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Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (March 15-17)

There is an international break looming for the domestic Leagues in European football but this is another big week as we set the Quarter Finals in both the Champions League and Europa League. The draw for the last eight will be made on Friday and then there is another round of Premier League fixtures and other domestic football this weekend before a two week break.

What makes this international break even more difficult to endure is the fact that we have very little competitive football. Don't get me wrong, the Qualifiers are hardly a pulse racing set of fixtures, but it is certainly better than the international friendlies we will have to suffer through over the Easter break.

I won't worry about that for now, because there are still plenty of big matches that are scheduled for the next few days beginning with those European Second Legs that have been set for this week.

Atletico Madrid v PSV Eindhoven PickWhen Atletico Madrid played in the Netherlands in the First Leg, I backed them to not just beat PSV Eindhoven, but keep a clean sheet in the process. Half of that was correct as Atletico Madrid did keep the clean sheet, but they were unable to score the decisive goal although will be big favourites to progress to the Quarter Finals of the Champions League.

I really am not disrespecting PSV Eindhoven, but they came out of a weak Group and are playing in a domestic League that doesn't really provide the competition that the Champions League does. Manchester United's poor performances in the Group Stage helped PSV Eindhoven progress, but they can't expect Atletico Madrid to be as generous from this position.

It also has to be remembered that PSV Eindhoven failed to win any of their 3 away games in the Group Stage and were beaten at CSKA Moscow and Wolfsburg. Neither team would be favoured to beat Atletico Madrid who have been in tremendous form in recent weeks as the goals have been produced to win games while the defensive strength continues to form the basis of their success.

I can't really see how PSV Eindhoven are going to keep Atletico Madrid from scoring for a second time in this Last 16 tie and I do think the Spanish side will ensure three clubs from the Primera Division are in the Quarter Finals. The goals in recent games suggests Atletico Madrid will be able to beat PSV Eindhoven by a couple of goals, but I am sticking with an old favourite when it comes to Atletico Madrid matches.

Simply put I expect Atletico Madrid to win this time with another clean sheet in their pocket and that looks a big price at just under odds against when you think PSV Eindhoven failed to score in 2 of 3 away games in the Group. PSV Eindhoven also failed to score in European games at Dinamo Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg last season and Atletico Madrid have had 9 clean sheets in their last 10 Champions League home games.

The price is simply too big in my opinion, especially as Diego Simeone prides himself on defensive solidarity, and I like Atletico Madrid to win to nil.

Manchester City v Dynamo Kiev PickThere are still times when Manchester City put all the right pieces together on the field and look like the team that should be leading the Premier League by some margin. On the other hand there are days when they look short of ideas in the final third and one of those was at Carrow Road on Saturday.

The Premier League is not quite gone at this point, but Manchester City will likely have to win every game they have remaining to have a chance and that is a tall order for an inconsistent team. It might mean the focus in the Champions League is that much better, although winning that certainly doesn't look a realistic goal for them.

I don't think anyone at Manchester City will think that, but that is my own opinion and likely to be shared by anyone not wearing sky blue tinted spectacles.

Manuel Pellegrini should help them break one mental barrier though and that is reaching the Quarter Final of the Champions League for the first time. It has been a big struggle for Manchester City thanks to some terrible draws, but the 1-3 win at Dynamo Kiev in the First Leg means it will take something special for Manchester City to blow their chance now.

Dynamo Kiev can't be underestimated having given Chelsea some difficulties, but they have lost 11 of 13 away games in England and are yet to win in this country. With the pressure to get forward and score at least three goals, it might work into Manchester City's hands as they counter their visitors and use the space to their advantage.

I expect Manchester City playing at home will be able to use those spaces effectively and I can see them picking off Dynamo Kiev late on to put a gloss on the Second Leg. The Manchester derby is played on Sunday so Manuel Pellegrini can play as strong a team as he likes and I expect there will be some frustration from the Premier League result on Saturday that needs to be taken out of their system.

I do think there will be some awkward moments, but a goal should settle Manchester City down and they can get another one as the game wears on to cover the Asian Handicap.

Barcelona v Arsenal PickPeople have been talking about Arsenal having a glimmer of hope in this Second Leg of the Last 16 Champions League tie at the Nou Camp, but I personally can't see that at all. There isn't a team in Europe I would back to overturn a 0-2 home defeat to Barcelona at the Nou Camp and Arsenal certainly would be some way down the totem pole if I was to even line up those teams in terms of percentage chances.

