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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (March 8-10)

The Quarter Finals of the Champions League and Europa League will be set over the next two weeks and the first four of the remaining sixteen teams will be confirmed in the Champions League over the next two days.

While the Champions League is clearly the premier competition in European football, I don't think the Europa League will be playing second fiddle in England this week as we get to see Liverpool versus Manchester United twice in eight days to determine which of those teams gets through to the Quarter Final.

A busy three days of football are ahead from here.


Real Madrid v Roma PickI think it would be a huge upset if Roma were to be able to turn around their 0-2 home loss in the First Leg and knock Real Madrid out of the Champions League. As poor as the season has been for Real Madrid and the standards they have set in previous years, they remain a genuine contender to win the Champions League with the quality that Zinedine Zidane can call upon.

The lead from the First Leg means Real Madrid can take their time in this one, but this is a team that is expected to get forward and score goals at home. I can't imagine that changes too much and eventually Roma will have to take a chance.

Luciano Spalletti has changed Roma's fortunes in Serie A and they look capable of getting back into the Champions League with a top three finish. However there is gap in quality to bridge in this one as shown by the fact they have won just 1 of their last 12 Champions League games and have won none of their last 8 away games in the competition.

Roma were embarrassed at Barcelona in the Group Stage where they lost 6-1 and they also lost by a couple of goals at Bayern Munich last season. At some point in this one they are likely going to have to commit players forward and I think Real Madrid will prove too strong on they day.

Real Madrid might have lost to Barcelona and Atletico Madrid here, but 9 of their last 10 home games have been won by at least two goals each time. With Gareth Bale back to offer more pace, I expect Real Madrid to hit Roma at least a couple of times on the counter and win this one by a couple of goals on the night for a fairly comfortable passage through to the Quarter Final.


Wolfsburg v Gent PickThe First Leg came alive in the second half as Wolfsburg moved into a commanding 0-3 lead before Gent fought back with two goals in the final ten minutes. It is unlikely to be enough to help Gent to find a way past their hosts in the Second Leg, but at least makes this tie a little more intriguing than it looked after an hour was played in Belgium.

I can imagine a few people are willing to back Wolfsburg to get the job done in style by winning the Second Leg, but the lead from the First Leg means they might not have to commit bodies forward if the game is level in the final twenty minutes. Wolfsburg will likely have their opportunities on the counter attack if Gent over-commit to getting back into the tie, but backing them at short odds doesn't really appeal when knowing a 1-2 defeat would still see the German side move into the Quarter Final.

However Wolfsburg did win all 3 Group games played at home and have saved some of their better performances of the season for the Champions League.

While that has to be taken into consideration, I think backing there being at least three goals shared out between these teams is the more appealing option. All 3 Gent away games in the Group Stage ended with at least three goals shared out with each game ending with a 2-1 scoreline, and I think the Belgian Champions will force Wolfsburg into an attacking game.

After the way Gent played in the final ten minutes of the First Leg to get back into the tie, I think they will look to pick up from where they left off. That should also mean Wolfsburg having their opportunities on the counter attack and I think another high-scoring game is possible in this one.


Hull City v Arsenal PickIt looks like both Arsene Wenger and Steve Bruce are going to be forced into making changes for this FA Cup Fifth Round Replay this week. Both teams had setbacks in their League ambitions on Saturday, but they still have those as a priority and this FA Cup game has come at a poor time in a busy schedule for both Arsenal and Hull City.

Expect two changed line ups to take to the field, but I do think recent results has made this a more important game for Arsenal. Having to play with ten men for a long part of the North London derby might mean some players have to be given a rest, but Arsenal should have more quality available to them even with the long injury list in front of them.

While Steve Bruce has admitted this Round of the FA Cup gets teams to believing they can reach Wembley, I think it was telling how much he spoke of the Championship and the importance of earning promotion. Getting through means Hull City are re-arranging two games this week and Bruce admitted it can be difficult to find the time for recuperation when those games have to be rescheduled.

That kind of attitude has to filter down to the players, even for the second string that want to prove they should be playing in the League. It should also encourage Arsenal and I think The Gunners maintain their unbeaten run in the FA Cup with a victory at the KC Stadium.

The price has been shrinking over the last couple of days but I still think Arsenal can be backed for an important win in what may be their best chance for silverware again.


Zenit St Petersburg v Benfica PickThe early game in the Champions League comes from Russia where Zenit St Petersburg are trying to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the First Leg, although it could be a high-scoring game this week.

That is because they are facing a Benfica team that have lost a number of their experienced defensive players and who have said they are going to go on the attack in search of a vital away goal. That goal would give them a significant edge in this Last 16 Second Leg if they can get an away goal as it will force Zenit St Petersburg to score three goals to progress.

