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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (December 9-11)

This is the final round of fixtures from the Group Stage of both the Champions League and the Europa League are completed this week and the draw for the Last 16 and Last 32 respectively of those competitions is going to be held back until Monday next week for some reason.

There are still some big permutations to be decided over the next couple of days, none bigger than for the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Roma who all would have expected to make the Last 16 at the very least.

It should make more fascinating viewing for the neutrals as the games keep coming for those who enjoy catching the football on television. With a full round of European games this week and then another big domestic weekend in England coming up, as well as the final round of games for those Leagues that close down for their 'Winter Break', there isn't much time for the big clubs to rest players.

Olympiacos v Malmo Pick: My biggest concern in backing Olympiacos in this game is whether they will have a full focus on Malmo and how much the side could potentially be deflated if they hear Juventus are beating Atletico Madrid in the crucial other game in the Group. With Olympiacos needing to win and Juventus needing to lose, the players could definitely feel emotionally flat if Juventus take the lead especially with a Europa League spot already secured.

On the other hand, Malmo have generally found the competition level a little too high as the Champions League run has continued, particularly on their travels and I do wonder if they will be able to hang with Olympiacos.

There is little doubt the loss in Sweden is the game that has cost Olympiacos their chance to move into the Last 16 for the second season in succession so a little revenge could be on the mind. The players should be well rested too and Olympiacos have been very strong at home in the Champions League with 5 straight wins here and winning 7 of their last 8 at home in the competition.

The talent difference between these two teams should eventually prevail and you have to think Olympiacos are going to have enough in the tank to break down Malmo. An early goal will be nice to get the fans behind them and also to provide motivation to win this game no matter what happens in Turin and I think Olympiacos become the 4th team from the last 5 tries to beat Malmo by at least two goals at home.

Real Madrid v Ludogorets Pick: As much as Carlo Ancelotti has insisted that Real Madrid's concentration has not been on setting new records, I very much doubt the Italian could have picked a better opponent to help the team reach 19 wins in a row. You have to respect Ludogorets and how far they have come as a club, but Real Madrid clearly have the talent quality to really give them all they can handle and more.

There are some injury concerns in the home squad, but Cristiano Ronaldo loves his football and has some personal marks to hit in the Champions League and looks to be involved in this one. He should have chances to score in this one and Real Madrid have been scoring so many goals at home that it won't be a surprise if they put Ludogorets to the sword.

It would be easy for Ludogorets to perhaps be overawed by the occasion and the 32 goals in the last 8 home games that Real Madrid have scored has to be intimidating. They will look to make life difficult, but containing the pace and power Real Madrid has looks a huge task.

Real Madrid have won so many games in the last two seasons at home by wide margins in the Champions League and 6 of their last 8 home wins have come by at least three goals. I will look for them to put yet another team away with a lot of comfort at home and back Real Madrid to win this by at least three goals.

Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain Pick: Winning a Champions League Group has proved to be a very important task for teams that truly want to go deep into the competition as the standard of Last 16 opponents have really been wide apart depending whether you finish first or second.

A quick look at the likely winners of the Groups this season seems to highlight that and Barcelona will be very keen to overturn Paris Saint-Germain's one point lead in this section. Getting the chance to do so at the Nou Camp looks to be a huge factor in the game, although PSG are a much improved team with plenty of Champions League experience and won't be daunted by the task in front of them.

With a 25 game unbeaten run to protect, Paris Saint-Germain will be full of confidence as well as the fact they have already beaten Barcelona this season. Two seasons ago, PSG and Barcelona shared two draws in the Quarter Final tie which eventually saw the latter progress on away goals, and I expect this to be another close fought game.

An interesting note is that Paris Saint-Germain have scored in 10 of their last 11 away games in the Champions League since returning to the top table of European football, while Barcelona have kept just 1 clean sheet from their last 6 home games in the competition.

Even with that statistic, Barcelona have continued to win the majority of those games and they have won 10 of 11 games here in all competitions and that is despite conceding in 4 straight home games.

As you might be able to tell, I do think Barcelona will use home advantage to win this game, but it is unlikely to come in a game where they keep a clean sheet. With the pace and power that Paris Saint-Germain have in their side, I would expect them to keep up their record of managing to score in away games in the Champions League, but it might end up in a losing effort.

Roma v Manchester City Pick: This is a massive game for both Roma and Manchester City with so much at stake and it will be interesting to see how both clubs approach the game. With the financial implication of making it through to the Last 16, both clubs could be a little tense, but Rudi Garcia and Manuel Pellegrini are two managers that love to set their teams out to play attacking football.

It is tough to imagine either will decide to take a backward step in this one as a win would likely be enough to send them through to the Last 16 and both teams have scored so many goals in recent games.

Even in the absence of Sergio Aguero, which could be a fatal blow to Manchester City's chances to progress, the return of David Silva would be a huge boost to the team. However, Yaya Toure serving another suspension is another blow and Roma may look to get on the front foot to really put some pressure on Manchester City and take the game to them.

At home, Roma have done that effectively for most of the season with the Bayern Munich 1-7 loss a rare exception for them. They have scored at least twice in every other home game they have played this season and will likely need to do that to win this game.

That is the case with Manchester City scoring at least twice in 6 of their last 7 away games and this does look a game that will feature at least three goals shared by the teams. An early goal could just open up the whole game as the team falling behind will have to go searching for goals and it might be one of the more entertaining games of match day six of the Champions League where so many other games won't have the same prize at stake.

The layers seem to be on the ball for that scenario occurring, but I still think backing over 2.5 goals is the call for this game.

MY PICKS: Olympiacos - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.08 Bet365 (2 Units)
Real Madrid - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet365 (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Barcelona to Win @ 2.88 Coral (1 Unit)
Roma-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)

December Update6-8, - 0.28 Units (24 Units Staked, - 1.17% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% 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 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% 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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