An Arsenal team devoid of confidence or form has even less of a chance in my opinion and the layers seemed to have caught on to that fact by effectively asking Barcelona to win by three clear goals on the handicaps.

Now Barcelona are more than capable of doing that against a team missing Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the defence, especially as Arsenal don't have a lot of room for rotation. Barcelona will play their possession game and look to hit Arsenal when The Gunners do push forward and I think it will likely be a comfortable day in the office for the current European Champions.

Defensively Arsenal have struggled too much to really believe they can keep Barcelona at bay and their fans have to worry there might be a repeat of the heavy 5-1 loss suffered at Bayern Munich in the Group Stage. If Barcelona are more clinical in the final third, they are capable of tearing apart this Arsenal team and they do have every chance of winning by a wide margin.

However I prefer simply backing Barcelona to score at least three times on the night at a reasonable price. They managed that in both previous home games against Arsenal in the Second Leg of a Last 16 tie and I expect Barcelona will have the chances to do that. The dominant First Leg scoreline worries me a touch as perhaps the focus in the home team is not as strong if they go 1-0 up in this one, but I do think the Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi trio do like putting their foot down when an opponent is reeling.

It isn't the biggest price in the world, but it is a steady one for Barcelona to hit at least three times and I will back that to happen.

Bayern Munich v Juventus PickFor the first hour of the First Leg, Bayern Munich looked to be in cruise control as they took a 0-2 lead at Juventus and looked to have one foot in the Quarter Finals. The final half an hour was dictated by Juventus for the most part and they came away with a 2-2 draw which was a good result for the day, but perhaps not one that will help them beat Bayern Munich into the Quarter Finals.

Some may feel the momentum is with Juventus having come from 0-2 down to earn the draw, but I think it had a lot to do with Bayern Munich perhaps feeling the job was done. That is not going to be the case in the Second Leg and it has to be remembered that Juventus have to find a way to score at least once to give themselves any chance.

That means at some point Juventus will have to take a risk against a team that has won 9 in a row at home in the Champions League and I am not sure that will work out too well for them. Last season could be the template for how this game will go as Bayern Munich failed to win at Shakhtar Donetsk (0-0) and Porto (3-1) in First Legs of the Knock Out Rounds of the Champions League, but then beat both 7-0 and 6-1 respectively.

Now I don't for a second believe that Bayern Munich will thump Juventus by those margins, but the latter did lose 3-0 at Inter Milan recently so could be under pressure from a much better team in Bayern Munich. Juventus will also have to get forward if they fall behind which can leave gaps for a pacy team to exploit and I do think Bayern Munich showed they are the far superior team if playing to their potential.

It won't be by as big a margin as Bayern Munich crushed Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto after poor away results by their standards, but I do think they are too much for Juventus on the day. I think the home team win this one by a couple of goals to earn comfortable passage to the Quarter Finals.

Bayer Leverkusen v Villarreal PickThe First Leg has put Villarreal firmly in command of this Last 16 tie, but having one foot in the Quarter Finals is not going to be enough for them. If there is any complacency, Bayer Leverkusen have shown they have the goals in the squad that can overturn this 2-0 deficit which should usually be very difficult for teams to overcome.

Bayer Leverkusen are a team built to go forward and score goals and they have a much clearer picture of this Second Leg than Villarreal. The German side know they have to attack and score goals and they might even need as many as four goals if they concede, but they have reached that mark in 2 of their 5 home games in Europe this season while also hitting three against Sporting Lisbon here in the last Round.

While Villarreal might be thought to defend what they have, it is in the nature of a Spanish side to want to get forward and score goals. They showed that ability in the last Round against Napoli when scoring the equaliser in Naples while defending a 1-0 home win from the First Leg.

It has to be remembered that Villarreal have scored in every away European game they have played since the beginning of the 2014/15 season, a run of 10 straight games. With Bayer Leverkusen getting on the front foot too and having an ability to score and concede plenty of goals, I can see this Second Leg producing at least one more goal than the First Leg and will back at least three goals to be shared out.

Lazio v Sparta Prague PickIn the old days it might have been expected that an Italian side playing at home would look to play out a goalless draw to move through to the next Round of a European competition on away goals. That is not so much the case these days and Lazio won't sit back in this one as they didn't when beating Galatasaray in the Last 32 following a 1-1 away result.

They will need to be careful against a Sparta Prague team that have had a habit of going away from home and scoring not just one, but two goals at times. If they can do that in the Italian capital, you would have to think Sparta Prague would be the favourites to win the tie perhaps on away goals at the least.

