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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (March 18-20)

It has been a miserable couple of days for all Manchester United fans and it means that the game on Wednesday night against Olympiacos has taken on a brand new level of importance for David Moyes if he really anticipates being the manager of this club for anything near the six year contract he was given last summer.

The week will finalise the final eight teams that will be contesting the Champions League and the Europa League this season and Friday will set the routes for the Finals to be played in Lisbon and Turin in the next couple of months.

It will be tense with the majority of these second legs having a lot more to play for than we saw a week ago in the first four Last 16 second legs in the Champions League, while the Europa League ties are mostly in the balance. That should mean a pretty good week of football to enjoy for the neutrals as well as the fans of those sides still involved in the competition.

Chelsea v Galatasaray Pick: Jose Mourinho was unimpressed with some of the refereeing decisions that cost his Chelsea side at Villa Park on Saturday, but the manager is known for quickly moving on and will get his team focused on the task at hand.

With a bit more clinical finishing in Istanbul, Chelsea could easily have had one foot in the next Round of the Champions League, but they had to eventually settle for a 1-1 draw and that makes Galatasaray a dangerous threat in the second leg.

The first thing that Mourinho will be drilling into his team is the clean sheet that will ensure Chelsea move through to the Quarter Final even if they fail to win this game at Stamford Bridge. They have looked good enough to achieve that goal in recent weeks as they have settled into their defensive shape, and that will also open up some gaps as Galatasaray will become a little more determined to get forward and score the one goal they definitely need in London.

With the likes of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder in the line up, there should be a chance for goals for Galatasaray, but I don't think they are good enough to knock off this Chelsea team. If the Turks start chasing the game later on, there is every chance that Chelsea will also be able to score a killer goal on the break with the pace they have behind the lone attacker.

I think that is the more likely issue from the game and I can see Chelsea winning this by a couple of goals when the game is concluded.

Manchester United v Olympiacos Pick: While losing to your biggest rivals is always a disappointment, the lack of character displayed by Manchester United was perhaps the biggest complaint of the fans. They may have stayed behind the team during a terrible final 20 minutes at Old Trafford, but the cold light of day would have revealed how far below the required standard the team played.

This game now presents a huge test of the short David Moyes era at Old Trafford and the pressure on the manager in a defeat will be incredible, especially with the big matches continuing to come over the next week.

I personally don't have a lot of faith in Manchester United being able to overcome too many of the teams remaining in the Champions League, but I still think Olympiacos are there for the taking as they aren't a side that have impressed me greatly. In saying that, a draw in Benfica looks a very respectable score considering how well that side played against Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League and Olympiacos only had a narrow loss in Paris Saint-Germain too.

If Olympiacos score, it will be incredibly difficult for Manchester United to score the four goals that will be required of them to go through. They haven't created enough chances to see that happening, but I think the players are due a big performance and have reserved the majority of those for the Champions League.

Aside from the crushing wins over Bayer Leverkusen though, United haven't blown teams away and they will need to play one of their best matches of the season to overturn what looks an incredibly difficult scoreline from Athens. Can they do it? I certainly think there is enough in the side to beat this Olympiacos team comfortably, but the fact that one goal from the away side is going to make it tough for United to qualify.

I was tempted to pick United to qualify, but that price has shortened too much considering the form the team have shown and instead I will back the home side to give the fans something to cheer about with a win and possibly taking the tie to extra time.

Borussia Dortmund v Zenit St Petersburg Pick: With a 4-2 lead from the game in Russia, Borussia Dortmund are under little pressure and probably will be concentrating on not allowing Zenit St Petersburg to get back in the game. However, Jurgen Klopp expects his team to play in a certain way which will produce chances, but also give Zenit opportunities to score goals.

As poor as Borussia Dortmund's run has been at home in the last few months, Zenit St Petersburg will have to play a little more open than normal and that should give the home team enough chances to win this game comfortably. Before the defeat against Borussia Moechengladbach, Dortmund had won back to back home games while scoring 7 goals and keeping two clean sheets.

4 of their last 6 home wins in the Champions League have also seen Borussia Dortmund win by at least two goals and I think it will be tough for Zenit to prevent that happening here.

The side have been in poor form and are getting set to hear a new voice in the dressing room in the form of Andre Villas-Boas, while heavy losses at Atletico Madrid and Austria Vienna have every chance of being repeated.

Anzhi Makhachkala v AZ Alkmaar Pick: With a 1-0 lead from the First Leg, AZ Alkmaar will certainly feel they have an advantage they can hold on to against this Anzhi Makhachkala team that haven't scored a lot of goals at home all season.

Anzhi have only scored 3 goals in their last 10 games here in all competitions and they have only scored 2 goals in their last 5 home games in the Europa League so it may be a big ask for the Russian side to overturn this deficit in normal time.

