their first leg a couple of weeks ago, don't be surprised if the winner of the Manchester United-Real Madrid tie fancies their chances of going all the way in what looks like a fairly open competition.

Manchester United 1-2 Real Madrid Thoughts: No matter what had happened in the game, I was planning to put down a few thoughts but I never in a million years thought I would be talking about a decision which is just about as bad as I have seen in all my time watching United play.

I was watching the game with my old man and my brother and the only discussion while Nani was on the floor was whether it was a booking or not... Not whether it was a red or yellow- personally I thought it was a yellow card, not because of intent, but simply because Nani had caught Arbeloa by accident.

My reasoning was the same as when a player tries to control a misplaced pass, but may catch a player intercepting the ball as they try and launch a counter- Nani's 'challenge' was high, but there was no malice and they players collided and stopped Arbeloa picking the ball up and perhaps launching another attack, a yellow card (I put challenge in inverted commas simply because Nani was clearly attempting to bring the ball down and get United on the attack).

For the life of me, and this is lunchtime the day after the game, I cannot understand where this referee decided that it was worthy of a red card. There was no follow through from Nani that may have looked like he had booted Arbeloa, there was no real surrounding of the referee from the Real Madrid players (apart from Sergio Ramos who always tries to get the officials ear).

Shock soon turned to anger for me as the whole complex of the game was changed- it brings me back to my thoughts for some time that referees should be forced to face the media after games, especially when a controversial incident like this needs answering. I also think UEFA should be open to letting the public know that referees are demoted for 'wrong' decisions and not just blindly back any decision they have made in a game.

I know a few United fans have been highlighting the referee's Twitter account, but I don't think it'll do anything to give the numpty more attention than he has drawn to himself anyway. However, I would love to know what UEFA think of one of their 'top' officials only 'following' two clubs in Barcelona and Real Madrid? It has been said for some time that the top brass in Geneva like seeing the Spanish teams reach the latter stages of this competition, particularly Barcelona, but the referee has to be questioned about suggestions of bias.

The FA would not allow a referee in the UK to only follow Arsenal, for example, and then let him referee the North London derby... That just leaves you doubly open to criticism if a call of this magnitude is made and it is no surprise that many are upset.

The other big story after the game was Roy Keane being pretty much the only, or one of very few members of the non-ABU club that believed the referee made the correct decision. I won't deny that Keano was one of my favourite players at the club and I am not sure he should be extending his bitterness towards a club where the fans still hold him in the highest of regards.

I understand why he is upset with Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill and the way he was treated, that wasn't right. But comments like those made last night upsets the fan base more than anyone else and I don't think being controversial for controversial's sake is the way to go for a pundit.

Keane may have really believed what he was saying was correct- but it comes off very bitter and seems a needless shot at the club at a time when temperatures will be running high for anyone connected with Manchester United, be it players, staff, employees or those who pay their hard-earned on the terraces.

All of the controversy as overshadowed what was a wonderful performance from Manchester United over two legs and I felt proud of what the team did. I'll be the first to admit that I thought Real Madrid would be far too good for United over two legs, but Sir Alex Ferguson once again showed off the tactical nous.

In both games, the United tactics were spot on and we were only a tiny bit of luck away from making it through the tie and having a real chance to go all the way.

That's what is hurting me the most- my brother put it best in saying we just never, outside of the Final in 1999, get that little bit of luck to help us sneak through a Round in this competition. If we had got through last night, the rest of the sides wouldn't have held too many fears, especially if Milan beat Barcelona.

Mark my words now, if Milan complete the job, Real Madrid will be placed in a half with the winner of the Porto-Malaga and Schalke-Galatasaray teams and probably reach the Final, while the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus will be in the opposite half.

My thoughts last night also turned to the manager and really feeling for him- he was rightly 'distraught', but he will rally this squad and I hope we can go on to complete the Double to give him some satisfaction to end this season. The Premier League was the main goal at the start of the season and we are still very much on course to bring that back home so the season is still going to be a successful one.

