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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (April 14-16)

It was another successful weekend for Louis Van Gaal and I had written a small piece about how he has turned things around at Old Trafford which can be read here.

European football takes centre stage this week as the First Leg of the Champions League and Europa League Quarter Finals are played over the next three days.

Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid Pick: This looks like it is the tie of the Quarter Final round of the Champions League as the two Finalists from last season, and fierce Madrid rivals, will meet each other for the right to move into the Semi Final.

There has been plenty of positive form being displayed by both teams and I think it will be an incredibly tight contest in both games at the Vicente Calderon and Santiago Bernebeu which will be full of tension and emotion.

Real Madrid are the defending Champions and have recovered from the 2-1 loss at Barcelona to once again close on them at the top of the Spanish Primera Division. They have scored plenty of goals in those wins in the last couple of weeks and confidence has to be restored, but it is hard to ignore that they have lost 5 of their last 10 away games in all competitions.

Those losses have come to the likes of Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, the latter who have now won 4 of 6 games against Real Madrid this season including in all 3 games at the Vicente Calderon.

Atletico Madrid have also won 9 of 11 at home in all competitions and beat Barcelona here at this stage of the Champions League last season and that experience will make sure they don't feel inferior in any way in this tie.

With Atletico Madrid's impressive set of results against Real Madrid this season and the struggles that the latter have had in tough away games in recent weeks and you would have to say it is hard to find a reason for Real Madrid to be the favourites in the First Leg. The home team will be inspired by being written off and I can imagine Diego Simeone will use that to get another big performance from them.

As well as Real Madrid have played, the uncertain position of Carlo Ancelotti has to be having an effect and a small interest in Atletico Madrid continuing to hold the Indian Sign over them has to be worth backing. It is clear that Simeone has the system that gives Real Madrid a lot of problems and the home team shouldn't be the underdog in the First Leg where they know they have their best chance of getting into a position to win the Quarter Final.

Juventus v Monaco Pick: We all saw what Monaco are capable of if they are being underestimated in the last Round of the Champions League as they beat Arsenal 1-3 in the First Leg at the Emirates Stadium. You would think that would be fresh in the minds of the Juventus players and unlikely to see lightning strike twice, but Monaco have played well on their travels for much of the season and will cause some problems.

Aside from their defeat in Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco have shown their counter-attacking style to be very effective in their recent away games with 5 wins from 6 coming into this one. The fact that Monaco have scored three goals in 4 of their last 5 away games including that trip to the Emirates Stadium is impressive form.

However, I think the Champions League has taken added importance for Juventus this season and they were very impressive winners over Borussia Dortmund in the Last 16.

Paul Pogba is a big miss, but Juventus will have Carlos Tevez back to lead the line and he should be well rested for this game.

I do think Juventus are the favourites to progress, but I don't think it will be easy, especially at home. This Monaco side have shown they are capable of hurting teams that push forward which is what will be expected of Juventus and I won't be surprised if the French team have an away goal in their pocket when departing Turin.

However, I think Juventus have been very bloody-minded at home and found ways to win games so there might be some value in taking a very big price on there being at least three goals in this game. 5 of the last 7 Champions League games played at Juventus have seen at least three goals shared out and Monaco have scored 12 goals in their last 5 away games including three at Arsenal in the last Round.

I just don't think backing goals should be as high a price as it is and will back there being at least three on Tuesday.

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona Pick: The absence of both Marco Verratti and Zlaten Ibrahimovic gives Paris Saint-Germain a real problem in the First Leg of this Quarter Final and has to be the main reason that Barcelona are ODDS ON to win.

That looks incredibly short to me considering how well Paris Saint-Germain have played at home in the Champions League and there is still enough quality in the home squad to give Barcelona all they can handle. Of course you can't dismiss how well Barcelona have been playing of late, but winning the First Leg on their travels looks a big test for them as all is not quite on point at the Nou Camp.

There are definitely goals in the Barcelona team though and I think they will score at least once here, while the side have scored twice in their last two visits to the Parc des Princes. In fact these two teams have produced fireworks in 3 of their 4 games over the last three seasons and I think we will see more of the same on Wednesday.

With Edinson Cavani leading the line for Paris Saint-Germain, they will give this Barcelona defence a real test especially as the latter have only produced 2 clean sheets in their last 8 games on their travels. On the other hand, I would expect Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all to create trouble for Paris Saint-Germain missing David Luiz and the protection of Thiago Motta and backing goals in this one looks to be very reasonably priced.

We could see a repeat of the 2-2 draw they played out at this stage two seasons ago, but the 2-1 scoreline either way is very much in play too and I will back there being at least three goals at a slightly better price than the away win. I do believe Barcelona are the right favourites in the tie, but not totally convinced they will win here in the First Leg, although they will likely need to score twice to do that.

Porto v Bayern Munich Pick: If you look through the squads of both Porto and Bayern Munich, you can see there is a lot of attacking talent at the disposal of both managers. However, a lot of that talent is going to be missing on Wednesday with the likes of Tello, Jackson Martinez, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben likely to be absent.

However, the depth in squad has to give Bayern Munich the edge in the match and the eventual tie and I do think the Bavarian giants will prove too strong over both legs. However, in saying that, I do think they look very short to win this game in Porto considering how well the home team have played in front of their own fans including in the Champions League in the last couple of years.

At the same time, Bayern Munich have not been a great away team to back in the Champions League with only 2 wins from their last 6 games. However, they have been very strong defensively in recent away games and have conceded just a single goal in 7 away games since the 4-1 battering at Wolfsburg.

