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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (September 16-18)

This has usually been a time of the season that is one of excitement as the Champions League gets back underway, but this time around it just highlights what a poor season Manchester United had in the last campaign.

It is up to the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City to represent the English teams this time around, although I am not one of these fans that says 'we should support all the English teams'. The only reason I would want any of them to stick around is to keep the two games a week continuing to help Manchester United who will only be interested in Premier League games, but I very much oppose any of them winning the Champions League.

Everton and Tottenham Hotspur are the two English representatives in the Europa League and there is a much bigger incentive to win the tournament these days. The winner of the competition is given a place in the Champions League and both Roberto Martinez and Mauricio Pochettino may feel this is the best avenue for their teams to get into the premier competition of European football.

However, there are a lot of games to get through in the Europa League, plus having to deal with those sides that exit the Champions League in the Group Stage, and it certainly isn't an easy way to get into a competition that both clubs desire.

I am not sure whether the winning team takes away a place from the nation they represent, but as far as I am aware, that won't be the case.

After a brutal August, September started much better for the picks with a successful weekend and I hope there will be more success this week as the Champions League and Europa League games take centre stage.

Monaco v Bayer Leverkusen Pick: Over the last few years, there has been a lot of love for the German Bundesliga from fans through Europe and the latest to become a 'trendy pick' could be Bayer Leverkusen. The side have made a strong start to their domestic campaign having come through the Play Offs to reach the Group Stage of the Champions League and they are favoured to win in Monaco in their opening game of the section.

Despite a couple of years of heavy investment, Monaco have taken a step back from that policy this season and have seen the likes of James Rodrguez and Radamel Falcao depart before the Champions League has begun.

The change in mindset has been reflected on the pitch where Monaco have won just 1 of their first 5 League games and have lost 3 of those games to sap the confidence ahead of their return to the Champions League. Monaco haven't won any of their last 4 home games going back to last season and now face a Bayer Leverkusen team that have scored at least 2 goals in every game they have played this season.

Bayer Leverkusen clearly have found a productive way to get forward, but it also has to be noted that they have conceded plenty of goals too- they have conceded at least 2 goals in three straight games and have failed to win any of their last 2 games.

Goals could be in the offing in this game too with that kind of performances being produced by the German side. Monaco will be expected to attack at home if they are to come through this section and reach the Last 16 and I think the layers have been a little generous with the offer for goals.

Borussia Dortmund v Arsenal Pick: The second game of the day where I do think there will be goals is the one between Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal, two teams that have become very familiar with one another over the last couple of seasons.

This will be the third time in four seasons that Dortmund and Arsenal have been placed with one another in the Group Stage and both will believe they can advance from the section so these games could determine who finishes top of the section.

Arsenal have won 2 of the 4 games they have played in the last couple of years, including a 0-1 win here last season, while Dortmund have yet to beat them at home with their sole win coming last season at the Emirates Stadium.

These two teams both prefer the attacking part of football and it is no real surprise to me that so many goals have been produced in their respective games in the Champions League. However, that hasn't always been the case when they have played one another as both games in Germany have finished with fewer than three goals.

The Gunners do have some defensive problems going into the game that Dortmund will feel they can exploit though, while Dortmund themselves can be susceptible to the counter attack with the pace Arsenal have in forward areas. The layers are taking no chances with the price, but I do think we will see at least three goals in this game.

Liverpool v Ludogorets Pick: It has been a long time coming for the Liverpool fans as they make their return to the premier competition of European football and I think the majority of those fans attending Anfield will be expecting an easy win. As well as Ludogorets have played domestically, this is a serious step up in level for the Bulgarian Champions and it will be a tough task for them to even think about getting back into the Europa League.

However, to disrespect Ludogorets may be a mistake and it is not one that Brendan Rodgers will be making by overlooking the challenge in front of them. The Liverpool manager admitted he has been preparing as if Ludogorets were Real Madrid and I think he will be looking for a big performance to bounce back from the surprise loss to Aston Villa last weekend.

I don't put that down to Liverpool looking ahead to this game, I think they simply missed the pace of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling to start the game and can at least look to the latter in this one.

Mario Balotelli has to prove he is more than a risk taken by Liverpool and I do expect the home side to prove too strong for Ludogorets, although it might be by a tighter scoreline than the layers believe.

One aspect where Ludogorets may struggle is creating too many chances and they were beaten without scoring at Valencia in the Europa League last season as well as at Steaua Bucharest and Basel in this competition in the last twelve months. Liverpool are not the greatest defence in the world and that remains their big achilles heel, but they look a decent shout at odds against to win with a clean sheet.

Real Madrid v Basel Pick: This has been an incredibly disappointing start for Real Madrid following the Champions League success that came to the side in May and they will be desperate to get back to winning ways. Losing games is one thing, but the manner of the defeats to Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid would have hurt the Real Madrid fans and players and I do think there will be a response.