Out of the two teams, there is no doubting that Benfica are in the better form especially as Zenit St Petersburg have struggled out of their Winter Break. They won a big game at Sporting Lisbon over the weekend and have now won 9 straight away games in all competitions while Benfica were 1-2 winners at Atletico Madrid in the Group Stage.

Benfica scored in every away game in the Group Stage and will feel they have enough in the attacking areas to make up for their defensive injuries. On the other hand Zenit St Petersburg have won 4 in a row at home in the Champions League but they did concede to Gent and Lyon and so I can see goals in this one.

An away goal for Benfica would really open the game up, but I also note that their home/away games in the Group Stage would have seen 5 of the 6 games feature at least three goals. Of course the form has changed since December, but Benfica can make this a real Cup tie and I think they will look to get forward to make this an open game and backing goals at odds against is my pick.


Chelsea v Paris Saint-Germain PickThere has to be something of a rivalry that has developed between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain over the last couple of years thanks to two tight Champions League Knock Out ties. Both clubs have big ambitions thanks to powerful owners with deep pockets and the previous two ties have been decided by razor thin margins as both have ended 3-3 over two legs with each team winning once on away goals.

The Chelsea fans have to hold onto Jon Mikel Obi's goal in Paris three weeks ago as one that might be the difference maker in this tie.

This is definitely a Chelsea side who have played with plenty of improvement under Guus Hiddink but they continue to leak plenty of goals at Stamford Bridge. It is a big reason they have only won 3 of their last 8 games here in all competitions and Chelsea have conceded at least once in 8 of their last 9 games at home with the one exception being a win over Scunthorpe United from League One.

Heavy wins over Newcastle United and a much changed Manchester City team might give their fans belief, but this is another big step up and missing a leader like John Terry is a huge blow to their chances.

Paris Saint-Germain won't fear having to score here as they managed to do that twice last season albeit once in extra time, and they rested players last weekend as Chelsea did to keep both teams fresh.

I think we will see another entertaining game between these two clubs who do match up well with each other. Each of their last five games have been fun to watch and I think this one goes the same way and I do expect both teams to score with the way they have been playing in attack and defence.

The layers have the price for at least three goals at odds against, but the attacking players on display and the situation of the game suggests that is too big. Chelsea haven't looked capable of winning games 1-0 at Stamford Bridge and Paris Saint-Germain have yet to find their consistency away from home in the Champions League. I do expect both teams to score and gaps should appear if one of these teams is chasing the game so backing at least three goals is my call.


Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur PickThis is the kind of tie that might be taking place in the Champions League next season and the winner of the Borussia Dortmund-Tottenham Hotspur Last 16 tie will believe they can win the Europa League. Both teams had impressive wins in the Last 32 and may have wished to avoid one another at this Stage, although you can bet your bottom dollar that both managers speak about having to 'beat everybody' to win the Europa League.

It is a hard one to separate over two Legs and I do think both teams will believe they can get forward and cause problems for the other. Having home advantage should be the key for Borussia Dortmund to put themselves in a position to have something to defend in North London.

However Tottenham Hotspur have shown during the course of the season that they are able to battle back from tough positions and I think they have enough attacking talent to create a couple of big chances in Dortmund themselves.

The big question has to be the number of changes that Tottenham Hotspur make with a big Premier League game on Sunday to come. However they have to be careful they don't leave themselves short in both the Europa League and Premier League and Mauricio Pochettino has a big test to rotate his squad effectively in this one.

The same can be said for Borussia Dortmund who are back in the title race in Germany, but they too have managed their schedule effectively to this point.

I am looking for a very good game of football to be played by these two teams who are arguably the two favourites to win the Europa League. With the way Borussia Dortmund play, I can see both teams having their chances and will back at least three goals to be shared out by the teams.


Basel v Sevilla PickThis has all the makings of a fascinating Last 16 tie, especially if Sevilla continue to struggle away from home as they have for much of the season. This is certainly the priority for Sevilla who will see winning the Europa League for a third consecutive season as their best chance of reaching the Champions League again.

Both Basel and Sevilla were knocked out of the Champions League this season and Basel are unlikely to lose focus knowing the Europa League Final is to be played in their home Stadium. Basel might have rode their luck to get through to this Last 16 tie, but they have had success at this level in recent years and Sevilla will have to pay them full respect.

Basel have to feel they need a lead to take to Spain if they are going to win this tie, but they have to be careful in finding the right balance when seeing Sevilla have scored in 6 of their last 7 away games in all competitions.

