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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (February 24-26)

The spread of the Champions League games means the First Legs of the Last 16 ties will be completed on Tuesday and Wednesday with the final four games to be played. The Tuesday action looks the 'must see' of the two days with Manchester City hosting Barcelona and Juventus hosting Borussia Dortmund, two games that are arguably the best ties of the Round.

On Thursday, the Europa League Last 16 will be put together as the Second Legs of the Last 32 Round is completed and it looks like a competition that will certainly bring together some big ties in the coming weeks as the majority of the top teams have First Leg advantages. However, there is still some work to be done for teams to earn their places in the Last 16 when teams may begin to think they can win the Europa League and earn a place in the Champions League for next season.

Juventus v Borussia Dortmund Pick: There a few matches that really stand out in the Champions League and this is arguably the tie of the Round as the Italian Champions Juventus take on Borussia Dortmund who have been very successful in this competition over the last couple of seasons.

Jurgen Klopp's men have also seemed to have turned a corner in the Bundesliga and that should give them confidence that they can beat Juventus over two legs. They haven't really displayed the same form in the Champions League where Borussia Dortmund have played much better than they have in their domestic campaign and that makes them a dangerous team.

Borussia Dortmund have scored plenty of goals and Juventus have been the opposite of Dortmund in that they haven't really been able to bring their Serie A form into the Champions League. Juventus have had a hard time turning draws into wins in this competition and they didn't beat Atletico Madrid in the Group at home, while Olympiacos were leading 1-2 before Juventus fought back to win the game.

If you also consider the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have both scored at least a couple of goals in recent games at Juventus in the Champions League and I do think the Italian side look a dangerous favourite to have faith in. I do think Juventus are the more likely winners, but Borussia Dortmund will have renewed belief thanks to three consecutive wins and this is a team with a real goal threat going forward.

At the same price as the home win, backing there being at least three goals in this one might make more sense. I can't see Juventus keeping a clean sheet but I am edging towards them winning the game so backing there being at least three goals looks the less risky approach, especially as I do think Borussia Dortmund are a very dangerous side remaining in this competition.

Manchester City v Barcelona Pick: If Manchester City had the services of Yaya Toure to call upon, they would look a big price to beat Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium in this First Leg, but the Ivorian's absence is tough to compensate for.

Without his driving runs through the middle of the park, Manchester City will have to play two midfielders in the heart of their team who are better defensively, but don't offer the support going forward that Toure does. It is a big blow for Manchester City considering they would very much like to be on the front foot in this game and try and take a lead to the Nou Camp next month, but Manuel Pellegrini also has to find the right balance as he won't want to be 0-2 down as City were twelve months ago.

Of course that match was turned on one moment at the end of the first half when Martin Demichelis was adjudged to have prevented a goal-scoring chance and sent off with the double punishment being Lionel Messi scoring from the resulting penalty.

The game was fairly tight before that and Manchester City come into this game in very good heart having beaten Stoke City and Newcastle United very easily in their last two games. Couple that with Barcelona's 0-1 home loss to Malaga and the fact the Catalan giants have lost half of their last 6 away games in the Champions League and you can understand why Manchester City will have their backers this evening.

However, I think City have shown vulnerabilities defensively which are going to be exploited by the likes of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi and it is hard to see the home side keeping a clean sheet considering they haven't had one in their last 10 home Champions League games. In fact, the last three 'big' teams that have visited the Etihad Stadium have all scored at least two goals (Bayern Munich twice and Barcelona).

Goals should be the order of the day in this tie too with both teams looking better going forward than they are at the back and I do think there will be chances at both ends barring another sending off. Barcelona's passing game might wear down Manchester City as some have suggested, but I think the more direct approach taken by Pellegrini will give the home team every chance as that has been a weakness for Barcelona to defend.

A lot of the value has gone out of there being goals in this game and I did consider a smaller interest on there being at least four goals. However, I will simply back for there to be at least three goals shared by these sides, which looks a less dangerous approach as neither team will look to push forward in the latter stages of a First Leg if the tie is finely balanced.