They are playing a team with plenty of European experience having played some of the best sides through the continent during their time in the Champions League. Basel beat Chelsea home and away last season to show their capabilities, but they have also taken some heavy defeats at the likes of Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Juventus over the years on their travels.

Real Madrid have shown a real desire to score plenty of goals in the Champions League and still look very dangerous going forward with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to call upon. Losing Angel Di Maria seems to have upset Ronaldo, but I think Real Madrid are more likely to come together than really be ripped apart at the seams just yet.

That attacking talent could be tough to contain for Basel, especially if they fall behind early, and I think the home team will be looking to score plenty of goals in this one. I don't expect the Swiss team to roll over with their experience, but the three goals conceded at Grasshoppers has to be a concern and I think Real Madrid will record a big win.

Roma v CSKA Moscow Pick: This will be Roma's first game in the Champions League for four seasons and they are the kind of dark horse that will feel they can separate Bayern Munich and Manchester City in the race for the Last 16.

If Roma seriously believe they are capable of doing that, they have to beat a CSKA Moscow team that have more experience at this level and one that reached the Last 16 in 2012. However, they were paired with Manchester City and Bayern Munich last season too and were comfortably beaten in both away games while finishing below Viktoria Plzen.

That was thanks to losing in the Czech Republic which has extended CSKA Moscow's run to 4 consecutive away losses in the Champions League since a 1-2 win Italy over Inter Milan.

However, Roma will have plenty of confidence that comes from losing just 1 of their last 23 home games in all competitions of which they have won 19. They weren't that consistent at home in the Champions League when they last competed at this level, but I fancy Roma to get off to a good start and win this game by a couple of goals.

Athletic Bilbao v Shakhtar Donetsk Pick: This looks to be a really open Group with Porto and BATE Borisov making up the numbers and both Athletic Bilbao and Shakhtar Donetsk will feel they are good enough to make it into the Last 16 of the Champions League.

The key for Athletic Bilbao will be how they perform at home and I do think they will get the better of Shakhtar Donetsk despite the form of the latter.

There is also the case of Shakhtar being familiar with coming to this part of Spain and leaving with a win on the opening day of the Group Stage as they did at Real Sociedad last season, but I think Athletic Bilbao are a stronger team than their Basque rivals.

It will certainly not be an easy game for the home team, but their win over Napoli shows what Athletic Bilbao are capable of in front of their loud, passionate home support and I think they can win this game.

Chelsea v Schalke Pick: It has been an impressive start to the new season for Chelsea when it comes to forward play, but Jose Mourinho won't be happy with the number of goals they have been conceding. However, that hasn't stopped Chelsea winning every game with room to spare and they will be confident they can beat Schalke in their opening Champions League game.

There should be a strong team played by Chelsea, even though they play at Manchester City at the weekend, and I think they will become the latest to expose Schalke's poor start to the new season.

Even the 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich came at home and I think Schalke will struggle to contain Chelsea on current form especially off the back of a beating at Borussia Moechengladbach.

The lack of confidence could be a problem if Schalke fall behind early in this one and I think Chelsea are playing well enough to keep them on the back foot. There are goals in this Chelsea team and I do believe they win this by a couple of goals.

Bayern Munich v Manchester City Pick: There are not going to be many times that Manchester City are such a big price to win a game of football and I do think they have every chance of securing a surprising three points at Bayern Munich in this huge Champions League game.

The winner of the game will certainly feel they have a very good chance of moving through to the Last 16 even after one game, but a win for Manchester City will make them a big favourite to secure top spot.

I am not only thinking of the 2-3 win for City at this ground last season as a reason to believe they can win this time as Bayern Munich had already secured their place in the Last 16. However, they were one goal away from finishing behind Manchester City in the Group so I don't think that is a game that should be completely disregarded.

This time around, Bayern Munich may be missing Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben which should take away some of the pace that makes this team so dangerous. I am also not convinced that Pep Guardiola is capable of getting the best out of the players he has at his disposal with his philosophy perhaps not best suited to a team that looked much more dangerous when they go direct.

Manchester City shouldn't have too many fears of coming to the Allianz Arena and winning this game, although defensively they remain vulnerable. They did win all 3 Group games away from home twelve months ago and seem to be more settled in what the manager expects of them than the home team.

Add in the fact that Bayern Munich had failed to win any of 4 home games against English teams, losing 2 of those games, before the 3-1 win over Manchester United in the Quarter Final. Even in that win, Bayern Munich were 0-1 down and I think United had a great chance of winning if they held the lead for more than a couple of minutes and I think Manchester City could be a huge price worth a small interest.

MY PICKS: Monaco-Bayer Leverkusen Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 BoyleSports (2 Units)
Borussia Dortmund-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool Win to Nil @ 1.92 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Real Madrid - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Roma - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Athletic Bilbao @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Manchester City @ 5.50 Pinnacle (1 Unit)

September Update: 5-2, + 7.02 Units (12 Units Staked, + 58.5% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/158-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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