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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (March 17-19)

This is a big week in European Football as both the Champions League and Europa League Quarter Final draws will be made at the end of the week and teams will begin to smell the opportunity to win the tournaments.

The Champions League in particularly is set to produce four solid Quarter Finals with the majority of the best teams moving through and it looks to be a trophy decided by Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Barcelona with a couple of dark horses perhaps working their way into the Final as Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid have in the last couple of years.

The Europa League also seems to have a bigger impact than in previous years with the winner getting a place in the Champions League next season. Teams like Sevilla, Napoli, Fiorentina and Everton might see the Europa League as their best chance to get into the premier competition of European Football and all are amongst the favourites to win the trophy in Warsaw.

Before the draw, there are still twelve matches to be played across the next three days in the two different competitions as teams look to book their place in the Quarter Finals. The two English teams left in the Champions League look almost certain to be exiting the competition following home defeats, but Everton are still fighting in the Europa League and have a 2-1 lead to take to Dynamo Kiev on Thursday.

While two of the Champions League ties look to be heading in favour of Monaco and Barcelona who host Arsenal and Manchester City respectively, the other two Champions League ties between Atletico Madrid-Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund-Juventus look finely balanced and should produce some fascinating viewing.

Hopefully it will be another good week for the picks as this month has been a good one so far, but there are still another two weeks to go to record a positive result and recover what has been a poor season so far.

Atletico Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen Pick: It was a big surprise to see Atletico Madrid lose in Germany last month and failing to grab an away goal puts them in a very difficult situation when it comes to this Second Leg. A 1-0 defeat means Atletico Madrid would be in a desperate situation if Bayer Leverkusen were to score at the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday, but the home team should have confidence they can recover the scoreline having won 8 of their last 9 home games in the Champions League.

They have also kept clean sheets in their last 5 home games in the Champions League despite hosting teams of the calibre of Barcelona, Chelsea and Juventus, but a bigger concern for Atletico Madrid may be their struggles in front of goal.

A poor run of form has seen Atletico Madrid fail to score in 3 of their last 4 games in all competitions and it is no surprise they have failed to win any of those games. Compare that to the confidence that Bayer Leverkusen should have with 4 wins from their last 5 games in all competitions and the task gets a little bigger for the Finalists of last season.

The tie is finely balanced and I do have to say the footballing cliche of the importance of the first goal has to be used in this game. If Atletico Madrid can get themselves in front, I think they can go on and win this game and move into the Quarter Final, but a goal for Bayer Leverkusen would be too much to overcome from a mental standpoint.

Missing Diego Godin and Tiago is a big problem for Atletico Madrid, while Leverkusen will be inspired by what Schalke did across town at Real Madrid last week. However, I think the experience in the Atletico Madrid dressing room plus the importance that Diego Simeone seems to have placed in the Champions League should give the home team the edge.

I can see Atletico Madrid overturning the First Leg deficit in this one and move into the Quarter Final and will back them to do that at odds against.

Monaco v Arsenal Pick: The First Leg should be decisive in this tie if Monaco continue producing the defensive performances they have been both at home and in the Champions League this season. There is no need for the home team to over-commit going forward especially as Arsenal need to score at least three times here to have any chance of going through and I would be surprised if Monaco come out with any other system but one to prevent conceding goals.

I would expect Monaco to allow Arsenal to have the ball and try and pick them off on the counter-attack, while the home team even have the benefit of knowing a narrow loss will move them through to the Quarter Final.

This isn't an unfamiliar position for Arsenal to be essentially down and out from the First Leg of the Last 16 tie in the Champions League, but they have shown in recent years that they are capable of at least earning some pride back. That has been most clear from the two games against Bayern Munich when Arsenal were behind by two goals from the First Leg at home, but actually beat Bayern Munich and drew with them at the Allianz Arena in the Second Leg.

There are goals in the Arsenal team, even against a defensively disciplined Monaco team, and they created enough chances in the home leg to know they will have the ability to score here. Olivier Giroud had an awful game at the Emirates Stadium, but he should be inspired by playing back in his native country and there are a few connections with the French League in the Arsenal camp.

Most notably is Arsene Wenger who is a former Monaco manager and Arsenal have won their last 6 games in France so I think there is every chance they can win on Tuesday. With the goals they have been scoring and Monaco unlikely to commit too much going the other way, Arsenal may end up securing the win but ultimately being knocked out of the tournament and I will back the Gunners to earn a Pyrrhic victory here.

Barcelona v Manchester City Pick: This is a huge game for Manuel Pellegrini and his Manchester City team whose chances of winning something this season were reduced drastically over the last month. The home loss in the First Leg of this tie puts them in a very difficult position to turn things around and progress to their first Quarter Final in the Champions League, while a 1-0 defeat at Burnley means they are distant second favourites to win the Premier League.

In fact, the bigger concern for Manchester City in the League will be being dragged into a fight for a top four berth and a place back in the Champions League next season. The form hasn't been good enough of late with 3 losses in 4 games in all competitions and the lack of cohesion shows the split in the dressing room that had been talked about over the last week.

