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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (February 23-25)

This is another big week in the Champions League and Europa League as the conclusion of the former's Last 16 First Legs and the latter's Last 32 Second Legs are played.

Two more English teams re-start their Champions League quests, while the three English representatives in the Europa League are all favoured to come through their Last 32 ties as they host them this week.

The big games come thick and fast over the next six weeks in which time the Quarter Finals of both European competitions will be set, as well as the first domestic trophy in England being decided, the FA Cup Quarter Finals and plenty of big domestic football matches.

February has so far followed January in being a decent month for the picks after a miserable opening to the season. Last weekend was another solid week and hopefully that can be concluded in the right manner over the remaining seven days of the month and build momentum to go into March.

Onto the Midweek Football Picks from the European offering.

Arsenal v Barcelona PickIt was always going to be difficult for Arsenal to top their Group which contained Bayern Munich, but they would have hoped for a lot more luck in the draw which has paired them with Barcelona in the Knock Out Stage for the third time in seven seasons. The Catalan giants have won the previous two Knock Out ties and they are big favourites to see off Arsenal in this Second Round encounter.

In saying that, Barcelona have failed to win on their previous two visits to The Emirates Stadium despite leading in both of those games. This is a team that looks threatening every time they go forward, but Arsenal have to feel they can offer some threat themselves against a defence that has kept 1 clean sheet in their last 6 Champions League away games and that coming at BATE Borisov.

Barcelona have also kept just a single clean sheet in 6 away games in all competitions heading into this one and Arsenal did beat Bayern Munich 2-0 here earlier this season. With Barcelona's own away issues in recent Champions League away games, I have to say the away team look an awfully short price.

In previous years I would say Arsenal are built for a team like Barcelona as they will allow them to play their football and the latter have the better players. However Arsene Wenger showed some tactical class against Bayern Munich earlier this season and was happy to defend in numbers and hit them on the break.

I imagine he will look for something similar here, although it has to be pointed out that Arsenal rode their luck early in that game against Bayern Munich. They can't present those chances to Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez who have to be the best attacking trio left in the Champions League, but I can see Arsenal causing some big problems on the break.

Arsenal will need some luck if they are going to earn the upset over two legs, but I think they will also need an element of luck to even have a lead to take to the Nou Camp next month. However I do think the counter attack will give them a chance in this one as they have plenty of pace and quality in the final third and the First Leg could be a competitive, fun affair for the neutrals to watch.

The layers are expecting goals and I can't disagree with that suggestion. However I think you can back at least four goals to be shared out which would have been a winner in 4 of Arsenal's last 7 home Champions League games. The number was also hit in 2 of Arsenal's last 3 Second Round Home Legs while 2 of 3 Barcelona Away Legs in last season's Knock Out Stages hit that number too.

I can see both teams scoring and Arsenal's best chance of progressing is winning this home tie where Barcelona are most vulnerable, although I think the latter will offer plenty of threat too. It should be a fun game, especially if we see an early goal scored by either team, and I will back at least four goals to be scored.

Juventus v Bayern Munich PickThere were a couple of ties in the Champions League Second Round last week that might not have got the pulse racing, but the same can't be said of the two offerings on Tuesday night. It is perhaps the Juventus versus Bayern Munich one that is the more intriguing of the two being played as last season's Finalist hosts the second favourite in the First Leg in Turin.

Most of the layers are expecting a tight game having found it hard to split these teams here, but they have decided on Bayern Munich being the favourite. I think that is a big ask for Bayern Munich who have lost 4 of their last 7 away games in the Champions League including their last 2 Knock Out ties in 2015.

It has to be in Juventus' minds that their best opportunity of springing the upset over two Legs is by winning this home game and I think they have been playing well enough at home to do that. Coupled with Bayern Munich's away struggles in the Champions League, Juventus must believe they can achieve that goal although it will be far from easy.

Bayern Munich did win here three seasons ago and while the team has changed since then, that will still give them belief too.

Personally I think this game might have more goal action than the layers as both teams are better on the front foot. Juventus can certainly make this a game as they look for the goals to win the First Leg and have a lead to take to Munich, while their visitors are always looking to attack.

This season didn't see Juventus home games feature more than two goals in any of the 3 Group games they played. However last season they did beat Borussia Dortmund and Juventus by the same 2-1 scoreline, while Bayern Munich conceded three times in Porto and Barcelona.

As I have said, the layers aren't expecting goals, but I think Juventus will likely make this more open than they think and I think a 2-1 scoreline either way is a real player in the First Leg. A Juventus win will set up a very good game in Munich next month, but I will be less concerned with picking the outcome and instead back at least three goals to be shared out by these two European giants.