I just wish we had been given a chance to complete the job against Real Madrid on a level playing field last night when a poor decision cost us more than anything the Spanish side did over two legs.

Manchester United v Real Madrid Pick: Like a fair few Manchester United fans, I was surprised with the grit and determination we were able to show in Spain, especially under a first half attack where David De Gea made an absolutely stunning save after only six minutes.

I have a feeling that first game would have gone very differently if Real Madrid had scored first and, as always in big games, the first goal will be crucial tonight.

The first game developed into a cagey affair in the second half as both sides accepted coming to Old Trafford at 1-1... At first glance, a lot of United fans were very content with that scoreline, but I remember what happened back in 2000 when we came away with a goalless draw from the Bernabeu.

My issue is that Real Madrid are more than capable of scoring twice here which would make our draw over in Madrid irrelevant and means United have to win the game. Sir Alex Ferguson is of the same mindset and he seems certain there will be more goals tonight and is very much expecting the away side to score at least once.

The last two times United have hosted Real Madrid at Old Trafford has seen the game end with 2-3 and 4-3 scorelines and I have a feeling we are going to see at least 4 goals tonight... I just hope United score first and end up on the right side of that result.

Borussia Dortmund v Shakhtar Donetsk Pick: You might not know it, but there is another Champions League game on tonight as Borussia Dortmund look to secure their place in the Quarter Final after coming back from Donetsk with a 2-2 draw.

I think Dortmund are a very tough team to beat in front of their own fans and I think that is what will do for Shakhtar Donetsk despite some positive performances earlier in the competition at Juventus and Chelsea.

Shakhtar have to win this game or score at least twice to get themselves a chance of extending their participation in the Champions League and I can see them being caught by the home side on the counter. Borussia Dortmund create plenty of chances at home anyway and I can't help but think the German side will come through in a high-scoring second leg.

Juventus v Celtic Pick: In days gone by, any Italian side with a three goal lead from an away tie in European competition would be expected to sit back and just defend what they have.

I don't believe Juventus are of that mould and I do think they are going to come out and try and put Celtic away for good in this one. Neil Lennon's side were hard done by in Glasgow where I felt they deserved a point, but it is going to be a much tougher prospect in Turin.

I can't see a miracle for Celtic to overturn this result, especially considering they need to score at least 3 times, a mark they reached in Spartak Moscow this season for the first time away from home the Champions League since 2003.

Juventus should be able to pick off Celtic at will and while they won't necessarily commit a lot of men forward as the game reaches the latter stages, I still think the Old Lady will do enough to win this by a couple of goals at least.

Paris St Germain v Valencia Pick: Paris St Germain are in a very strong position in the tie, but they are missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the game through suspension and Valencia's late goal in the Mestalla gives the Spanish team half a chance of turning this around.

However, Paris have proved very strong at the Parc de Princes and I think they are the more likely winners as Valencia need to score twice and could be open to the counter-attack.

With PSG scoring plenty at home, and Valencia not being the best defensively on their travels in Europe, it may make more sense to back the home team to score twice rather than win the game. I could see them leading 1-0 or possibly the game being tied 1-1 and catching Valencia late on to put themselves into the Quarter Finals and even the absence of their talisman shouldn't be the end of the world in this Round.

PSG have scored at least twice in their 3 home games in the Group Stage, while Valencia have struggled against some of the better teams in Europe.

MY PICKS: Manchester United-Real Madrid Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.63 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Borussia Dortmund to win and over 2.5 goals to be scored in match @ 2.20 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Juventus - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.25 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Paris St Germain Over 1.5 Team Goals @ 2.00 Coral (1 Unit)
Anzhi Makhachkala to win 1-0 @ 7.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Draw-Chelsea HT-FT @ 5.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Stuttgart-Lazio Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Benfica to win and over 2.5 goals in the match @ 2.50 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur to win and over 2.5 goals in the match @ 2.63 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

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