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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (August 25-27)

Wedding season means Sunday night was a bit of write off for me, while Monday was a day of recovery and recuperation from the previous night exploits.

It might be fun times, but it also means the picks come out a little later than normal.

Monaco v Valencia PickThe Second Leg of the Champions League Play Off ties have produced a number of high-scoring games in recent years much to do with the Knock Out nature of the ties. Teams will be a little more open as they look to get back into games and that is a big issue for Monaco who trail Valencia 3-1 after the First Leg in Spain.

Goals have been a problem for Monaco and this is a team that can't really push the tempo of a game as much as they would like, preferring to play on the counter-attack where possible. They did do it effectively against Young Boys in the Third Qualifying Round, but Valencia are a significant step up in terms of class and Monaco have to be aware that they could be caught on the counter themselves as they look to get back into the tie.

The layers are not really expecting this game to fire into life in terms of goals, but I do think they might be taking a risk with the price being offered for at least three goals being scored. Valencia have the players that can expose any defensive gaps Monaco may leave to get back into the game, while the home side have to attack.

Conceding the first goal might destroy Monaco's confidence of getting through and perhaps see them struggle to motivate themselves to get forward effectively, but the fans should keep the side going forward.

You can understand this game will be a little tense if Monaco score first as they will only need one more goal to progress and might feel they can bide their time. Valencia may then also feel they have something to protect and slow down the entire game, but there were plenty of attempts on goal in the First Leg and I do think the chance of goals has been under-estimated.

Maccabi Tel Aviv v Basel PickTwo late goals in the First Leg first shifted this tie in favour of Basel before the momentum moved back towards Maccabi Tel Aviv, but both clubs will know there is all to play for in this Second Leg.

Confidence should be high in both camps and I think this is going to lead to an exciting game in Tel Aviv with the opportunity for goals really coming to the fore. Maccabi Tel Aviv have goals in the team, although they don't have to push too many men forward early in the game as they have the two away goals which means a low scoring draw is good enough to progress.

However, they are facing a Basel team which has shown they are very confident away from home and the 1-3 win at Lech Poznan looked highly impressive. Basel have scored at least three goals in each of their five away games this season and that high production rate has led to three wins so they won't be heading to Israel thinking they are out of this tie.

With only one clean sheet in those five games, Basel will be put under pressure by Maccabi Tel Aviv too and spaces could open up as one of the teams begin to chase the game in the second half. The teams both should create chances in this one and this may be another of the Second Leg ties this week that produces at least three goals.

Malmo v Celtic PickThe late goal for Malmo in the First Leg could be absolutely critical in determining whether the Swedish or Scottish Champions get into the Champions League Group Stage. Instead of a 3-1 deficit which would have made Celtic a fairly strong favourite to progress, Malmo know a narrow home win is enough to see them into the Group Stage for the second season in a row.

Experiences of overcoming First Leg defeats away from home also gives Malmo the confidence to get this done and overturn the defeat in Glasgow. Over the last two seasons, Malmo have beaten Sparta Prague and Salzburg twice following defeats in the First Leg away from home and two of those ties saw Malmo two goals behind in the First Leg.

Malmo have won 4 in a row at home in all competitions and have scored at least two goals in each of those games so there will be the belief that Malmo can do enough to put themselves in a position to move past Celtic.

You can't underestimate the heart that Celtic have shown in losing just 1 of their last 5 away games in the Champions League, including going unbeaten in their 2 away ties this season. However, winning games has been more of a problem for Celtic and it is hard to see them sitting back and being able to defend the lead they have from the First Leg.

It does feel that Malmo are being offered at a very generous price to win this game when you think they have won 4 of their last 7 home games in the Champions League. They have beaten Sparta Prague and Salzburg, two teams that would be favoured to beat Celtic, as well as a powerhouse in Olympiacos in the Group Stage. Defeats to Atletico Madrid and Juventus are very understandable and Malmo do look a big price to win the Second Leg in all honesty.

Goals should also be in play in this one as teams perhaps open up to chase the game depending on the situation, but I think backing Malmo to win the game looks too big a price to ignore.

