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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (September 29-October 1)

Match Day 2 of the Champions League and Europa League Group Stage takes centre stage during the week and it is a chance for the English teams to bounce back from what was an embarrassing set of results on Match Day 1 to not put too fine a point on it.

With those results, it has become common knowledge that the Premier League is perhaps getting close to dangerous territory when it comes to potentially losing the fourth Champions League spot to Italy whose clubs certainly take the Europa League more seriously than their English counterparts.

The lack of excitement around the Europa League doesn't look like changing in England, but fans of those clubs challenging for the Champions League places might be concerned if Brendan Rodgers and Mauricio Pochettino continue to show such a lackadaisical attitude towards the Europa League as Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur managers.

The irony is of course that both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are desperate to get back into the Champions League consistently, but not taking the Europa League seriously makes that task more difficult if England are reduced to just three clubs in the Champions League going forward.

To be fair to both of those clubs, they have made positive starts to their Groups in the Europa League compared with Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United in the Champions League. All three of those teams have a chance of bouncing back in the Champions League this week, while the rest of the favourites to win this competition all made positive starts on Match Day 1.

Before I get on with the picks for the games to be played over the next three days, I have put down a few thoughts out of the weekend domestic and European action which can be read here.

Arsenal v Olympiacos PickBeating Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City will have given Arsenal the kind of positive momentum they would want to run through to the international break. There are two big games for Arsenal this week at The Emirates Stadium and they will be looking to earn the three points to get their Champions League back on track.

A hugely disappointing loss in Dinamo Zagreb is unlikely to be fatal to Arsenal's chances of progressing to the Last 16, but finishing top of the Group looks beyond them already. I can't see Bayern Munich slipping up, but Arsene Wenger has to keep the team focused on earning the three points in this one or they might find qualifying for the Second Round beginning to become a problem.

The results over the last seven days has given them the impetus to get that win and Arsenal have seen the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud all score confidence boosting goals over the weekend. This is a team that thrives on playing with confidence and Arsenal should be far too good for Olympiacos who looked out of sorts against Bayern Munich and have travelled poorly in European competition.

It was the loss in Malmo last season that cost Olympiacos a chance to qualify for the Second Round and this is a team that has lost five straight games on their travels in the Champions League. Olympiacos have conceded at least two goals in each game and that is not going to get it done here when Arsenal have begun to bang in the goals.

Changes in personnel over the summer might not affect the Olympiacos domestic challenge, but bridging the gap to the Champions League is much harder. I fancy Arsenal will be too good and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap while putting up the first three points in the Group to recover from the debacle of Zagreb.

Bayern Munich v Dinamo Zagreb Pick: Credit to Dinamo Zagreb for taking advantage of the sloppy Arsenal performance to win their first Group game in 15 attempts in the Champions League, but it would be a real surprise if Bayern Munich are as in generous mood.

The win for Dinamo Zagreb over Arsenal means they are going to be given full respect from Bayern Munich who have just motored into very good form over the last couple of weeks. As impressive as Dinamo Zagreb's win was on Match Day 1, I think it is arguable that Bayern Munich's was perhaps more impressive as they won in Olympiacos where so many teams have not just failed to win, but have lost in recent Champions League games.

The last two Champions League Runners Up both lost in Olympiacos last season and so the Bayern Munich performance and margin of victory has to be admired. Bayern Munich have since crushed Darmstadt, Wolfsburg and Mainz and all four of those wins have come by at least three goals, while Bayern Munich have also won 9 in a row in all competitions since losing the German Super Cup on penalties.

More stats point to a fairly routine night for Bayern Munich as they have won 6 in a row here in the Champions League and had won 3 in a row by at least three goals before the 3-2 win over Barcelona in the Semi Final Second Leg. With the goals flowing, Dinamo Zagreb are going to find it very hard to resist the home team especially as they lost all 3 away games in the Europa League last season.

The move up to the Champions League Group Stage hasn't always worked out for Dinamo Zagreb either and recent seasons did see them lose by at least three goals at Ajax, Real Madrid, Porto and Paris Saint-Germain in the Group Stage.