There is no doubt that AZ Alkmaar will come here with a decent defensive shape as they have kept 2 clean sheets in their last 4 away games in the Europa League. The fact they have lost 4 of their last 6 away games in all competitions has to be a concern, but I can see this being a defensive game and I don't think the layers have fully appreciated that.

While they have priced the under 2.5 goals at a level I expected, I think there is a bit of value in picking the under 1.5 goals with the lack of home goals and the expectation that AZ Alkmaar won't come here with an open game in plan. There is a chance there could be extra time in this one, but I like goals to be in short supply in this Second Leg.

Benfica v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: It is not just a huge task for Tottenham Hotspur having lost the First Leg of this tie 1-3 at White Hart Lane, but Benfica have been very tough to play at the Stadium of Light and it looks a mountain for the English club to climb.

Benfica have now won 10 in a row at home in all competitions and have beaten teams of the standard of Paris Saint-Germain in front of their own fans already. Since that win over PSG, Benfica have won 9 in a row in all competitions and have kept clean sheets in each of those wins which will make it that much more difficult for Spurs to overturn this lead.

You have to expect Benfica will look to make themselves tough to beat first of all and having a lead of this nature does put them in a tough position whether to stick with what they have or twist. That is the biggest obstacle for the home team to overcome, but Tottenham Hotspur have a lot of defensive injuries and will likely offer Benfica some chances to score goals.

There is no doubt that Spurs have some attacking threat in their team, but they have failed to score in their last 3 away games in all competitions and backing Benfica to win to nil looks a big price.

Fiorentina v Juventus Pick: This is a really big game for both teams and I can't imagine either leaving too much on the field as they look to make it through to the Quarter Final where both will also feel they can go on and win the Europa League.

There are two theories in my mind for how this game will go- either Fiorentina will look to keep things tight knowing the goalless draw is in their favour and could potentially be caught late by a Juventus team that haven't failed to score in 5 away games.

The second theory is Fiorentina look for the goals that will see them put the pressure on Juventus with the belief that they are likely going to concede at some point to the Serie A leaders.

Personally I think there is the chance of this game producing the goals for an entertaining evening in Florence as neither team will have a lot to lose and gaps will begin to show in a Cup tie if either team has a lead going into the final twenty minutes. I am impressed with Juventus' three clean sheets in a row on their travels, but Fiorentina will point to their 4-2 home win over them earlier this season as proof they can pierce a defence if they need to.

Goals are going to be my call from this Second Leg in a game where a first half goal could certainly open the floodgates in a big Last 16 tie.

Napoli v Porto Pick: This is one of those ties that is in such a state of balance that any kind of goal could quickly shift the momentum.

Out of all the results you can gain in a European home leg, 1-0 puts a team in a very strange position as they can't really go away from home and sit on the lead. However, there is so much to gain by scoring one goal and that is what Porto will be thinking to themselves on their visit to Naples.

However, Napoli have been playing very well at home and have shown their quality in Europe when only just failing to make the Last 16 of the Champions League. On the other hand, Porto were poor in not making it out of a Group where the second place side needed just 6 points to move forward.

I also think Rafa Benitez has become very good at seeing off teams in Europe and that is shown by his pedigree over the last few years where he has seen his teams reach two Champions League Finals, winning one, and also winning the Europa League with Chelsea last season.

Benitez can be a touch too cautious to win League titles, but his methods have worked well in two legged ties and I think he will help Napoli win the game on the night, although it will be tough for them to qualify if Porto score. I would also be concerned if Napoli are leading 2-1 and chasing the game that Porto hit them on the counter-attack, but I think there is just a decent enough price on the home side to back Napoli to win.

Salzburg v Basel Pick: Salzburg have shown how well they can play in the Europa League as they have brought the confidence from their League form into the competition and there is a real belief that they are going to see off Basel in this Second Leg.

After all the chances they did have in the First Leg, Salzburg will feel they will be a little more clinical if those same chances land their way in this game. In the Europa League, Salzburg have scored at least two goals in all 5 home games, while they have hit three or more in 4 of those wins.

There is no doubt in my mind that Basel are a better team than they showed last week in the bits and pieces of the game I watched, but it is a big ask for them to come to an in-form team like Salzburg and snap their poor away record in the Europa League.

Basel may score in the game, but they could end up chasing it late on as Salzburg have the lead and I can see the Austrian team pulling away to book their place in the Europa League Quarter Final.

MY PICKS: Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.20 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Borussia Dortmund - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Anzhi Makhachkala-AZ Alkmaar Under 1.5 Goals @ 3.10 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Benfica Win to Nil @ 2.88 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Fiorentina-Juventus Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Napoli @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Salzburg - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)

March Update13-12, + 2.78 Units (46 Units Staked, + 6.04% 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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