I can see Pep Guardiola looking to ride those performances to success in this one and Bayern Munich will play the possession game to make sure they don't give Porto much of a chance to build up some momentum.

As I have said, Bayern Munich do look short, but I think they have the better strength in depth and are more likely to create the chances to win the game. Instead of the horrible odds on price, it might pay to back Bayern Munich to continue to show their defensive strengths and win this one without conceding a goal.

Club Brugge v Dnipro Pick: This has been a strong Europa League campaign for Club Brugge, but they have to be aware of the battling quality that Dnipro have shown to make their way into this Quarter Final.

Neither team will be expected to outlast some of the other teams left in the last eight, but the winner of the tie has to feel that anything can happen if they are in the Semi Final.

The edge in this First Leg has to be given to Club Brugge considering how well they have played at home over the course of the season and that they have won 5 of their last 7 games in the Europa League here. The come from behind win over Besiktas was particularly impressive for Club Brugge in the First Leg of that Last 16 tie and the confidence has to be there despite the loss at the weekend.

Compare that with Dnipro who have won just 1 of their last 8 away games in the Europa League, although they have managed to score goals in many of those games. Dnipro have lost half of those games on their travels and they might be quite satisfied with a narrow loss as long as they get on the scoreboard.

I do think it will be all to play for in the Ukraine in seven days time, but it will be Club Brugge who take a narrow advantage into that game.

Dynamo Kiev v Fiorentina Pick: There are a few injury and suspension issues in both squads ahead of this First Leg encounter in the Ukraine, but I still think this could be quite an entertaining game.

The situation seems to suit both teams as Fiorentina love to use the counter-attack with the pace they have in wide areas, which is most effective away from home, and Dynamo Kiev will be expecting to take a lead to Florence next week.

That should mean the home team look to get on the front foot in this one and Dynamo Kiev have to be respected as a team that has scored at least two goals in each of their home games in the Europa League this season. They have won all 5 home games, but Fiorentina have won 4 of their 5 away games in the competition and they have scored at least twice in 3 of those games.

Old school mentality says the First Leg of any knock out tie should be a tight and nervous affair, but I think both Dynamo Kiev and Fiorentina will believe they can achieve their main goal from this tie. I really do think both teams are going to score in this one, but I also don't anticipate either manager asking his team not to try and grab a lead for the Second Leg unless late in the game.

Dynamo Kiev should continue to push regardless and that might lead them to concede on the counter and I will back there being at least three goals at a big price.

Sevilla v Zenit St Petersburg Pick: This was already going to be a tough First Leg for Zenit St Petersburg to deal with regardless of who they had drawn last month because of the suspensions they have to take into the game. Unfortunately for Andre Villas-Boas, Zenit St Petersburg arguably got the toughest draw in the First Leg with a trip to Spain to take on the defending Champions Sevilla.

It is also a confident Sevilla they have to deal with and one that came back from a 0-2 deficit to earn a draw with Barcelona last weekend. There is a lot of experience in the Sevilla squad having won this tournament last season and I have a feeling they can get themselves into a very strong position for the Second Leg in Russia next week.

Goals haven't been a problem for Sevilla and it will be difficult for Zenit St Petersburg to defend deep and hope for the best. This is a team that has lost 3 of their last 4 away European games and were comfortably defeated in Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco during the Group Stage of the Champions League. Neither of those two teams are head and shoulders above Sevilla and the home team in this First Leg might end up with a similar advantage.

I don't think it is ever wise to rule out the Russian domestic League leaders with ease, but everything is pointing towards a Sevilla win in this one and I will back them on the Asian Handicap to prove too good.

Wolfsburg v Napoli Pick: There is plenty of quality in the Napoli team that will make them believe that they can beat Wolfsburg and progress to the Semi Final, but the recent form has to be a worry. Roy Keane once said it best about teams that try to 'turn off and turn on' their form when they need to and how difficult that is for the very best and I do wonder if Napoli can get more out of themselves than they have been producing.

The 3-0 win over Fiorentina has come at a vital time for Napoli, but they still have to exorcise some of their demons away from home where they have failed to win any of 5 games and only scored a single goal.

A single goal might not be enough to avoid defeat in Wolfsburg where the home team have won 9 in a row in all competitions and blew Inter Milan away, despite going a goal down, in the last Round. Wolfsburg are one of the form teams in Europe and they can focus completely on this tie too with a very strong position in the Bundesliga where a Champions League place is almost surely assured.

A chance to win a European trophy for the first time in Wolfsburg's history is another motivational tool and Napoli may struggle to contain them here. The best that Rafa Benitez may hope for is an away goal and perhaps a score draw, while the experiences he has had in European knock out ties is hard to dismiss.

However, Wolfsburg come at teams from all angles and I do think they can have an advantage to take to Naples and the cauldron like atmosphere the home fans can generate there.

MY PICKS: Atletico Madrid @ 2.88 Coral (1 Unit)
Juventus-Monaco Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Paris Saint-Germain-Barcelona Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.92 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Bayern Munich Win to Nil @ 3.00 Tote Sport (1 Unit)
Club Brugge @ 2.15 Bet365 (2 Units)
Dynamo Kiev-Fiorentina Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.30 Coral (2 Units)
Sevilla - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Wolfsburg @ 1.92 Paddy Power (2 Units)

April Update8-6, + 3.31 Units (27 Units Staked, + 12.26% Yield)

March Final30-18, + 30.66 Units (88 Units Staked, + 34.84% 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 2014/15130-162-4, + 4.43 Units (509 Units Staked, + 0.09% 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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