Dinamo Zagreb are already ahead of the curve when it comes to expected points in the Group and the double header against Olympiacos might determine if they are good enough to qualify for the Last 16. However, on this night I am expecting Bayern Munich to prepare for their Bundesliga game against Borussia Dortmund by recording a thumping home win.

Porto v Chelsea PickBoth Porto and Chelsea will be confident they are going to have enough to get out of this Group in the Champions League, but the games between them matter when it comes to potentially deciding who wins the Group. Porto have to look at this game as one they can prove that the Quarter Final appearance last season was not a fluke, especially with Chelsea still looking vulnerable defensively.

That coupled with the fact that Porto have won 17 home games in all competition and beat both Basel and Bayern Munich with strong performances in that run has to give the home team confidence.

Porto are a team that can score goals at home despite selling Jackson Martinez in the summer and Chelsea simply don't look like they are going to keep too many clean sheets at the moment. However, Chelsea showed they have plenty of character when coming back to draw with Newcastle United and Jose Mourinho will want his team to perform on his return to Porto.

The layers can't really split the teams, which is not a surprise considering the form that both teams have shown, although I do think Porto are a tempting price to win.

They also don't seem to be expecting goals, but Chelsea's last 7 away games in all competitions have seen at least three goals produced as they have still shown an attacking presence but struggled at the back. Porto's home games in the Champions League last season saw 4 out of 5 produce at least three goals and the other was a 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk after first place in the Group had been secured.

At a big price, I think the chance of goals in this game look under-rated and backing there being at least three shared looks the way to go.

Zenit St Petersburg v Gent Pick: Zenit St Petersburg always seem to land on their feet when it comes to the Champions League Group Stage draw and they have reached the Last 16 on a couple of occasions. This is a team who once moved through to the Second Round with the lowest points total in the Champions League in the Group Stage format, but their luck ran out a little last season when knocked out at this Stage.

This season was expected to be a little different with Zenit St Petersburg as one of the top Seeds having won the Russian title last season and the 2-3 win at Valencia on Match Day 1 has given them a real foothold in the Group. Backing that up with another win is going to be the expectation for Zenit St Petersburg and I think they can flourish by doing that.

I don't always trust Zenit St Petersburg considering they have won 1 of their last 8 home games in the Champions League which doesn't include any Qualifiers. The standard in the competition has usually proved a little too much for Zenit St Petersburg, but Gent are not a team that has that much experience and the Russian Champions have to take advantage.

It was already a surprise to see Gent in the Group Stage having somehow won the Belgium title last season and that was unexpected considering the club hadn't even qualified for a European competition the year prior. A 1-1 home draw with Lyon on Match Day 1 will have given Gent some confidence, and they did end a 5 game away run without a victory in their last game on their travels.

New rules in Russia means Zenit St Petersburg are going to be a changing squad over the next couple of years, but they beat the likes of PSV Eindhoven and Torino in the Europa League at home and Gent should be a team they can beat while covering the Asian Handicap.

Atletico Madrid v Benfica Pick: When it comes to picking a dark horse to win the Champions League, Atletico Madrid have to be one of the top choices out there. This is a team with the magical players in forward positions that can win a game, while they are secure defensively which will always make them tough beat and Atletico Madrid are expected to dominate this Group.

Benfica were considered one of the weaker of the top Seeds that teams were looking to draw and Atletico Madrid will be confident they can make it two wins out of two. These two teams are likely to be the top two in the Group, but Benfica have failed to progress beyond the Group Stage of the Champions League in their last three seasons since reaching the Quarter Final in 2012.

This is a team that has gone through a number of changes in the off-season and Benfica's win over Astana on Match Day 1 was an expected result with this being a much bigger challenge. They have lost 4 of their last 6 away games in the Champions League and Benfica have lost both away games played in the League this season by the same 1-0 scoreline.

There is every chance Atletico Madrid can increase their run to 8 games without conceding a home goal in the Champions League and they have had clean sheets in 9 of their last 10 here in this competition. Atletico Madrid have kept clean sheets in their last 8 games at the Vicente Calderon if you ignore two games against Barcelona and I think they win this one with a clean sheet to take control of the Group.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Manchester City PickIf this game is played a month ago, Manchester City are doing all the winning and Borussia Monchengladbach would have been doing a lot of losing. However, that form has flipped around going into this Champions League game and it is Monchengladbach who have a 2 game winning run behind them while Manchester City have lost 3 of their last 4 games.