Arsenal v Monaco Pick: Over the last few years, Arsenal have regularly been punished for failing to top their Group in the Champions League with matches against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich usually being their 'reward'. Unsurprisingly, Arsenal have failed to reach the Quarter Final in the Champions League since 2010, but they might not have a better chance than this time to snap that run as they meet Monaco.

There will be a lot of talk about the links between the clubs from Arsene Wenger to Thierry Henry, but the fans won't be that interested with the stories surrounding the game and will simply expect Arsenal to qualify for the Quarter Finals. They can take a big step in that direction by earning a comfortable home win in the First Leg which will set up the trip to Monte Carlo, especially as Monaco's home Stadium is one of the more intimate ones in Europe and can be difficult for the away team to perform.

Arsenal have won 10 of their last 15 home games in this competition with their biggest bogey teams coming from Germany so the confidence will be there that the Gunners can win this game. They have also won 9 in a row at home in all competitions since their 1-2 defeat to Manchester United and Monaco are a team that is well off the pace in the French domestic League and looking to cut some of the costs that got them back into the Champions League.

Monaco have won 4 of their last 5 away games in all competitions, but they struggled on their travels in the Group Stage of the Champions League as they drew in Zenit St Petersburg and were beaten in Benfica before a victory over Bayer Leverkusen. None of those three teams would be favourites to beat Arsenal in my opinion and this marks a big step up in class for Monaco compared with the usual opponents they deal with.

Of course it would be foolish to ignore that Monaco were well-drilled in the Group and only conceded one goal in six Champions League games, but they were also a little goal-shy with just four goals and I think Arsenal are clicking going forward and can record a decisive win.

Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid Pick: Bayer Leverkusen are once again challenging for a place in the Champions League with their form in the Bundesliga, but this is a team that has found it difficult to compete with the best teams in Europe on a regular basis. Over recent seasons, Leverkusen have beaten all the teams they would have expected to, but the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain have all won convincingly in this Stadium.

Even the defeat to Monaco at home must raise questions as to whether Bayer Leverkusen have enough quality against the better teams they face in the Champions League. There will be some answers to that question when they face Atletico Madrid in the First Leg of the Champions League this week and I do fear for the German side.

Last week it was the other team from Madrid who visited Germany and proved there was a marked difference between the top Spanish teams and those challenging for top four positions in the Bundesliga. That might be the case again this week as Atletico Madrid should have too much quality for Leverkusen who have been struggling at home in recent games.

The feeling is that Bayer Leverkusen's best chance of beating Atletico Madrid will be at home and they might not find the right balance between attack and defence to at least make the Second Leg more than a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately it is hard to ignore the defeats that Bayer Leverkusen have suffered when faced by the best teams in the Champions League, even at home, and I think a small interest on Atletico Madrid taking a lead back to the Vicente Calderon is warranted.

Besiktas v Liverpool Pick: The 1-0 defeat in Anfield puts Besiktas behind the black ball in this one, but this is not an inescapable position for them considering the problems Liverpool are having with personnel they can rely upon.

The 0-2 win at Southampton last weekend has shown Liverpool they are more than capable of breaking into the top four of the Premier League and they have a big game with Manchester City this weekend which is taking away some of their focus. The midfield has been decimated ahead of this game with Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson all staying in Liverpool ahead of this match.

As well as Liverpool have played away from Anfield in recent weeks, this is a team that did lose 2 of their 3 away games in the Champions League Group Stage and Besiktas have already hosted two English teams this season in a goalless draw with Arsenal and beating Tottenham Hotspur.

Besiktas haven't been in the best form of late, but they have won three in a row at home and did show enough at Anfield to think they can win this game. They might not have enough to get through to the Last 16 because Liverpool still can call upon the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Mario Balotelli and Raheem Sterling for a goal, but the Turkish side look a big price to earn a win.

A small interest is all I can recommend because Besiktas could be caught on the break if they are leading 2-1 with ten minutes left, but I will back them to win this Second Leg.

Inter Milan v Celtic Pick: Celtic showed tremendous heart to recover from a couple of deficits in the First Leg of this Last 32 tie and earned a hard-fought 3-3 draw with Inter Milan, but that makes them a big underdog to progress.

The pressure will be on Celtic to come to the San Siro and win this game and I can imagine they will look to frustrate Inter Milan and then hit them later on in the game. However, Inter Milan have enough quality to create chances against Celtic and it will be tough for the Scottish Champions from recovering if they fall behind in this one.