It has all the makings of another high-scoring Second Leg with both teams better going forward than they in defensive areas. Any goal will change the nature of the game and force one of the teams to perhaps push forward and I really don't agree with the layers that seeing at least three goals shared out by these teams should be an odds against shot.

All 4 of Lazio's home games in the Europa League have seen at least three goals shared out and 4 of 5 Sparta Prague away games in this competition have done the same. I think both teams will score in this one and I can see both having their chances to win the game in regulation time, so I will back at least three goals to be shared out on Thursday.

Manchester United v Liverpool PickThe First Leg has made Liverpool very strong favourites to progress to the Quarter Finals of the Europa League at the expense of their greatest rivals Manchester United. If the game takes a similar path as the First Leg, Liverpool won't just qualify but they will do so with a win at Old Trafford.

That has been a rare occurrence for them in recent seasons but Liverpool created so many chances in the First Leg that they will feel they can score a goal that will force Manchester United to score at least four times to have a chance. Louis Van Gaal has been very forceful in the press conferences in telling those listening that he will set up his Manchester United team to score goals, but the players have yet to prove they are capable of doing that on the pitch.

Finding the right balance between attack and defence has been an issue for Van Gaal and Manchester United and it is difficult to see how they can keep Liverpool from scoring. The ability to take a gamble hasn't really been a part of the Van Gaal make up and the biggest fear for Manchester United fans has to be going out without really testing this Liverpool team.

The away team are healthier and have had a week to prepare for this game, but the fans at Old Trafford should make this a very good atmosphere in which Manchester United can thrive. Manchester United have scored three times in wins over Liverpool under Van Gaal at Old Trafford, but Jurgen Klopp has his team playing with more confidence than Brendan Rodgers managed in those games.

I have to think that even Van Gaal recognises the importance of making a fast start in this Second Leg and I think Manchester United will create some chances. However, I also wouldn't be surprised if Liverpool scored in this one and I will back there being at least three goals scored this week after just missing out that number last week thanks to some good goalkeeping and poor finishing from both clubs.

Sevilla v Basel PickThere really isn't a lot I am going to say about this tie as Sevilla look to have a clear advantage to beat Basel and move through to another Europa League Quarter Final. You can't ever draw a line through Basel who have a lot of experience in European competition and have a tendency to make life difficult for any team when they are on peak form, but it is a big ask at Sevilla.

The numbers are all pointing to Sevilla to win having won 12 of their last 13 home games in European competition including 10 in a row in the Europa League. Sevilla crushed Molde 3-0 here in the last Round and they have also won 16 straight games here in all competitions which includes some of the better teams in Spain.

I do think Basel will cause some problems but I am expecting Sevilla to have the lead in this one going into the final 15 minutes.

At that point they should be able to employ counter attacking tactics and pick Basel off if they commit one too many men to get back into this the tie and I do believe Sevilla win this one by a couple of goals on the night. The 'hard work' has been done in Switzerland, but the experience Sevilla have means they won't be complacent in this Second Leg and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund PickThe First Leg has effectively put this tie to bed and it wouldn't be a big surprise if Mauricio Pochettino waved the white flag and rested players for the Premier League this weekend. Many of these players will be off for international duty at the end of the weekend, but Pochettino has been looking to keep them as fresh as possible.

He has already ruled out Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen and I wouldn't be surprised if other big names are rested in this Second Leg. While the manager won't want to lose at home, Tottenham Hotspur have bigger ambitions than the Europa League and his team last week suggested that was the case.

On the other hand it is important for Borussia Dortmund and I think they will play a strong team again to ensure complacency doesn't set in. They will know an away goal would likely be enough and I can see both teams making this an open game with the way they will look to approach the Second Leg.

Anything other than Borussia Dortmund's name going into the Quarter Final draw on Friday would be a huge upset, but this could be yet another Second Leg that has a fair few goals attached to it. I did fancy backing Dortmund to win the Second Leg as they did against Porto, but goals might be more likely for me and I will back that to happen.

MY PICKS: Atletico Madrid Win to Nil @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Barcelona Over 2.5 Team Goals @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Bayern Munich - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bayer Leverkusen-Villarreal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 William Hill (2 Units)
Lazio-Sparta Prague Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Sevilla - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Borussia Dortmund Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

March Update18-12-2, + 11.64 Units (62 Units Staked, + 18.77% Yield)

February Final30-23-2, + 20.82 Units (105 Units Staked, + 19.83% 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 2015/16107-151-2, - 17.55 Units (572 Units Staked, - 3.07% 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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