Dynamo Kiev v Manchester City PickForget what the media and the layers will be feeling about this tie for Manchester City, I also think Dynamo Kiev are going to be very happy with the Second Round draw and will fancy their chances of progressing. The English media certainly expect Manchester City to be far too good over two Legs, but Dynamo Kiev played Chelsea very competitively in both Group games and the pressure is on Manuel Pellegrini's men.

There is little doubt the players will have heard the sense of expectation on their shoulders, but Manchester City have yet to get past the Second Round in the Champions League. That inexperience of winning a Knock Out tie is hard to dismiss out of hand, while Manchester City have lost 3 in a row in all competitions and conceded 10 goals in those games.

I wouldn't read too much into the 5-1 loss at Stamford Bridge in the Cup with a reserve team playing, but Manchester City have lost to Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League too. I do think the absence of the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Jesus Navas is a big blow for Manchester City, but the return of Vincent Kompany might give them the leader they have been missing defensively.

I am guessing Dynamo Kiev are the home underdog having not played a competitive football game since December, but Manchester City look very short considering injuries and recent form. Manchester City did have a couple of impressive away wins in the Champions League Group, but Dynamo Kiev are unbeaten in 9 home games in European football.

The home team also have a solid run to the Europa League Quarter Final last season as an experience builder of Knock Out football, although it has to be said that Dynamo Kiev have drawn 3 of their last 4 at home in Europe. I can't have Manchester City winning here, but I think their superior fitness can see Manuel Pellegrini's side return home with a positive result.

For only a small interest I would pick the draw from this Second Round First Leg.

PSV Eindhoven v Atletico Madrid PickI have to give PSV Eindhoven the respect they deserve for getting through to the Second Round of the Champions League despite all the sniggers they faced when being placed as a top Seed in the Group Stage. That came courtesy of winning the Dutch Eredivisie, but PSV proved their worth when beating Manchester United into second place in the Group.

In hindsight it was a weak Group and PSV Eindhoven will have to be a lot better when facing Atletico Madrid who will be focusing on the Champions League now the Primera Division looks beyond them. Diego Simeone has guided his team to one Final and a Quarter Final in the last couple of seasons and this is a dark horse to go all the way with the right draw.

Much of the focus from Atletico Madrid is to make sure they are hard to beat and clean sheets have been a feature of this team under Simeone. I expect that will be the basis of trying to get through this Second Round tie and I can see Atletico Madrid coming to Eindhoven with a clean sheet firmly on their mind.

There is enough attacking quality at the other end to cause PSV Eindhoven some problems, although the Dutch side did win their 3 home games in the Group Stage and scored twice in each game. In saying that, Manchester United, Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow don't have the quality nor the experience of Atletico Madrid.

Last season both Dinamo Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg beat PSV Eindhoven 0-1 here in the Europa League, the latter in the Last 32 Knock Out Stage. Atletico Madrid 4 clean sheets in their last 5 away games overall and I fancy them to win this one although I couldn't back them with any confidence at odds on.

Instead I will back the Spaniards to come here and leave with a win that comes thanks to a clean sheet, a result that will make Atletico Madrid big favourites to progress to the Quarter Final. I'll have a small interest in that at a big price considering how strong Atletico Madrid have been defensively under Diego Simeone.

Athletic Bilbao v Marseille PickThere are a number of Second Leg Last 32 ties that have potential to be cracking games and I think both Athletic Bilbao and Marseille could produce a high-scoring game in this one.

Most will think the 0-1 win for Athletic Bilbao in the south of France is a decisive win and the Spanish team should progress easily. However Marseille have played so much better away from home in recent months and this is a team that scored plenty of goals in their three away games in the Group.

In those games Marseille managed to grab nine goals with at least two being scored in each of those games and the onus is on them to get on the front foot in this one. That should mean we could see an open game and there have been plenty of goals for these teams at home/away respectively.

At odds against I like the chances that there will be at least three goals shared out in this one.

Lazio v Galatasaray Pick: Both of these teams started this season in the Champions League, but both Lazio and Galatasaray now have to make do with the Europa League. The First Leg in Turkey ended 1-1 and that means Lazio have a significant edge in the Second Leg, although they have been a little hit or miss so far this season.

After a really strong start to the season at home, Lazio's results have been much more mixed here recently. However they have continued churning out the results in European football as they have won their last 4 home games in Europe and Lazio will be able to bide their time and try and pick off Galatasaray in this one as the away side have to score at least once.

This has certainly not been a good season for Galatasaray to this point as they are miles off the pace in the Turkish top flight and have exited the Champions League in the Group Stage. Galatasaray have lost 8 of their last 9 away games in Europe, although all of those have come in the Champions League.

A lot of those losses have come against the better teams in Europe, but Galatasaray have also been found wanting in other games and I am not sure they can turn this one around. With the pressure likely to be on to find the goal as the game wears on, Lazio can pick off their visitors in this one and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap here.

