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Monday, 1 April 2013

Midweek Football Picks (April 1-4)

This is the start of a week that will still be a little painful for me as the Champions League gets into the Quarter Final games, a stage in which I still believe Manchester United were robbed from competing in.

However, it is better to look forward at the success United are surely going to have in the Premier League this season, while there is the surprise addition of a FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge on Easter Monday to negotiate. With a potential Semi Final against Manchester City on offer, the fans are obviously very excited at Old Trafford as to how this season will end.

In August, I would have been happy if someone had told me that Manchester United would end the season as Champions of England and anything more would be a bonus... However, there is nothing wrong with being a little greedy when the side put themselves in a strong position and the FA Cup is definitely more significant with the lead established in the League.

The opportunity to knock out a team managed by Rafa Benitez and then trying to stop Manchester City ending the season with any silverware is eagerly anticipated, although the first game at Chelsea is a very tough hurdle to try and negotiate on Monday lunchtime.

Chelsea v Manchester United Pick: As I said above, this is a very tough game for both clubs and I am finding it tough to separate them as I can make a real case for either coming through and booking their place at Wembley in a couple of weeks time.

Chelsea and Manchester United did rest some players in anticipation for this game on Saturday, but it is the home side that have to manage their squad better than the away side at the moment with 4 games in an 8 day period.

However, Rafa Benitez did rest a number of first team players for this game so I am expecting a very strong Chelsea team with the likes of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar providing bullets for Demba Ba rather than Fernando Torres. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez are partnered up front for Manchester United with the likes of Nani coming into to create the chances for the away side.

While I may not be able to separate the sides in terms of a winner, one element of games between Chelsea and Manchester United is the amount of goals they have shared between them, including two very high-scoring games in the League and Capital One Cup earlier this season here at Stamford Bridge.

This looks another game where the winner of the tie, if it is completed before extra time, is going to have to score at least 2 goals and so I am going to back there being at least 3 goals in this game. It may be an odds on shot, but there are a lot of signs pointing to that happening and will be my pick for the game.

Bayern Munich v Juventus Pick: This is the tie of the Round as far as I am concerned with the winner likely to feel very confident of going all the way to Wembley in May.

I do think that this tie will still be in the balance when the return game is played in Turin next week although I do think that Bayern Munich will be the team with the slight edge.

This should be a fascinating first game in Munich as I think it will likely be a little more open than most first leg matches at this stage of the European tournaments. Bayern Munich will want to have some advantage to take to Turin, while I think Juventus would be satisfied with a small deficit as long as they have at least one away goal to show for their efforts.

Personally I think both teams will score in this game, but it will be Bayern Munich who have the lead when the second leg begins next Wednesday.

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona Pick: Barcelona overturned a 2-0 deficit against Milan in the Second Round to make their way into the Quarter Final here, but their away form has to be a concern for anyone that fancies them at odds on tonight.

Barcelona have won just 2 of their last 6 away games in the Champions League and have been beaten in 3 of those games, but the return of Tito Vilanova should inspire them to get something from the Parc de Princes, a result that will set them up to complete the win at the Nou Camp in eight days time.

I do think Paris Saint-Germain are capable of at least giving themselves some hope for the game in Barcelona next week, although I am not convinced they can do enough to actually have a lead going into that game.

With the poor away form that Barcelona have displayed in this competition and Paris Saint-Germain's 23 home game unbeaten run in Europe, the draw looks a decent shout.

Malaga v Borussia Dortmund Pick: Both managers are suggesting that their respective sides will go on the attack in this game and while that sometimes leads to a much more cautious game than the press conference suggests, this is one of those times when I do believe them.

Malaga's best chance to surprise Borussia Dortmund is to take a lead to Germany next week, but I also think the German side will be satisfied at the end of the evening as they are more than capable of grabbing at least one away goal.

I can imagine an early goal really opening up the floodgates in this one and I think Malaga would be wise to take the Paris Saint-Germain approach and try and get on the front foot to earn a lead before the second leg. However, Borussia Dortmund will certainly cause problems of their own as they have for the likes of Manchester City, Ajax, Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk.