Club Brugge v Manchester United PickThe late goal from Marouane Fellaini in the First Leg looks like it had knocked the stuffing out of Michel Preud'homme in his post-game interview. There wasn't a lot of belief from the manager that Club Brugge can overcome all the injuries in the squad and the two goal deficit in the Second Leg, but Manchester United can't take anything for granted as an early goal for the home team will shift the pressure markedly.

It was an early goal for Club Brugge in the First Leg that stunned Manchester United and the Belgian side looked a threat on the break with the pace they have. However, the situation has changed and I expect Manchester United to make sure there is no space for that threat to develop in the Second Leg, while also trying to hit Club Brugge on the break when they push on looking for the goals to get back into the tie.

This is a team that Louis Van Gaal will have respect for having noted they have scored at least twice in each of their three home games this season and also beat Panathinaikos 3-0 in the Third Qualifying Round. Club Brugge are unbeaten in 10 European games at home and their experience of reaching the last eight in the Europa League but they have to show the right balance to get back into this tie and I think that is where Manchester United can take advantage.

For the most part this season, Manchester United have defended well and doing that will put them in a strong position to get through what can be a difficult Second Leg. As Club Brugge perhaps get a little desperate to find a way back in, I think the likes of Memphis Depay can offer Manchester United a real chance to exploit gaps that may open up and perhaps win the Second Leg too.

It won't be easy and there will be some really difficult moments, but Manchester United can book their place in the Group Stage with a narrow win in Belgium despite a poor recent record away from home in the Champions League.

CSKA Moscow v Sporting Lisbon PickThe First Leg of this tie was an entertaining game that saw both teams have their chances, but it was Sporting Lisbon who have managed to head to Russia for the Second Leg with a narrow advantage.

The tie is far from over at 2-1, especially when you think Sporting Lisbon have lost 6 of their last 7 away games in European competition, although it is an intriguing Second Leg because of CSKA Moscow's failures to get the job done at home. That was shown up in the Third Qualifying Round when CSKA Moscow had to settle for a 2-2 home draw with Sparta Prague despite leading twice and it does point to the fact we could see goals in the Second Leg to match the First Leg.

5 of the last 7 CSKA Moscow home games in the Champions League have featured at least three goals as they have continued to show defensive vulnerabilities. Sporting Lisbon last season saw 2 of their 3 away games in the Champions League also end with at least three goals shared by the teams and they scored in all 3 away games in the competition.

The situation of this tie is likely going to see some spaces open up as the game goes on and I think both teams are likely going to score in this one. I would not be surprised at all if it was to go into extra time and perhaps penalties, but it is finely balanced and really could go either way. However, it looks like a game that will provide goals for the neutrals and I will back this Second Leg to feature at least three goals too.

AZ Alkmaar v Astra PickBoth AZ Alkmaar and Astra have shown they are very good in front of goal in the early stages of their seasons, although AZ Alkmaar have failed to score in their last couple of home games in the Dutch Eredivisie.

The team they are facing have conceded plenty of goals though and Astra are unlikely to sit back and look to defend a 3-2 lead from the First Leg. They showed they are capable of scoring goals away from home even when they have gone up to the Europa League level and Astra have scored in all 7 away games in this competition since the beginning of last season.

However, it has to be pointed out that they have conceded at least twice in 5 of those 7 games too and so AZ Alkmaar will believe they will get the chances to get back into this tie in the Second Leg.

An early goal could again this spark a match between these two to life and there will likely be chances for one of the teams when the match becomes stretched in the second half. Either way, it does make the over 2.5 goals option look the call in this Second Leg at fairly generous odds.

Fenerbahce v Atromitos Athens PickThe goal scored by Robin Van Persie has given Fenerbahce the edge in this tie and I do expect them to complete the job in Istanbul.

As solid as Atromitos Athens have been in recent weeks, the majority of their successes have come at home and being defeated there in the First Leg gives them a mountain to climb. However, over the last three seasons Atromitos Athens have won 3 away ties in a row and they have scored the goals that would see them progress from this tie if they can manage to do that again.

