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The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (October 20-22)

The next two rounds of European football are going to be played before the next international break and it is a very important time for the teams hoping to get out of the Group Stage and into the Knock Out Rounds to be played after Christmas.

A couple of wins will see a few teams moving through, while a couple of defeats for other teams will mean they are likely out of the competition.

All of the English sides are in difficult spots in their individual Groups, but these next two round of fixtures could be vital in deciding which of them will be able to make it through to the Knock Out Stages and which will be focusing on domestic action from December until the end of the season.

I have wrote a small piece about the weekend football which can be read here.

Arsenal v Bayern Munich PickDespite what some of the former Arsenal players think, I don't believe Arsene Wenger is ready to give up on European competition even in the face of two losses in the Group Stage. Neither Dinamo Zagreb nor Olympiacos are teams that Wenger won't believe his Arsenal team can beat in their second games, but the key will be to get points out of the double header with Bayern Munich.

That is going to be far from easy, despite the injuries in the Bayern Munich squad, when you consider how well the German Champions have been performing. Twelve straight wins in any competition is an impressive number, but Bayern Munich have done it in a competitive League and in the Champions League.

Unsurprisingly Arsene Wenger has said his team will take it to Bayern Munich and I expect we could see a very entertaining game on Tuesday. Both teams are better when they have the ball at their feet and both will believe they can create chances for their form players in Alexis Sanchez and Robert Lewandowski and this looks a game that can produce goals.

Arsenal have conceded three times in their last couple of home games in the Champions League, but they also have shown they are capable of scoring goals at this level with at least one goal in twelve of thirteen home Champions League games. The exception did come against Bayern Munich, but Arsenal were also reduced to ten men early on in that fixture which obviously creates a different slant on things.

It is almost a 'must win' game for Arsenal, but I think they also have to be aware that a point might prove invaluable in the chase for second spot in the Group. However I think Wenger only knows how to set up his team one way and we might see a fair few goals in this one.

The layers agree by offering very small odds on at least three goals being shared, but I think backing at least four to be scored could be the way to go. Looking at Arsenal, 4 of the last 5 home games in the Champions League have hit this number, while Bayern Munich had conceded at least three goals in three of four Champions League away games before beating Olympiacos 0-3.

One of those games was at Manchester City and another at Porto and both of those games produced at least four goals, while Bayern Munich also scored seven alone at Roma last season. An early goal is obviously the key here, but with Arsenal looking to get on the front foot as they did against Manchester United I think there is a chance for that to happen and the most intriguing looking game of the set of fixtures this week might live up to the expectations we have.

BATE Borisov v Barcelona PickLosing a talisman like Lionel Messi is always going to be difficult for a team to replace, but Barcelona have plenty of other high quality players that should give them the platform to win the Group in the Champions League.

They have still won games without Messi although the biggest question is how they can play away from home where they had been struggling even with the Argentine in the line up.

However, a draw at Roma and losses to Celta Vigo and Sevilla are against teams of a higher level than BATE Borisov even if they are disappointing results by the standards that Barcelona have set. I would expect Barcelona to have a lot more control of a match like this one and I think they will wear down BATE Borisov who are a team that has one surprise in them in the Group Stage.

That came against Roma this season when BATE Borisov won 3-2, but previously they have won their opening home Group game against Bayern Munich and Athletic Bilbao. Unfortunately for BATE Borisov, they have not been able to back those opening wins up and have losses to Valencia, Lille, Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto to follow at home in the Group Stage.

All of those losses came without scoring a goal, but Barcelona have looked a little vulnerable at the back and instead I will look at the fact that all four defeats have come by at least two goals. Both away Group wins for Barcelona came by at least two goals last season too and I think the European Champions will control possession and create the chances to do that here.

Messi might not be here, but Neymar and Luis Suarez should be and I think Barcelona win this by a couple of goals at least. They might not reach the margins of wins they had over BATE Borisov in the 2011/12 Group Stage when winning 0-5 here and 4-0 at home, but I think it will be comfortable enough for Barcelona this week.

Bayer Leverkusen v Roma Pick: This is a game that I have gone back and forth about a couple of times and decided that I would pick Bayer Leverkusen at odds against, but not at odds on.

They are currently being priced at evens to win this game against Roma and the double header between these two teams will likely determine who makes it through with Barcelona to the Second Round. Bayer Leverkusen have already faced one team from the Italian capital when they beat Lazio over two legs in the Play Off Round and that included a 3-0 rout at home.

It has to be said that Roma aren't the best travellers in European competition with just one win from their last eight, but on the other hand they have proven hard to beat with just a single defeat in five away European ties last season. However, the 3-2 defeat at BATE Borisov on Match Day 2 has dented their chances of qualifying from this Group and Juventus' struggles in Serie A might have turned the focus to breaking the Old Lady's dominance at home.

There is no doubt that Roma can get out of this Group if they can take four points from Bayer Leverkusen over the next three weeks, but I am not sure they can hold the Germans away from home. A defeat won't be curtains for Roma but would put them under immense pressure and Bayer Leverkusen haven't been in the best form.