The match is a big one for both teams having lost their opening Champions League game and you would have to start second guessing the losing team and whether they have the ability to progress to the Second Round.

Borussia Monchengladbach have Europa League experience in recent years, but Manchester City certainly have the edge when it comes to Champions League experiences. Anything Manchester City might not know about their opponents could be changed by asking new signing Kevin De Bruyne who was playing in the Bundesliga last season and I think this is a tougher match to call than the layers.

The layers have set Manchester City as a odds on favourite to win here and that seems strange considering they have won 1 of their last 5 away games in the Champions League. Granted three of those games come against either Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but CSKA Moscow earned a 2-2 home draw with Manchester City last season in the Group Stage.

This is also a ground where Borussia Monchengladbach have been pretty strong in recent European games and they had been unbeaten in 7 before losing 2-3 to Sevilla in the Europa League.

Guessing a winner just becomes murky when you look at the season and the recent form of both teams, but one thing that is standing out is the prospect for goals. All 3 of Borussia Monchengladbach's home games this season have produced at least three goals, while 5 of their last 6 in European competition at home have also reached that number.

Recent games have seen Manchester City look threatening going forward, but vulnerable at the back and it would not be a big surprise if they conceded at least once here. Both teams will be looking for a positive result so I expect to see plenty of attacking football and goals might be the conclusion to make.

Malmo v Real Madrid PickOn another day Real Madrid would have beaten Malaga by a wide margin, but it was one of those days when they just didn't get the breaks in front of goal on Saturday. It would take a monumental effort from Malmo to prevent Real Madrid getting on the scoreboard in this one, although the home team can use all of the experience they had in the competition last season to challenge their more illustrious visitors.

Both Atletico Madrid and Juventus played in Malmo last season and both recorded the same 0-2 win here and I think it is a huge ask of the Swedish team to get anything from this game. Rafa Benitez continues to get the defensive shape right though and I can see Real Madrid matching those results from last season.

The layers seem to think Real Madrid can go better than both Atletico Madrid and Juventus, but I can't really pick that to happen because they have been a little hit and miss in front of goal. While I don't think Malmo can get the same defensive performances that Sporting Gijon and Malaga did in finding clean sheets against Real Madrid, they might still make life difficult.

At odds against, it might pay to stick with Real Madrid winning this game with a clean sheet at odds against with the way they have played defensively this season. The 0-2 scoreline looks the most likely result, but odds against on Real Madrid winning with a clean sheet is generous enough.

Manchester United v Wolfsburg PickBeing back on top of the League has to be a great feeling for Manchester United fans everywhere, although if they are still there at the end of October it will make me genuinely believe in the possibilities this squad has.

The Premier League matter can be put on the backburner for now though as Manchester United try and get their Champions League Group back on track following the surprising and unfortunate loss in Eindhoven. There is no way Manchester United should have lost that game, and I am expecting a bit more luck for the side from this second game.

I always had a feeling that Wolfsburg might be the biggest threat in the Group when it comes to finishing top of the section and their 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow. Even the loss of Kevin De Bruyne might not be a huge blow if they can keep Julian Draxler fit and Wolfsburg are a dangerous team for Manchester United to play when they are desperate for the win.

You have to expect Wolfsburg will allow Manchester United to have the ball and hit them on the break, but this is a team that doesn't really do clean sheets away from home. Wolfsburg only earned 2 clean sheets in their 6 away games in European competition last season and this was a team that visited England in the Europa League and were thumped 4-1 by Everton.

I'd be surprised if Manchester United won that easily, but I do expect them to win. Manchester United have found their shooting boots with at least three goals scored in three straight at Old Trafford, but teams are still creating chances so Wolfsburg could play their part in the game.

As I mentioned, I expect Manchester United to win, but they look a short price and the bigger one offered for at least three goals looks more appealing. Manchester United would have covered that by themselves in 4 of their last 5 games at Old Trafford, and their last 7 games overall have hit that total at the least.