Any time a team wins as many games as Celtic have been doing recently will mean confidence is high, but they have struggled away from home in Europe over the last few years. They might be able to keep this tight for a while, but Inter Milan should take control once they have the lead and have been playing well and scoring plenty of goals to think they will do that in this game.

I can see Celtic also being caught on the break if they end up chasing the game and I like Inter Milan to win this by a couple of goals.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Sevilla Pick: There have been some struggles for Borussia Monchengladbach at home in front of goal, but they should have an excellent chance to get amongst the goals against a Sevilla team that has been conceding at an alarming rate in recent games.

They were beaten 4-3 at Real Sociedad last weekend and Sevilla have conceded at least two goals in 5 straight away games in all competitions, while their form in the Europa League away from home won't build confidence. They have lost 3 of their last 5 away games in this competition, but Sevilla will at least point to the fact that they have scored goals away from home in recent weeks to give them the edge in this tie.

I was considering backing Borussia Monchengladbach to win this game, but a Sevilla goal will mean they are likely to be pushing men forward and could be caught on the counter-attack. Even if they are leading 2-1 in the later stages, Monchengladbach will still need another goal and again could be under pressure to send more men forward and give Sevilla a chance to grab another goal.

Sevilla's ability to score goals in away games does make them dangerous and I think this could produce an entertaining game. Borussia Monchengladbach have to get forward if Sevilla score and the Spanish side have been conceding plenty of goals too so the odds against quotes for at least three goals being shared looks a big price.

Everton v Young Boys Pick: Despite some of the comments that Uli Forte has been making in his press conference ahead of this Second Leg, it would take an unprecedented disaster from Everton to go out of the Europa League after winning 1-4 in Switzerland. Young Boys have to score at least four times to give themselves a chance and they are not the same team when they have had to play away from their plastic pitch.

The side were beaten easily in Naples and Prague during the Group Stage and even a changed Everton team should have enough to create chances. However, I do think Young Boys will come to Goodison Park with attacking intentions and can pose problems against a much changed Everton team that have been defensively naive for much of the season.

The unfamiliarity of the home side with one another playing against a decent team might give Young Boys a chance to at least salvage some pride in this one, but I also think the First Leg score gives Everton some freedom to express themselves.

I think that has been part of the problem in the Premier League where Everton are almost 'desperate' to put their wins together and that has led to nervousness in their performances. In the Europa League there seems to be a little more ease about the Everton showings and they should have success going forward against a team that didn't do a lot right defensively last week.

There is a potential for a high-scoring game, perhaps more of a chance than the layers seem to think, and I will back this Second Leg to go that way.

Sporting Lisbon v Wolfsburg Pick: It was Wolfsburg who set themselves up for a place in the Last 16 of the Europa League after a comfortable 2-0 home win over Sporting Lisbon last week at home, but they still have a little work to do to ensure they move through. A goal in the Portuguese Capital will likely be enough for Wolfsburg and this team have shown the appetite to do that in recent weeks.

This is a difficult test for Sporting Lisbon to find the right balance between attack and defence and it has the makings of an entertaining Cup tie, even if Sporting ultimately come up short.

Sporting Lisbon scored seven goals in two home games against Schalke and Maribor in the Champions League Group Stage so they will feel they can score in this one, while Wolfsburg have scored in 9 straight away games.

I'd be surprised if there aren't spaces to exploit in this game as it develops and an early goal should set this match on the way to at least three goals being shared by the teams.

MY PICKS: Juventus-Borussia Dortmund Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City-Barcelona Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet365 (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid @ 2.55 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Besiktas @ 3.00 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Inter Milan - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Borussia Monchengladbach-Sevilla Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Everton-Young Boys Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Sporting Lisbon-Wolfsburg Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)

February Update15-21-1, - 1.69 Units (59 Units Staked, - 2.86% Yield)

January Final10-22-1, - 10.54 Units (57 Units Staked, - 18.49% Yield)
December Final25-19-1, + 18.70 Units (81 Units Staked, + 23.09% 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 2014/1580-120-2, - 29.42 Units (346 Units Staked, - 8.50% 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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