However, Fenerbahce are a much tougher side than AZ Alkmaar, Sarajevo or AIK and it will be difficult for Atromitos Athens in the atmosphere they are likely to face. Fenerbahce couldn't get the win over Shakhtar Donetsk in the First Leg of their Champions League tie against them at home, but they had won 4 of 6 home games in European competition prior to that.

If Atromitos Athens start pushing forward to get back in the tie, Fenerbahce should be able to pick them off and win this game by a couple of goals and move into the Group Stage.

Panathinaikos v Qabala PickThe goalless draw in Baku last week has given Panathinaikos every chance to progress to the Group Stage of the Europa League as they did twelve months ago.

The poor form at home in European competition has to be a worry for Panathinaikos, but the game against Qabala is one they will be expecting to win. They showed they can battle when they beat Club Brugge despite playing with ten men for much of that game and the Greek side should have the quality in the final third to see off their Azerbaijan opponents.

Teams who perform well in their domestic League don't always have the quality to bridge the gap once they get into European competition and that is an issue for Qabala. They had lost all 3 away games in the Europa League over the last fourteen months before a late equaliser at Apollon, but the rise in quality they are facing is going to make it very difficult for Qabala.

Panathinaikos should win this one by a couple of goals to move into the Groups.

Salzburg v Dinamo Minsk PickA 2-0 defeat in Belarus has put Salzburg on the brink of exiting all European competitions before the end of August and it looks a big task for them to overturn that result in the Second Leg. Salzburg are at home though and they have played very well here in European competition which has seen them win 4 of their last 6 games at home.

The problem for Salzburg is trying to find the balance between attack and defence as a goal for Dinamo Minsk is likely going to be too much to overcome. They can't rush things and get caught, but there are goals in the Salzburg squad and they do have a chance if they can get in front and get the fans behind them.

You have to have a lot of respect for Dinamo Minsk who have been tough to play away from home in the Europa League and won impressively at Fiorentina and Zurich.

They have scored in 6 of their last 7 away games in the Europa League and will be a threat in this Second Leg, but Salzburg can out-score them in this one and I will back them to have a chance to overturn a big deficit and move into the Group Stage.

Midtjylland v Southampton PickThe First Leg was a tight and tense affair at times because of the lack of confidence that Southampton have been exhibiting, while Midtjylland were comfortable with the away goal they had earned and simply didn't want to lose. The Second Leg is one that many expect will go the same way, but this game could quickly change into a more attacking one if a team has to chase the game and gaps open up.

It also has to be said that Midtjylland have struggled a lot more at home than they have on their travels in recent European games. While they performed well last week in Southampton and won at APOEL, Midtjylland were beaten by APOEL here and last year Panathinaikos won in Denmark in the Play Off Round of the Europa League.

My concern is the lacklustre performances that Southampton have put in over their last three games, especially in the final third where they haven't created the chances they would have wanted. This is clearly a competition that Ronald Koeman is putting significant stock into, but Southampton have to find a way to get the ball into the final third quicker than they have, especially to break down a well organised Midtjylland defence.

However, Southampton had some success in the First Leg in the second half and I do think Midtjylland have had a harder time working the balance out at home where they are expected to attack. Three of their last four home games in European competition have seen at least three goals shared out as Midtjylland have struggled to find the right balance in front of their own fans against better opposition than they have seen in Denmark on a regular basis.

The layers are giving big odds on there being at least three goals in this one and I think there is a chance that this game is perhaps more open than the First Leg. The game should start of tense, but set pieces are a big opportunity for both teams to get going and spaces should open up once the first goal goes in and perhaps offer the opportunity for a big price on goals being taken.

MY PICKS: Monaco-Valencia Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Maccabi Tel Aviv-Basel Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Malmo @ 2.88 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Manchester United @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
CSKA Moscow-Sporting Lisbon Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
AZ Alkmaar-Astra Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Fenerbahce - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Panathinaikos - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Salzburg - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Midtjylland-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Bet Victor (2 Units)

August Update8-23, - 26.70 Units (61 Units Staked, - 43.77% Yield)

Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% 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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