In saying that, Leverkusen have kept their best form for the Champions League and have won six of their last seven here in this competition and I will back them to do that in this match.

Dinamo Zagreb v Olympiacos Pick: They might not be one of the better travelling teams in the Champions League but Olympiacos earned a vital 2-3 win at Arsenal on Match Day 2 and I am expecting them to build on that in Croatia. I can understand why the layers have left such a tempting price on Olympiacos considering this is a team that has lost at Levante and Malmo in recent years, but I also think they are a better team than Dinamo Zagreb and will have enough to pick up six points against them in this double header.

Yes, Olympiacos had lost five in a row away from home in the Champions League and I did favour Arsenal to beat them last month, but those defeats have rarely come against weaker opposition. The disappointing loss to Malmo aside, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain made up the other four losses and Dinamo Zagreb are simply not at that level.

It has to be remembered that Dinamo Zagreb had lost fifteen straight Group Stage games before beating Arsenal at home on Match Day 1 and I can't help but feel that result has inflated the price on the Olympiacos win. This is also a team that is just 5-3-4 at home in recent Champions League games despite playing the majority of those in the Qualifier Rounds and I can't help but feel Olympiacos will have enough to earn a narrow win here.

Dinamo Zagreb did have that fantastic result against Arsenal, but they rode their luck in that game and I am not sure fortune favours them again.

Olympiacos have won all four away games played this season including that result at The Emirates Stadium and they deserve a unit to win here in Croatia.

Dynamo Kiev v Chelsea PickThere have already been moments this season when you have looked at Chelsea and wondered if they are ready to turn around the form which has seen them struggling in the bottom half of the Premier League. For every step forward, Chelsea have subsequently taken two steps back and I don't doubt for a minute that Jose Mourinho continues to feel the pressure of this poor run.

A defeat in the Champions League game at Dynamo Kiev will be another setback for Mourinho to deal with, but upcoming games against West Ham United and Liverpool in the Premier League and Stoke City in the League Cup offer no respite. Chelsea have to build up some steam and that means putting together a run of positive results to restore shattered confidences and get the team moving in the right direction.

It looks far from easy for them to visit the Ukraine and come away with a vital three points that would put Chelsea in a strong position to win the Group knowing they host both Dynamo Kiev and Porto in the final six weeks of the Champions League. However, Dynamo Kiev will be looking to protect a 7 game unbeaten run at home in European competition while also wanting to bounce back from a very disappointing home defeat.

That came at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk as those two top teams in the nation battle for the Ukrainian title that Dynamo Kiev won last season. A defeat is one thing, but the players have to pick themselves up a hammering as Shakhtar Donetsk won 0-3 here on Friday night and so the first goal in this one could be vitally important.

In saying that, I don't think either team can be too confident in keeping a clean sheet in this one- Chelsea's defensive issues have been well documented, while Dynamo Kiev haven't had a clean sheet in their last 5 home games in European football. Both Everton and Porto have scored twice in that time too so Diego Costa and the Chelsea forwards will believe they can cause problems for Dynamo Kiev even if the pace of the home team will likely do the same on the other side of the pitch.

While the layers aren't being as generous as they were when Chelsea visited Porto, they are still offering odds against for at least three goals to be shared in this one. That looks a decent price considering both teams are very likely to get on the scoreboard and I wouldn't be surprised if we were to see a 2-1 scoreline in this one either way.

Valencia v Gent Pick: I have been impressed with the way Gent have gone about their business in their first ever appearance in the Champions League Group Stage, but one point from their opening two games is perhaps a slight disappointment.

Not because they expected more points, but the performances suggested they could get more from their games with Lyon and Zenit St Petersburg. It will at least mean Gent are travelling to Valencia knowing they can be competitive at this level, although the Mestalla is always a tremendously difficult place to get results.

It has been a slow start to the season for Valencia which also resulted in a 2-3 home loss to Zenit St Petersburg, but a 0-1 win in Lyon means they can put themselves in a commanding position in the Group at the end of this double header. They can't expect Gent to come here and roll over, but the 3-0 win over Malaga at the weekend would have given Valencia a huge lift ahead of this game and I think the momentum is now behind them.

There have been changes from the team that finished 4th in La Liga last season, but the squad seems to be settling down now and three wins in four game will have restored some confidence. I believe Valencia have goals in the side to give Gent plenty of problems, although I wouldn't be surprised if the Belgian Champions are to have their moments too with a nothing to lose attitude that has seen them keep things competitive in their first two games.

The experience Valencia have could be a key though and I think they win this by a couple of goals on the night and move clear in second place in the Group.

CSKA Moscow v Manchester United PickI can't help but be very impressed with the manner of Manchester United's victory at Everton on Saturday and it is the perfect way to open a tough month of football. Louis Van Gaal won't have spent too much time patting his side on the back but would have got them working hard for the next game at CSKA Moscow in a vital Champions League fixture.

Both CSKA Moscow and Manchester United have had more positives than negatives to take out of the start of their seasons, but there could be some nerves in this game knowing how important the win is and, vice versa, the negatives of a defeat. No one wants to lose a game, but a defeat here could put the losing team in a tough spot to qualify for the Second Round and I do wonder if that plays out.

