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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (March 11-13)

The second legs of the Champions League begin this week and we will see the first four names that will make up the eight Quarter Finalists, even if drama looks to be in short supply with the first four games to be concluded.

That is mainly down to the fact that all four home teams have leads from the first legs that were played last month and it won't have escaped the attention of most that only two teams have previously overturned a home defeat in the first leg to progress.

It's hard to see either of the English sides or Bayer Leverkusen doing that this week, while AC Milan are no longer the force of old that will be expected to find a way to beat Atletico Madrid. The viewers may still be tuning in to what could be exciting games with goals scored, but there would need to be quite a big surprise if Bayern Munich, Atletico, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain are not still in the competition by Thursday morning.

The first legs of the Last 16 in the Europa League are also set to take place this week with the conclusion of those ties taking place seven days later before the Quarter Final draws are made a week on Friday.

March has provided a positive start for the picks after back to back disappointing months to ruin what had been a decent season to that point. Hopefully the remainder of the month can follow the same path and return the season to a profit.

Atletico Madrid v AC Milan Pick: Overturning home losses in the Champions League have proved to be huge hurdles for teams to overcome and I think this Milan team is far from one of the vintage crop. The fact that they are taking on a tough and organised Atletico Madrid team will just make life that much more difficult for the Italians.

The last three trips to Spain have seen Milan lose to Barcelona all three times and they have been beaten by a couple of goals on each occasion.

This will feel a different kind of game as Atletico Madrid won't look to dominate possession, but will look to use the counter attacking game to open up Milan who will become increasingly desperate as the game goes on.

The 0-1 deficit is not the worst in the world for Milan, but I don't believe they have the quality to beat a team as good as Atletico Madrid and they may end up being caught late on as they push for goals to get back in the tie.

It would be more than a surprise if Diego Simeone settles for a goalless draw because of the risk factor and Atletico have won all 3 Champions League games in front of their passionate support by at least two goals. With Diego Costa likely chomping at the bit after serving a suspension at the weekend, I will look for the home side to cover the 1 goal Asian Handicap.

Bayern Munich v Arsenal Pick: I think there will be plenty of people out there that would remember the game from last season and feel Arsenal have a chance of getting some sort of result here, especially if they play as the did in the first leg before the sending off of Wojciech Szczesny.

The problem this time is that Bayern Munich will be a lot more aware of what Arsenal could potentially do here and that should focus the minds a little more on getting the job done. I also do believe the fact that the Bavarians had three goals last year meant they relaxed a little more than they will this time.

I have to believe that Bayern Munich will secure their place in the Quarter Finals with a little more room to breathe than they did twelve months ago as they have been scoring plenty of goals at home.

With the defeat to Manchester City also clear in the mind, I think Bayern Munich will come out with a little more to prove in this one and it would be a mountain to climb for Arsenal if they fall behind in the game.

It may also see Arsene Wenger turning his thoughts to the North London derby to be played on Sunday and any attempt by his side to push forward in search of goals could see them get beaten fairly comfortably in this second leg. I can't underestimate the Gunners after their exploits a year ago, but I also saw some of the defending in recent away games at Southampton and Liverpool and I have to back Bayern Munich to win this by a couple of goals at least.

Lack of concentration is probably Bayern Munich's biggest obstacle to overcome in this second leg, but if they score first, they should prove too good.

Barcelona v Manchester City Pick: There is some disarray in the Barcelona camp at the moment despite being in a position to still take home three trophies at the end of the season and it is going to be very interesting viewing in this second leg as to how the home side approach things.

They aren't in an easy position as a 2-0 lead from the Etihad Stadium means Barcelona don't have to look for more goals but remain resilient at the back. However, it is not in the nature of the side to sit back and defend, even if the new manager is trying to make the Catalan side tougher on that side of the ball.

The problem has been the lack of clear idea of what Barcelona are trying to achieve and I believe there will be a lot of nerves in the home stadium if Manchester City were to take the lead in the game.

Manuel Pellegrini may not be on the touchline as he serves a suspension, but he will have made it clear to his side what they have to do- the fact Manchester City are two goals down means they have to play the attacking football that has been so effective for much of the season, even if they are also in a slight slump of form.

The likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero can provide the goals to put Barcelona under a lot of pressure and I still think the tie is alive despite the score from Manchester last month.

Clarity is the key for Manchester City in this second leg as they will look to get forward and I really believe there is a chance for them to win this game. Can they do enough to get through the tie? I am not so sure, but Valencia did score 3 goals here in a win this season and Manchester City did score 3 at Bayern Munich so they are capable.