Goals is my prediction for this game and I like the chances of at least 3 being scored in the contest.

Real Madrid v Galatasaray Pick: This does look like a bit of a mismatch on paper and I do think Real Madrid are capable of showing the difference between the teams in this first leg in front of their own supporters.

Real Madrid controversially got through their Second Round clash with Manchester United and have got the 'best' draw in the last eight and there will be a feeling amongst the players and fans that perhaps their name is on the trophy for the first time since 2002.

I don't like under-estimating teams that have reached this stage of the premier competition of European football, but Galatasaray have certainly benefited from a decent draw before this stage and Real Madrid are a much stronger proposition than Schalke in the last Round.

The likes of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder do give Galatasaray some Champions League winning experience, but Real Madrid have plenty to deal with them in their own squad and I have the sense that the Spaniards will have a fairly comfortable lead to take to Istanbul next week.

Chelsea v Rubin Kazan Pick: Chelsea look very short in the market considering the amount of games they have to get through in a short period of time and I think Rubin Kazan are being very under-estimated in this match.

However, I do think Chelsea will find a way to take an advantage over to Russia next week and that may be the difference in the tie between the two sides. While Rubin Kazan have an impressive win over Atletico Madrid under their belts in the knock out stage this season, they are not exactly overloaded with goals in their side and I think the Russian side will look to keep things as tight as possible in the contest.

I have been torn between two picks for this game- I don't imagine we will see many goals so the under 2.5 goals at 1.75 looks a reasonable option in the game. However, I am concerned with Chelsea's poor defensive record in Europe this season, especially at Stamford Bridge so instead will back the home side to have a one goal lead going to Russia next Thursday.

Tottenham Hotspur v Basel Pick: Tottenham Hotspur have given themselves problems by not adding to their striking options over the course of two transfer windows and that means Jermain Defoe's injury has them limited for the next couple of weeks at least.

The over reliance on Gareth Bale is a concern, particularly with a top four place in the Premier League and the Europa League to fight for over the last two months and any fall from the form the Welshman has been on is a real problem for Spurs.

I think Basel is a tough test for them in the Quarter Final, but one that I expect Spurs to negotiate over the two legs and that means building a decent lead from the first leg at White Hart Lane. Spurs have struggled over the line against both Lyon and Inter Milan in the last two Rounds, but they have won 4 in a row at home in the Europa League.

Basel have only lost 2 of their 5 away games in the Europa League, but they have failed to score in 3 of those games, although they have shown some defensive toughness by keeping clean sheets in 3 of those games.

However, I have a feeling Spurs will have a little too much (Bale will show enough of his quality) to give the side a decent lead to take to Switzerland next week.

Benfica v Newcastle United Pick: Benfica are my pick to win this tournament as I think they have the right blend of experience and quality to get through to the Final and so it is no surprise that I fancy them to beat Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light.

The away side are still under pressure in the Premier League and their squad has been stretched through injuries so I think Newcastle will feel very good if they still have a chance to win the game at St James' Park next week.

However, I don't think taking a defensive approach to the game is the way forward and I don't believe inviting pressure from a Benfica side with the attacking talent they have is the best tactical idea. There are some weaknesses in the defence of the home side, so Newcastle have to be thinking about grabbing an away goal if they are to get through to the Semi Final.

My concern for Newcastle is that Benfica are very comfortable scoring goals at home and I wouldn't be surprised if the home side win with at least 3 goals scored in the match.

MY PICKS: Chelsea-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Both teams to score and Bayern Munich to win @ 3.75 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Paris Saint-Germain-Barcelona Draw @ 3.75 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Malaga-Borussia Dortmund Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Real Madrid - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Chelsea to win by one goal @ 3.60 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.60 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Benfica Win and Over 2.5 goals in the match @ 2.30 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

March Final16-20, + 7.43 Units (55 Units Staked, + 13.51% Yield)
February Final14-23, - 2.81 Units (48 Units Staked, - 5.85% 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+ 12.57 Units (351 Units Staked, + 3.58% Yield)

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