Liverpool v Augsburg PickThe League Cup Final is a big game for Liverpool, but I have little doubt that progress to the Last 16 of the Europa League is also very important. Liverpool have a decent result behind them from the First Leg, but they might regret not scoring an away goal.

Now they face an Augsburg team who have won 2 of 3 away games in the Group Stage and who have won 6 of their last 8 away games in all competitions. However you have to wonder if the injuries in the away squad will take their toll on the team in this one, particularly as they continue to battle against relegation.

The first goal is going to be massive in this one with the tie finely balanced and I do think the edge belongs to Liverpool. Of course you have to take into consideration that they have struggled in recent games at Anfield and wins have been hard to come by, but it looks like Jurgen Klopp will play a strong team.

With the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in the starting line up, Liverpool should be too strong on the day although I can see Augsburg making this a tough evening. However if Liverpool get ahead I think they can be too strong for an injury hit squad and end up winning this by a two goal margin to give them some momentum to take into the League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Manchester United v Midtjylland PickThe win over Shrewsbury Town was as easy as it should have been for Manchester United, but it says a lot about where the team currently is that so many looked at a relegation threatened League One side as a banana skin. Instead Manchester United controlled the game throughout and the 0-3 win was as comfortable as the scoreline suggested.

However, Manchester United have much bigger tests to come this week and Midtjylland represent a significant step up from Shrewsbury Town. The Danish Champions showed they can rattle Manchester United with an up-tempo high pressing game last week, but I have to believe Manchester United will be much better this time around.

At the end of the day Midtjylland were allowed to get away with two sloppy goals last week and they are one of the weaker teams left in the Europa League this season. There is pace that can be a threat, but Manchester United have defended much better at home than they have on their travels and the 1-0 win is a big player in this one which will send Manchester United through.

If Manchester United are in that position, they should have chances to counter Midtjylland who will need to push forward at one point. Defending the set pieces could be an issue for the home team, but I expect a much more resilient display in this one with the attacking talent to see them through to the Last 16.

There is a big League game against Arsenal to come, but the Europa League is a big tournament for Manchester United this season and I think a strong team breaks down Midtjylland in this one.

Napoli v Villarreal PickThis was always looking like one of the better ties in the Last 32 of the Europa League and the 1-0 win for Villarreal against Napoli has given the Spanish side a slight edge in this one.

Failing to get that away goal could really be the critical factor in the entire tie, but Napoli have to be feeling confident they can at least win this one at home and give themselves an opportunity to progress.

Napoli have hammered their three opponents in the Group Stage at home, but they have just suffered a blip recently, while Villarreal showed their resiliency in a goalless draw at Atletico Madrid. They will need to show all of that again, but Villarreal have had it harder when travelling in the Europa League where they have lost 2 of their last 4.

It's a tough one, but I do like the strength Napoli have shown at home and I think they may record a narrow victory, but ultimately fail to progress on away goals.

Tottenham Hotspur v Fiorentina PickThe big news is that Harry Kane is out for Tottenham Hotspur in this game as they save him for the big Premier League games ahead, but I still think there will be goals in this game. 

The 1-1 draw in Florence means the tie is finely balanced as Fiorentina have to get forward and score goals here, but that might set up Tottenham Hotspur to strike them on the counter-attack. Both teams have been involved in some high-scoring games at home/away respectively in the Europa League and there was enough in the First Leg to think that will be the case here.

All of Tottenham Hotspur's home games in the Europa League have featured at least three goals as they have won those games but are yet to keep a clean sheet. Fiorentina haven't lost many away games in this competition in recent years, just 1 of their last 19, while they scored at least two goals in each of their away games in the Group Stage.

With the tie in the position it is, an early goal is just going to open up proceedings although the concern has to be that the game finishes 1-1 and goes into extra time. However I think neither team wants the extra thirty minutes in this one as they are in strong positions in their domestic Leagues and I think both Tottenham Hotspur and Fiorentina combine for at least three goals in this one.

MY PICKS: Arsenal-Barcelona Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.70 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Juventus-Bayern Munich Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.45 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Dynamo Kiev-Manchester City Draw @ 3.40 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Atletico Madrid Win to Nil @ 2.80 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Athletic Bilbao-Marseille Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Lazio - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Napoli @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Fiorentina Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

February Update24-13-1, + 24.40 Units (74 Units Staked, + 32.97% Yield)

January Final19-13, + 17.56 Units (61 Units Staked, + 28.79% Yield)
December Final15-23, - 9.32 Units (64 Units Staked, - 14.56% Yield)
November Final: 11-19-1, - 12.94 Units (51 Units Staked, - 25.37% Yield)
October Final16-25, - 13.51 Units (79.50 Units Staked, - 16.99% 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 2015/1687-128-5, - 38.37 Units (467 Units Staked, - 8.22% 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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