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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (November 25-27)

The penultimate round of the Champions League/Europa League Group Stage is when a lot of the permutations in the Groups are cleared up and sides can book their places in the Last 16/32 of their respective competitions.

Securing the top spot in the Champions League Groups are especially important to avoid the big tests in the Last 16 as Arsenal have found out to their cost in recent seasons and that should maintain some interest for teams going into the final two rounds.

CSKA Moscow v Roma Pick: As solid as the two results against Manchester City were, I can't help but feel CSKA Moscow have been afforded too much respect from them and I do think Roma can secure a vital three points that will put them on the brink of qualification.

In fact, Roma will be through with a win as long as Bayern Munich avoid defeat at Manchester City and that motivation could see the Italian side win in one of the early kick offs on Tuesday afternoon.

It has to be remembered that CSKA Moscow have lost to Bayern Munich at home this season and should have been beaten by Manchester City who had a 0-2 lead in that game before inexplicably crumbling to a draw. That stopped a run of 3 consecutive home losses in the Champions League for CSKA Moscow, who also head into this one having been beaten in 3 of their last 4 games in all competitions including their last one at home.

Roma haven't travelled well in European competition in recent years and haven't won either away game this season, while the side snapped a run of 5 games away from home without a win by beating Atlanta this past weekend. However, I don't think it is an under-estimation of CSKA Moscow to say away games at Manchester City and Bayern Munich in the Champions League and at Juventus (1st Serie A), Sampdoria (4th Serie A) and Napoli (3rd Serie A) are tougher than this one and Roma might be a little under-rated to win here.

It won't be an easy game for the Italians, but they have less pressure on them having beaten CSKA Moscow 5-1 at home and I think they are going to be too strong for the Russian team that have been out of form recently and I like Roma to win this game and put one foot into the Last 16.

BATE Borisov v Porto Pick: BATE Borisov are in pole position for a place in the Europa League having already been knocked out of the Champions League, but their losses in the Group so far have all been by embarrassing margins. In fact, BATE have failed to score and conceded a mammoth 18 goals in their three losses in the Group outside of the 2-1 win here over Athletic Bilbao that leaves them in 3rd place.

Now they face a Porto team that are going to be desperate to win the Group and who can qualify as winners of the section if they win and Shakhtar fail to do the same later in the evening against Athletic Bilbao.

BATE have struggled once they have got into the Group Stage of the Champions League, although they have also surprised the likes of Bayern Munich and Milan in the section. However, for the most part they have found the best teams too good and they have lost 3 of their last 4 home games in the Group with 2 of those losses coming by two or more goals.

This Porto team has pace to burn in the forward positions and a striker in Jackson Martinez that is capable of scoring at the highest level and this may end up being another fairly comfortable home loss for BATE. Porto haven't been the best travellers in the Champions League in recent seasons, but they will have confidence from beating BATE 6-0 at home and I think they will come close to matching the 0-2 win they had at Athletic Bilbao in the last round of games.

APOEL v Barcelona Pick: A lot of people may look at this game on first glance and expect Barcelona to win by a hatful of goals against APOEL, but the Cypriot side have been anything but an easy three points in the Group this season and in general on home soil in the Champions League.

This is a team that reached the Quarter Final of the Champions League just three seasons ago and APOEL have shown their desire and work rate in close losses in all of their Champions League Group games bar the 1-1 draw with Ajax. The three losses to Paris Saint-Germain (twice) and Barcelona have all come by the same 1-0 scoreline and that looks a big player in this one despite the strong attack that Barcelona can field.

The lack of goals in the APOEL side may be a concern for them in trying to earn a result in this one and they may be better placed to defend deep and try and hit Barcelona on the counter-attack or try and play out a goalless draw. They were minutes away from doing that against Paris Saint-Germain at home, but the fact they have failed to score in 3 in a row in all competitions and 3 of their last 5 at home is going to make it tough to secure a result in this one.

I would expect Barcelona to produce a bit of magic and win another away game in the Champions League which has been a problem as they have won just 3 of their last 10 on their travels in this competition. However, Barcelona's high possession game has meant they have won their last 5 away games in the Champions League when earning a clean sheet and I think that is the call for this game.

Schalke v Chelsea Pick: It has been a strong season for Chelsea in the Premier League, although it has to be said that the competition in that Division won't come up to some of the standards they will be seeing in the Champions League this season. However, I do feel that Schalke are not to that level either and a win for Chelsea looks to be the most probable result in this game.