The obvious concern for City will be getting caught on the break if they are chasing the game late on, especially with the pace Barcelona do have in their own team. There should be goals in the tie though and I like over 3.5 goals to be scored in the match.

Basel v Salzburg Pick: I think Salzburg look far too short in the market, despite their strong form in Europe, simply because Basel have experience and are also a decent home team in Europe.

There should be the opportunity to create chances for both teams because both will feel the tie presents a real possibility to reach the Quarter Final. Basel will feel they need an advantage to take to Austria, while Salzburg have shown what they are capable away from home with their impressive win in Ajax.

Salzburg have also scored at least two goals in 5 of their 6 away games in the Europa League this season and I do think both teams will hit the back of the net in the game. However, I prefer picking the over 2.5 goals option from the game rather than a winner as both teams should be pushing for the victory to set themselves up for the second leg to be played next Thursday.

Juventus v Fiorentina Pick: This is a fascinating tie between two teams that have no love lost for one another, but it is a tie that I think Juventus will be able to win. Much of that will depend on them winning the first leg in front of their own supporters to give them something to defend next week, but I think Juventus will be able to take that crucial lead from this game.

The game they played a few days ago was a tight affair and Fiorentina caused problems, but that also means the side have failed to score in their last 2 games in Serie A, while Juventus are a team that defends well for the most part.

That has shown up in the last 3 home games for Juventus as they have kept clean sheets in each of those games and I think Antonio Conte will make sure his players know the importance of taking a clean sheet to Florence for the second leg too. I also feel Juventus have enough quality to at least earn a lead as well and I will back the home side to win with a clean sheet from this first leg.

Lyon v Viktoria Plzen Pick: The Europa League can be tough to really get a grip on because you can't always predict how seriously a team will take the competition, but I like Lyon to win this first leg to give themselves a chance to progress to the Quarter Finals.

Lyon have won their last 3 in a row at home in the Europa League, all by the same 1-0 scoreline which would give them a real advantage to take to the Czech Republic next week.

I also feel Viktoria Plzen may be a touch over-rated after winning in Donetsk in the last Round, especially as they lost all 3 away games in their Champions League Group. However, I don't want to think this is a straight forward home win for Lyon as Viktoria Plzen have avoided defeat in their last 5 away games in this competition, including winning in Napoli and drawing with Fenerbache.

It does look a game that Lyon should be good enough to win though and I will back them to do so.

Sevilla v Real Betis Pick: It has been a horrible season for Real Betis when looking solely at their performances in the Spanish top flight, and the side look like the real favourites to be relegated at the end of the season. However, the Europa League has proved to be a happier place for Betis and they should be salivating at the opportunity to play a Sevilla derby in the Last 16.

While that will have the fans in a frenzy, Betis will have to play better than they have in their last two visits to Sevilla as they have lost by at least four goals on each occasion including a 4-0 whipping earlier this season.

Another result like that would almost certainly put Betis out of the competition so I expect them to at least try and keep things tight in the first leg. The problem for them is that Sevilla have been playing much better at the same level and are likely going to be too strong.

Unless the pressure gets to them, I expect Sevilla to win this game by at least a couple of goals and will back them on the Asian Handicap to do so.

Tottenham Hotspur v Benfica Pick: With a nice lead in the Portuguese top flight, Benfica should be taking it seriously to add their name on a European trophy again this season and I do believe they are the favourites to come through this tie.

As well as Tottenham Hotspur initially did under Tim Sherwood, all is not right in the camp at White Hart Lane after the 4-0 loss at Chelsea when the manager criticised the players for surrendering and not showing the tenacity that big clubs should.

Whether Sherwood remains in charge in the summer is anyone's guess at this point, but the Europa League should still be a competition he takes seriously.

Home games for Tottenham in the competition have normally produced a fair few goals, although it has to be noted how tough Benfica have been to score against and the lack of ideas that Spurs have shown in recent weeks when going forward.

There are vulnerabilities at the back that Benfica will certainly feel they can expose, but how much ambition will they show if they can score one away goal? That is the one question that does worry me about this game in which I otherwise think we will see at least three goals scored.

MY PICKS: Atletico Madrid - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Bayern Munich - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Barcelona-Manchester City Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.33 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Basel-Salzburg Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Juventus Win to Nil @ 2.25 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Lyon @ 1.92 Coral (2 Units)
Sevilla - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Benfica Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.14 Pinnacle (2 Units)

March Update7-4, + 6.4 Units (19 Units Staked, + 33.68% Yield)

February Final12-28, - 16.74 Units (61 Units Staked, - 27.44% 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 2013/14111-131-3, - 4.03 Units (389 Units Staked, - 1.04% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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