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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Midweek Football Picks (February 18-20)

It really has been one of those months where things seem to be going wrong in the strangest of ways, but there is still absolutely no way that I could have predicted Southampton to play as weak a team as they decided to on Saturday.

I would love to question the manager and ask what he was resting players for? Southampton are unlikely to finish much higher than 9th and I don't think they will fall lower than 10th so resting players for a Fifth Round FA Cup tie where two of the current top four were going to be knocked out makes as little sense to me as anything I have tried to explain.

For the life of me, I could not tell you what was going through Mauricio Pochettino's head in picking the starting eleven for the game and Southampton got what they deserved- understandably the fans were upset as the final three months of the season look to be one that they are going to coast along and not really have a lot to look forward to.

We also saw more poor refereeing from the biggest culprit in England who seemingly gets away with all the terrible decisions he makes- Howard Webb somehow missed a karate kick in the last World Cup Final, but how he decided Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's 'tackle' on Luis Suarez was NOT a penalty and how Steven Gerrard's late tackle was NOT a red card is beyond me.

For some unknown reason, Webb is still considered the top referee in England, but I tend to disagree as few get as many consistently bad decisions... The other factor is that Webb always tends to get the really big decisions wrong, the ones that could change the feeling of a match which was the case on Sunday.

Yet he will be going to the World Cup as the top English official and I still believe all referees should be made to explain their decisions and there should be a really sense of demotion when blatantly wrong decisions are made in one week.

Being a Manchester United fan, I tend to follow a few fellow fans on Twitter and it came to my attention on Monday that something had happened to suggest Manchester City were a 'bigger' club than Manchester United.

This is an old debate and one that always first has to be answered with what defines 'big' clubs- is it history, is it the last ten years, the attraction of the club to players?

I've always had my opinion on that definition which makes Manchester United and Liverpool the two biggest clubs in England, but I think the current suggestion from Manuel Pellegrini may have been a little lost in translation.

At the end of the day, English is not Pellegrini's first language and the suggestion from the press conference was he meant Manchester City are better than Manchester United right now, something that I cannot really argue against.

Give any sane Manchester United fan this option and see what they would answer- if I was to tell you one club from Manchester is definitely winning the Champions League this season and you had to pick one which will double all your assets, or lose everything, which club would you pick? I think you would have to be lying if you really believed United had the better chance.

But that is this season and I do believe Pellegrini got a little muddled between 'bigger' and 'better' so I wasn't too concerned. However, all the GIF images and memes that were sent out that I have had 'retweeted' onto my feed looks a touch bitter and is something that I would have laughed if it had been sent out by Liverpool fans. People get a little too sensitive over issues that really don't matter in the grand scheme of things and I really don't want to become one of these fans that constantly talks about history in any debate over the game.

Everyone will define 'bigger' clubs their own way, but I don't want to go overboard in having a reaction to a manager whose first language isn't English making a statement that could easily be taken out of context.

The Champions League is back this week, but I am still not a fan on the splitting the Last 16 Round into four match days for the first and second legs. It does mean the television coverage lets the fans see most of the big matches they may want to, but it feels like overkill to me and I would still prefer to keep the matches together.

Bayer Leverkusen v Paris Saint-Germain Pick: Out of these two teams, the obvious pick as to which of the sides will go through to the Quarter Finals is Paris Saint-Germain, but the first leg is at least a little more interesting and will be Bayer Leverkusen's best chance of laying the foundations for an upset.

Unfortunately for the home team, this game may be coming at the wrong time as they have just slipped a little in recent weeks and the 1-2 loss to Schalke here on Saturday will not have done the confidence any favours.

When I saw Bayer Leverkusen play Manchester United earlier this season, I was distinctly unimpressed with their performance in either game and I think Paris Saint-Germain will feel confident of their chances of earning a lead to take back home next month.

Losing Edinson Cavani for the game is a disappointment for PSG, but they should still be creating chances and Zlaten Ibrahimovic has been playing well enough to make up for the absence of the Uruguayan.

Paris Saint-Germain won at Valencia at the same stage of the competition last season and, while the odds are a little shorter than I may have initially suspected, I think they can win this one too. With the Bayer Leverkusen form just slipping in recent games at home, PSG should have enough to sneak that lead back home.

Manchester City v Barcelona Pick: The winner of this tie will certainly feel the door is going to be open for a deep run in the Champions League simply because of the confidence it would give them to knock out a big rival for the title.