The situation should mean both teams look to get onto the front foot and produce a very positive performance. That should lead to an exciting game with chances at both ends and I do think we will see both teams score in this one.

While Sevilla would likely settle for a score draw, Basel's ambitions might mean there is space for them on the counter attack too and I am expecting to see a third goal scored by one of the teams. I'd rather back Basel to do that at the prices, but instead I am simply going to back there being at least three goals at prices just under odds against.


Athletic Bilbao v Valencia PickThe two wins that Athletic Bilbao have had over Valencia in the League this season has to give them a real mental edge in this Last 16 tie, while the winner of this one has to be feeling good about their chances of going all the way. The Spanish sides have had a lot of success in the Europa League so the winner might just have what it takes to go all the way.

It is those two wins that Athletic Bilbao have had over Valencia that should make them favourites, as well as the fact they have put together some impressive wins of late. Athletic Bilbao have had a harder time at home in recent weeks and had to battle hard to edge past Marseille, while Valencia have won 3 in a row away from home prior to this First Leg.

That form should give Valencia some confidence, but they have had a hard time against some of the better teams from Spain.

Athletic Bilbao are definitely one of those as they chase a Champions League place and I think they will have the advantage at the end of the First Leg. Gary Neville is helping Valencia put together some more consistent results of late, but Athletic Bilbao are in strong recent form too and I think they take the lead to the Mestalla next week.


Liverpool v Manchester United PickLiverpool versus Manchester United... If the Europa League wanted a boost in respectability in England, this is exactly the kind of tie that the competition would have been hoping for.

Both clubs will be desperate to get back into the Champions League this season and both Liverpool and Manchester United look like they will come up short in the race for the top four in the Premier League. That means winning the Europa League is their best avenue back into the premier European competition which has only added to the importance to a couple of games taking place in the next few days.

The First Leg at Anfield comes at a good time for Liverpool as they don't have any commitments this weekend unlike Manchester United who host West Ham United in the FA Cup Sixth Round. Injuries have also played a big part for both clubs this season, but that is where Liverpool might have benefited from the scheduling as they look much healthier than Manchester United with more options off the bench.

When they met at Anfield earlier this calendar year, Liverpool did feel they missed their chances that were created, but now they will have Daniel Sturridge back to lead the line and Philippe Coutinho pulling the strings. I do think that gives the home team the edge and a chance to have a lead to protect when they go to Old Trafford next week, especially as Manchester United might have to rely on some of their younger and more inconsistent players to produce on Thursday.

However you can't ignore how well Louis Van Gaal has prepared his team for the 'big games' and that he has won all four previous matches as Manchester United manager against Liverpool. Manchester United have also won 3 of their last 4 visits to Anfield but there are some experienced heads out for the visiting side.

I can understand why Liverpool will have their backers at odds against to beat this current Manchester United squad, but I think the over 2.5 goals option looks vastly overpriced. The last game might have ended 0-1 to Manchester United, but there were a few chances in that game that might have changed the whole feel of the match and goals have been a feature of Manchester United games.

Before that game, the last four games between these teams had produced at least three goals and I think this will be played like an English Cup game rather than a European tie. It looks a big price for three goals to be shared out and I think the Second Leg will be left in the balance at the end of this one with my gut feeling being that Liverpool have a narrow lead to take to Old Trafford.


Villarreal v Bayer Leverkusen PickOn paper this looks a difficult tie to call as Villarreal have played well this season but Bayer Leverkusen are coming out of the Champions League and might be prioritising the Europa League. Recent form hasn't been particularly kind for either team, but Villarreal have been strong at home and I think that will give them a narrow advantage in this one.

There is no doubting the threat that Bayer Leverkusen pose going forward, but Villarreal have used a strong defensive shape to give them a foundation for success at home.

On the other hand Bayer Leverkusen have been conceding a fair few goals of late and have conceded six in their last couple of away games. That should mean Villarreal have their chances in this one and they have won all 4 home games played in the Europa League to this point.

I am almost certain this tie will still have all to play for when they meet again in Leverkusen in seven days time, but I do think Villarreal win the game. The price is just appealing enough considering how well they have played at home for much of the season and Bayer Leverkusen's recent defensive issues taking into account.

MY PICKS: Real Madrid - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Wolfsburg-Gent Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.67 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 1.67 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Zenit St Petersburg-Benfica Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Chelsea-Paris Saint-Germain Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Borussia Dortmund-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Basel-Sevilla Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Athletic Bilbao @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.45 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Villarreal @ 2.20 Coral (2 Units)


March Update7-6-1, + 1.88 Units (27 Units Staked, + 6.96% 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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