It isn't the best time to be playing Barcelona who have really picked up their form, if still guilty of a couple of performances that have been lacking something in the final third. The home loss to Malaga was a disappointment, but they have bounced back in style and the more direct play makes Barcelona more of a threat to run riot on teams.

Luis Suarez has begun to link up magnificently with Neymar and Lionel Messi and it was the former Liverpool striker's two goals that gave Barcelona the lead from the First Leg. The front three will give Manchester City a lot to think about in the form they have been displaying and Barcelona should be far too strong for the English Champions who have to score at least twice to give themselves a chance of progressing.

Manchester City have to hope Barcelona are distracted by the big League game with Real Madrid coming up this weekend, but this is a team that is in form and has until Sunday for that League game. I really felt Manchester City had a decent chance against Barcelona twelve months ago, but key players like Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany have regressed this season and Barcelona's direct attacks will cause too many problems for them.

At odds against, I think Barcelona can dominate much of this game and win it by a couple of goals at least.

Borussia Dortmund v Juventus Pick: Out of all the Last 16 ties remaining, this is the one that seems to be the most interesting for the neutral for the simple reason that the winner of the tie could potentially be a dark horse to win the whole Champions League.

While the Bayer Leverkusen-Atletico Madrid tie is also separated by one goal, a Leverkusen win would be a real shock, but picking between Juventus and Borussia Dortmund is tough, even in the face of the form that the latter have shown domestically.

Home advantage could be crucial for Borussia Dortmund who have really been a difficult place to visit in the Champions League with the vocal support they receive from the stands. Just ask Real Madrid who have been beaten handily in their last two knock-out ties in Dortmund and it is a big test for Juventus who have not travelled well in the Champions League.

I expected the First Leg to be an exciting one with chances at both ends of the field and that was the case- the Second Leg should also be one where there will be chances created in my opinion.

Borussia Dortmund will always try and push forward at home and an early goal for either team should see spaces open up as the other side will have to score to stay alive in the tie. The layers didn't expect to see many goals in the First Leg, but they have cottoned on to the factors surrounding this game and have at least knocked down the prices.

Not by enough as far as I am concerned and the odds against quote for there being at least three goals looks a big price to me.

Dinamo Moscow v Napoli Pick: The 3-1 First Leg advantage for Napoli looks to have helped the Italians put one foot into the Quarter Finals, but they have to be aware of any complacency as they head to Russia where Dinamo Moscow have been very productive. Recent form displayed by Napoli makes this anything but a foregone conclusion and an early goal for Dinamo Moscow would certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons.

The one saving grace for Napoli is that they have the firepower to erase the away goal they conceded at home last week and Dinamo Moscow have only kept two clean sheets from their 6 home games in the Europa League. On the other hand, Dinamo Moscow will back themselves to be able to score enough goals to win this tie especially as they have come from behind to beat both Panathinaikos and Anderlecht in their last two European games at home.

With a two goal deficit to make up, Dinamo Moscow are unlikely to try and feel their way into the Second Leg and have to get on the front foot. That might play into the hands of Napoli who have a very good counter attacking team that will enjoy the space that Dinamo Moscow could potentially leave behind them.

An early goal for the home team does change things for Napoli and will increase the tension on their side of the pitch, but Rafa Benitez has a very good record as manager in European competition and I expect him to set the team up accordingly.

Both teams should have chances to score in this game considering how poorly Napoli have played on their travels, but I do think the Italians get on the scoreboard too. Dinamo Moscow could be caught chasing the game as it goes on which makes backing them or the draw a dangerous scenario and instead I will look for goals to be shared between these teams.

Dynamo Kiev v Everton Pick: There were plenty of chances at both ends of the field in the First Leg last week to give Dynamo Kiev and Everton reason to believe they can win this tie and it is finely balanced with Everton 2-1 up. The away goal will give Dynamo Kiev a real belief they can come through despite the deficit, while Roberto Martinez has to be intrigued by the problems Everton caused Dynamo Kiev with a more direct approach to things.

I do think home advantage may end up being crucial in this one as Dynamo Kiev have scored plenty of goals in front of their own fans both at home and in Europe this season and that has to inspire confidence. The first goal could be very important with it being a 'tie-changing' one no matter which side gets ahead and I don't believe Roberto Martinez will look to his Everton side to protect what they have.

That could lead to an entertaining encounter as the Everton pace down the channels caused a lot of problems for Dynamo Kiev last week. On the other hand, Everton's defence still doesn't look watertight and I do believe a similar game will develop with both teams going forward and looking to score goals.

Picking a winner looks tough with the first goal likely having a big impact in how this game develops and I am finding it hard to separate the sides. As I said, home advantage may just give Dynamo Kiev the edge, but I will go back to the well and look for goals in this game.

Another early goal like the First Leg would really open this game up, regardless of which way it goes, and both teams have shown an ability to get amongst the goals in this competition. It is a real possibility that extra time may also be called upon, but I will simply back there being goals and look to sit back and enjoy an exciting game.