The home leg is going to be key for Manchester City who have been strong here all season and they will know taking a lead to the Nou Camp next month is imperative if they are going to be getting through to the Quarter Finals for the first time. Not having Sergio Aguero to their disposal is a big loss for City and I think that made a huge difference to their approach to recent games, although Manchester City looked a lot better on Saturday in their win over Chelsea in the FA Cup.

Manuel Pellegrini has to show he has learnt lessons from the dismantling at the hands of Bayern Munich, but Manchester City have been tough to play in front of their own fans in this competition and all this season.

I think it won't surprise anyone with the way Barcelona approach the game and they won't sit back and look to soak up pressure, but they do look a team that is vulnerable at the back and will give Manchester City chances. However, I also think the Catalan side can create chances against this City defence and it looks a fascinating game.

When the draw was made, I actually thought Manchester City were going to come through and the whole key to that is taking a lead to the Nou Camp next week. There is no reason to think that Manchester City should be such a big price with the way they have played at home this season, although I do think Aguero is a big miss. If Stevan Jovetic can offer something different up front and Samir Nasri is back to offer more creativity from the start along with David Silva, I believe Manchester City take a narrow lead to the Nou Camp for the second leg.

AC Milan v Atletico Madrid Pick: This has absolutely been a down season for Milan who are looking in a precarious position when it comes to simply earning a place in Europe next season as injuries and loss of form take their effect on the side. However, I think they are unlikely to roll over in this tie, especially not in the first leg at the San Siro.

Milan have been tough to play here in recent years and that is shown by their 1 loss in their last 10 Champions league games in front of their own fans. That run is more impressive considering they have hosted Barcelona three times in that run of games and have yet to be beaten by the Spanish side.

That also means Milan have only lost 1 of their last 7 home games against sides from Spain, although anything less than a win would give Atletico Madrid the edge in the tie.

A draw would be seen as a really good result for Atletico Madrid, but they have shown they have the ability to get more than that on their travels this season in the Champions League. The difference this time is the fact that the draw would be seen as a competitive advantage for Atletico Madrid in the return next month and I think Diego Simeone will set out his side to make them hard to beat.

It's not often that Milan will be such a big outsider at the San Siro, but I don't think they have enough to win the game although I do think this tie will be in the balance when it goes back to the Spanish capital next month.

Arsenal v Bayern Munich Pick: A 2-0 defeat in Napoli has once again meant Arsenal were in the difficult position of finishing second in their Champions League Group, a situation that comes with the prospect of playing a more difficult Last 16 tie. Unfortunately for Arsenal, that has come about and the game against Bayern Munich looks an incredibly difficult one for them to negotiate after being taught a lesson by them a year ago, albeit in the first leg.

With the way that Arsenal defended against Liverpool on Sunday, I think there will be every chance for Bayern Munich to create chances and score goals at the Emirates Stadium and the fact they have scored at least twice in 7 straight away games shows what they are capable of. Bayern Munich have also reached that total of goals in 6 of their last 7 away games in the Champions League and have shown their ability to win outside of Germany regularly.

It also has to be stated that Arsenal have struggled against German opposition in recent years at home, losing to the likes of Schalke, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund which happened earlier this season.

All 3 of those losses have seen the away side score at least twice and I think it is going to be tough for Arsenal to not have a deficit going into the second leg next month. Arsenal should cause some problems with the home advantage, but there seems to be a lack of real pace in the side at the moment and Bayern Munich are clearly the best time they would have faced here this season.

I think Arsenal may score, but it is going to be hard to prevent Bayern Munich scoring and I think the away side will win this game and set up the second leg for them to move through as the Bavarian's continue to defend their trophy.

MY PICKS: Paris Saint-Germain @ 2.25 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City @ 3.10 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
AC Milan-Atletico Madrid Draw @ 3.30 Coral (1 Unit)
Bayern Munich to Win and 3 or 4 Total Goals in Match @ 3.60 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

February Update6-15, - 11.81 Units (36 Units Staked, - 32.80% Yield)

January Final17-24, - 3.18 Units (62 Units Staked, - 5.13% Yield)
December Final19-16-2, + 13.34 Units (66 Units Staked, + 20.21% Yield)
November Final17-19-1, + 0.50 Units (56 Units Staked, + 0.09% Yield)
October Final20-16-1, + 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, + 25.37% Yield)
September Final13-12, + 1.24 Units (39 Units Staked, + 3.18% Yield)
August Final13-26, - 12.13 Units (54 Units Staked, - 22.46% Yield)

Season 2013/1499-103-3, + 12.71 Units (328 Units Staked, + 3.88% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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