You have to think the home team won't be overawed having hosted Manchester City, and given them problems, in the last couple of years. However, I have felt that CSKA Moscow are potentially a much more awkward team to face at home where they can employ their full range of counter attacking football with the pace they have in the forward areas.

In Moscow it is much more likely that Manchester United will look to entice CSKA Moscow onto them and then use their own counter attack to secure the three points. It will be far from easy though with the conditions likely to be an issue as well as keeping players focused on this game and not the one with Manchester City at the weekend.

I did think about backing Manchester United to win here with the belief that they have every chance of matching Manchester City's results here. Manchester City won once and were 0-2 up in the other game that was eventually drawn in Moscow, but Manchester United have been a little too inconsistent away from home to really feel comfortable backing that.

Instead you have to look at the goals market which Manchester United continue to surpass despite not always looking the most threatening team. They still remain a team that will offer up chances and it was only a couple of very good saves from David De Gea that earned the clean sheet on Saturday.

CSKA Moscow have scored and conceded plenty of goals at home this season while seven of their last nine home games in the Champions League have produced at least three goals. They showed their attacking prowess and defensive vulnerabilities in the 3-2 win over PSV Eindhoven and both of Manchester United's recent visits here have seen at least three goals shared out.

The chances of that happening on Match Day 3 should not be odds against as offered and have to be worth taking on.

Malmo v Shakhtar Donetsk Pick: This double header between Malmo and Shakhtar Donetsk may determine which of the teams is still playing European football after Christmas. Both teams have lost their opening games against Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain and breaking into the top two to move into the Second Round of the Champions League looks beyond their capabilities.

However, third place brings with the reward of a Europa League place and Shakhtar Donetsk have solid recent history in that competition so they won't hesitate to take their place in that competition. For Malmo it would be an improvement on their Group Stage exit in the Champions League last season so these next two games in the Group are vital for both.

The layers have made Shakhtar Donetsk a pretty heavy favourite to win here considering the game is away from home where they have won two of their last nine away games and four of thirteen away games in the Group Stage. Of course there is a difference in talent level that these two sides can call upon, while Shakhtar Donetsk have had plenty of rest since their crushing of defending Ukrainian Champions Dynamo Kiev last Friday.

However, I can't ignore the fact that Malmo have won more than half of their last thirteen home games in the Champions League and beat Olympiacos 2-0 here in the Group Stage last season. That makes me believe this could be a keenly contested match which might not feature too many goals.

One thing has stood out for both Malmo home games and Shakhtar Donetsk away games in recent Champions League games. In fact it has happened in eleven straight Malmo home games and in ten of the last eleven Shakhtar Donetsk away games.

That is namely that one or both teams have failed to score in those games!

The tension in this game where the importance of picking up results against one another in order to finish third in the Group could make this a tight game and I think the layers are taking a chance by expecting goals. Shakhtar Donetsk have shown they can grind out results on their travels and get the job done at home and I expect them to try and hit Malmo on the counter in this one, while the home side might not have the requisite quality to break them down.

However, Malmo have also shown they can defend well when they set their stall out and this could easily be a game that features a single goal to determine the winner.

Paris Saint-Germain v Real Madrid PickI am favouring a fair few goals to be scored in the Champions League this week and I think this is yet another game that will produce at least three between the teams.

This almost has the feel of a knock out tie with the winner over 'two legs' in the next three weeks very much the favourite to move into the Second Round as Group winner. Last season Paris Saint-Germain had to deal with Barcelona in the Group and actually beat them here, but it was the head to head that cost them top place.

I think Laurent Blanc will only play this one way and that is getting his side to move the ball forward quickly and try and rattle a Rafa Benitez defence that has actually been well organised all season. Real Madrid haven't been scoring goals aplenty yet, but they have created chances and I have little doubt they are able to do that in the French capital, but I also think they will be tested defensively in this game.

In my mind I am seeing a fairly attacking game where the onus is on Paris Saint-Germain to come forward and try and win the game to give them the head to head advantage when the Group shakes up later in the season. That intention will likely produce space for Real Madrid on the counter attack as it has for Barcelona in previous games here.

Both games involving Barcelona ended with at least four goals scored and while Rafa Benitez has been making Real Madrid a little more cautious, I can see Paris Saint-Germain enticing them into an exciting game.

I would expect both teams to score, but Paris Saint-Germain home games have leaned towards the over three goals mark in the last couple of years in the Champions League. Backing that is the way to go in this game too.

MY PICKS: Arsenal-Bayern Munich Over 3.5 Goals @ 3.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Barcelona - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bayer Leverkusen @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Olympiacos @ 2.70 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Dynamo Kiev-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Valencia - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
CSKA Moscow-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Malmo-Shakhtar Donetsk Both Teams to Score- NO @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
PSG-Real Madrid Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.90 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

October Update9-11, - 2.40 Units (37.50 Units Staked, - 6.40% Yield)
September Final29-30-3, + 4.18 Units (117.5 Units Staked, + 3.58% 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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