Roma v Fiorentina Pick: It has been a miserable few months for Roma who have dropped a lot of points and been dragged back into a fight for the Champions League places in Serie A. Another home defeat on Monday night means the likes of Lazio, Napoli and Fiorentina are not far behind Roma in the race for 2nd in the League table, while the title has gone with Juventus running away with it yet again.

The 1-1 draw in Florence last week does make Roma the favourites to progress to the Quarter Final of the Europa League, but Fiorentina are the team in better form and I think they can upset the home team and move through at their expense.

It wouldn't be the first Cup competition that Fiorentina have ended Roma's run this season as they already won 0-2 here in the Coppa Italia and their come from behind win over Milan on Monday night shows the belief in this squad of players.

Fiorentina were beaten in this Stadium by Lazio in their last away games, but they had previously won 4 of 5 away games in all competitions and they have won at Roma and Juventus in that run of games.

Roma have failed to win any of their last 11 home games in all competitions and they have lost 2 of their last 5 games here and I think there is every chance that Fiorentina win this game within 90 minutes. However, I will have a small interest on Fiorentina finding a way to qualify for the Quarter Finals which covers me in case there is a high-scoring draw or if Fiorentina need the additional thirty minutes to fight through in extra time.

Besiktas v Club Brugge Pick: The First Leg saw Besiktas in a very comfortable position at 0-1 up but a combination of an improvement from Club Brugge and perhaps some complacency in the away team saw the scoreline overturned and it is the Belgian side who have the 2-1 lead.

There shouldn't be too much panic from Besiktas who know a 1-0 win would be enough to see them through to the Quarter Final and I expect Slaven Bilic to urge his side to relax and make sure they work the game effectively. They have coped with a First Leg deficit in the Last 32 when they saw off Liverpool on penalties after winning the Second Leg here 1-0 and they have been very good at home all season in European competition.

On the other hand, don't expect Club Brugge to come here and be rolled over as the team have yet to be beaten in the Europa League and have won their last 4 away ties in the competition. That is impressive from the Belgian League leaders and I don't expect them to take a step backwards in this one even though they have the lead from the First Leg.

It might come a time when Club Brugge look to defend what they have, but the game plan has to be to try and erase the away goal they gave up at home last week.

Besiktas won't mind taking their time as long as they don't concede the first goal and I think they have played well enough at home to be expected to win. They also showed enough in the First Leg to suggest they are the better team and perhaps the loud support they generally receive from the stands will prevent any complacency creeping in.

Inter Milan v Wolfsburg Pick: The First Legs of the Europa League ties were expected to bring goals and didn't disappoint for the most part and this is a tie that could produce some fireworks in the Second Leg too. Inter Milan have to get forward and score goals at some point, while Wolfsburg are a team that prefers playing on the front foot but could also exploit spaces with quick counter-attacking football.

Of course the onus isn't on Wolfsburg to score goals here with a two goal advantage, but they won't want the away goal to potentially come into play and getting on the scoreboard could take away any belief Inter Milan really have in turning this tie around.

Roberto Mancini has struggled to get a consistent tune out of Inter Milan, but there won't be much need for them to sit back if they do fall behind as they will need to score at least three times at that point. That could see both teams create chances in the game and both have shown in the First Leg that they can finish when those come their way.

I did expect goals last week in Germany and I see no reason why that won't be the case again when they play in Milan. The layers aren't taking too many chances with the prices but the overs looks the right play.

Sevilla v Villarreal Pick: The First Leg advantage means Sevilla can really wait and see what Villarreal are going to bring to the table in this game and look to pick them off if they are a little too gung-ho to try and get back into the tie.

Three away goals is a really difficult proposition to overcome for Villarreal and they might be a little demoralised heading into this game from their First Leg performance. That might not show immediately, but if Sevilla can nose in front in this Second Leg, it might be too much for Villarreal to deal with mentally.

Sevilla have been producing a lot of positive results at home and they have goals in the side- the way they recovered a First Leg home loss against Real Betis last season should also focus the mind of the home players who won't want to suffer the same fate as their city rivals and I expect that focus to be on display.

While Sevilla don't have to win, the momentum is behind them at home and they have become accustomed to victories in front of their own fans. At odds against, I will back Sevilla to move into the Quarter Final with some style.

MY PICKS: Atletico Madrid to Qualify @ 2.50 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 2.30 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Barcelona - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Borussia Dortmund-Juventus Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Dinamo Moscow-Napoli Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Dynamo Kiev-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Coral (2 Units)
Fiorentina to Qualify @ 3.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Besiktas @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Inter Milan-Wolfsburg Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Sevilla @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)

March Update16-11, + 12.24 Units (49 Units Staked, + 24.98% Yield)

February Final20-24-2, + 3.19 Units (75 Units Staked, + 4.25% 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 2014/15100-144-4, - 26.23 Units (421 Units Staked, - 6.23% 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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