It wouldn't surprise me if both teams scored in this one and backing goals looks a tempting option.

Monaco v Tottenham Hotspur PickThe Europa League can be a competition where many teams decide to rest players in anticipation of bigger games in the League which take place just a couple of days later. It has especially been the case for teams from England and Tottenham Hotspur will be unlikely to change that policy ahead of a tough game at Swansea City on Sunday.

Monaco are looking to get their season turned around after some recent results have gone against them, but the big feature has to be the number of goals both scored and conceded in those results.

The last three games Monaco have played have resulted in sixteen total goals and they have conceded three goals in each of those games. But Monaco have also scored at least two goals in each game so the layers might have underestimated the chance of there being at least three goals shared by the teams in this one.

With a changed side, Tottenham Hotspur might be vulnerable defensively, but they have to find better cohesion going forward. The last couple of games have been positive on that front, but the changed team can mean they need time to adjust their attacking tactics and gel together.

However, I think Tottenham Hotspur will have their chances to score with the way Monaco have been defending of late and I think there has to be a small interest on goals to come out of this match.

Basel v Lech Poznan PickBasel have perhaps overcome the biggest challenge they are going to face in the Group by winning at Fiorentina and they will be expected to go on and qualify for the Last 32.

They will know all about Lech Poznan having beaten them in the Champions League Third Qualifying Round in both Legs and Basel will be confident they can frank that form in the Group. Lech Poznan haven't exactly recovered from a poor start to the season as defending Champions and they have regularly travelled poorly in European competition and it is tough to see how they turn that around here.

Basel have scored at least twice in all but one home game this season, that being the 1-0 win over Lech Poznan in the Champions League, and they do look a team that has too much firepower for their opponent. With the win in Florence behind them, I expect Basel will be confident and expect to put up another three points and I expect this victory over Lech Poznan will be by a little wider margin than the one in the Champions League.

In that game Basel were protecting a 1-3 lead from the First Leg and were under no pressure to go forward, but that has changed with the points to be earned in the Group. I will be looking for them to have a much more positive approach to the fixture and come through by a couple of goals.

Schalke v Asteras Tripolis PickSchalke are fairly big favourites to win this game and I have little doubt that they are going to show the difference in quality on the pitch against Asteras Tripolis. The German side have struggled to win home games in Europe in recent games, but those came in the Champions League against much better teams than Asteras Tripolis.

Schalke can make home advantage count against a team that has lost 4 of their last 7 away games in European football including a thumping 5-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur last season.

Goals haven't been a problem for Schalke and I think they will have enough in their side to cover the Asian Handicap and win this one by a couple of goals.

Villarreal v Viktoria Plzen PickYou can completely understand why the layers have tabbed Villarreal as the favourites for this match considering the form they have shown in Spain and the bounce back they have made from the 2-1 loss at Rapid Vienna. Unlike the English teams, Spanish teams have taken the Europa League seriously and I fully expect Villarreal to play a strong team and win the three points on offer.

It won't be an easy test against Viktoria Plzen who have only lost 1 of their last 5 away games in European competition and who have won 8 in a row in all competitions.

That kind of confidence can be tough to shake, although Villarreal are top of the Spanish Primera Division and so won't be short of that themselves.

Villarreal will create chances and score goals, but I wouldn't be surprised if Viktoria Plzen play their part in this Group game. While I do favour Villarreal to win, I think backing at least three goals to be scored looks a more attractive price in this match.

The last 11 Villarreal home games in the Europa League have featured at least three goals and they have looked a team that might concede, but will give plenty in the attacking third.

MY PICKS: Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Bayern Munich - 2 English Handicap @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Porto-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.40 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Zenit St Petersburg - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid Win to Nil @ 2.50 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Borussia Monchengladbach-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Real Madrid Win to Nil @ 2.25 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United-Wolfsburg Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Monaco-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Betway (2 Units)
Basel - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Schalke - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Villarreal-Viktoria Plzen Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Coral (2 Units)

September Update22-25-3, - 0.22 Units (93.5 Units Staked, - 0% Yield)

August Final16-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)

Season 2015/1616-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% 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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