I do have to credit Schalke for their record at home through the season and the fact they have won 4 in a row in front of their own fans, but this is a team that hasn't performed that well in the Champions League. They could only manage a draw with Maribor and needed a late goal to beat Sporting Lisbon despite the latter playing with ten men for much of that game and I think Chelsea are playing too well for them at the moment.

The away side are creating chances and they have a striker in Diego Costa who doesn't seem to need too much invitation to put his name on the scoresheet. The concern would be the lack of clean sheets that Chelsea have managed away from home with a number of late goals conceded in those games, but they had enough chances to beat both Sporting and Maribor on their travels in this Group and will enjoy playing an open Schalke side that will be on the front foot.

If Chelsea take the chances that are expected to come their way, they can make Jose Mourinho's wish come true and not only qualify for the Last 16, but also win the Group by securing the three points in this game.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Athletic Bilbao Pick: Shakhtar Donetsk might not be playing in their official home these days due to the issues that have gripped the Ukraine over the last few months, but they can beat Athletic Bilbao and remain in contention to win this Group.

Athletic Bilbao remind me very much of their Basque neighbours Real Sociedad in that they were unable to maintain the form that took them into the Champions League while balancing their League commitments with the competition. Like Real Sociedad, Bilbao came through impressively in the qualifiers to reach the Group, but have struggled in that section and are already out of the Champions League.

I don't know to what extent they would want to slip into the Europa League, but Athletic Bilbao have definitely been improving in La Liga, although still found themselves in losses to Porto in the last back to back games. Now they travel to a Shakhtar Donetsk team that have rattled in 12 goals in 2 games against BATE Borisov and who crushed Real Sociedad in both Champions League games last season.

There is so much pace in the Shakhtar forward positions which are going to be very tough for Athletic Bilbao to deal with, especially as they showed they were susceptible to that in the games with Porto. The focus might not be there either with the League the priority now and Bilbao might find themselves in a tough position in this game as Shakhtar go in search of more goals. Shakhtar have only won 2 of their last 7 home games in the Champions League, but they were unfortunate not to beat Porto having led 2-0 until the final three minutes of that game and I do expect them to win this game.

Atletico Madrid v Olympiacos Pick: Since the start of last season, Atletico Madrid have pushed themselves to the forefront of European football which culminated in an appearance in the Champions League Final just a few days after winning the Spanish Primera Division. They are no longer flying under the radar, but remain a team that can earn the big wins and another on Wednesday will send them through to the Last 16 of the Champions League.

They will be expected to see off an Olympiacos side that have lost 4 in a row on their travels in the Champions League although the Greek side will be respected having already beaten Atletico Madrid in the Group. Olympiacos will also have gotten teams to sit up and take notice considering their performance in Juventus although I do think the visit to Atletico Madrid is much tougher than going to Turin at this moment of time.

Atletico Madrid have been flying at home with 6 straight wins coming into this game, while they have also won 7 of their last 8 home games in the Champions League. A lot of these wins have come with Atletico Madrid scoring a few goals and being too strong for opponents and I think that shows up here.

With Olympiacos conceding at least twice in their last 4 away games in the Champions League and Atletico Madrid winning 5 of their last 6 at home by two or more goals, I expect there to be a margin of at least two goals between the teams in this one.

Basel v Real Madrid Pick: Basel are one of these teams that have so much European competition as they are seemingly in the Champions League every season, but have also had deep runs in the Europa League when they have exited this competition at an early stage. With that experience, they have become a tougher and tougher team to visit and that has resulted in a number of big name teams falling to surprise losses here.

It still seems a stretch to think Real Madrid will fall into that trap considering their 14 game winning run that they bring into this one and the fact they will likely start with James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the forward positions.

Those three players can make it very difficult for any team in Europe and it is no surprise that Real Madrid have been scoring as many goals as they have. They are averaging 4 goals per game in their last 8 away games in all competitions, although Real Madrid surprisingly struggled against Ludogorets where they needed to come from a goal behind to beat the Bulgarian Champions.

You have to feel Ronaldo will be particularly motivated after seeing what Lionel Messi did on Tuesday night and that could be bad news for Basel. As much as I do respect a team that has given so many problems on their own patch in recent seasons, this Real Madrid are playing at a very high level and should prove too strong.

Basel won't be out of the competition with a loss, but Real Madrid will be going through with top spot 100% secured and I think the reigning European Champions win this by a couple of goals at least.

MY PICKS: Roma @ 2.50 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Porto - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Barcelona Win to Nil @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea @ 1.83 Coral (2 Units)
Shakhtar Donetsk @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Real Madrid - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)

November Update10-13, - 3.21 Units (43 Units, - 7.47% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1528-58, - 36.99 Units (139 Units Staked, - 26.61% 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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