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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (August 23-25)

This week is all about concluding the Qualifiers in the Champions League and Europa League and we will be seeing the Group Stage draws later on. On Thursday evening it will be the Champions League Group Stage that is decided, while the Europa League participants will have to wait until Friday morning.

We also have the Second Round of the English Football League Cup played during the week with the draw for the Third Round expected to be made on Wednesday evening.

This will lead into the final weekend in August of domestic football before a two week break to account for the World Cup Qualifiers.

So far the picks are still in good shape, but it was a difficult weekend with a few upsets and less than exciting matches. Late goals didn't help, but it happens and I am looking for two big threads to give this season a boost at the beginning that I haven't had too often.

Hopefully this midweek selection of games can have the same impact as we saw last week to give me some momentum to take into the final weekend of August.

Monaco v Villarreal PickDespite a fairly turbulent summer where expectations might have lessened for Villarreal, I did think they might have won last week to hold a narrow edge over Monaco in the Second Leg. Instead all credit has to be given to Monaco for coming away from Spain with a 1-2 win and that means they are in pole position to make it back to the Champions League Group Stage.

You wouldn't argue with anyone that makes Monaco a fairly strong favourite to do that considering they have been tough to beat at home in recent European games. Monaco have won their last 3 Champions League Qualifiers at home over the last twelve months against the likes of Young Boys, Valencia and Fenerbahce and so playing Villarreal won't hold any fear for them.

They will respect Villarreal who did reach the Semi Final of the Europa League in each of the last two seasons, but there have been some key departures since they finished 4th in the Primera Division in May. This is also a side that haven't been as strong on their travels as they have at home in European games and Villarreal have won just 2 of their last 8 away games in the Europa League.

It really couldn't be much simpler for Villarreal in this Second Leg which should make putting a game plan together a little easier. They have to score at least twice to have any chance of progressing so at some point Villarreal will be willing to take risks to try and be rewarded with a Champions League Group Stage.

For Monaco it is a little more difficult as they try to figure out if they should twist or stick. Two seasons ago they did lose 0-2 at home in the Second Leg of the Second Round meeting with Arsenal after beating The Gunners 1-3 in London, so the victory in Spain is not a guarantee Monaco can progress.

They have shown they can score goals though and Monaco will have some chances of their own in this one as Villarreal come forward in numbers. Monaco have the edge with a slightly more settled mentality coming into the Second Leg and back to back wins will have given them confidence. However I do think Villarreal can create chances too and backing at least three goals to be shared out in the Second Leg like we saw in the First Leg is the call.

Roma v Porto PickThis Second Leg could not have been more finely balanced after the 1-1 draw in Portugal last week although Porto might feel they should have done better against a Roma team who had been reduced to ten men for much of the game. That result does mean Roma will be going in as favourites to reach the Champions League Group Stage, but they don't have a dominant home record in Europe which keeps this one very interesting.

Porto might not have scored in losses at Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund in their last 2 European away games, but they scored at least twice in their other 2 away games in Europe. On another night Porto might have had a lead to take to Italy if they had taken the chances that did come their way and I can see them causing some problems for Roma again.

However the right team is being favoured as Roma looked very strong last week when the teams both had eleven men on the pitch. The Thomas Vermaelan sending off changed the First Leg, but Roma will believe home advantage can give them the edge in this one.

It should be an entertaining game like the First Leg was.

Roma are not a team that can sit back and hope a clean sheet is enough to put them into the Group Stage, but instead they will look to take the game to Porto as they did last week in Portugal. With Porto needing at least one goal to give themselves a chance to progress to the Group Stage, they will likely send numbers forward in this one and I can see goals being the outcome.

Only 1 of the 4 Roma home games in the Champions League ended with three goals or more being shared out, but there should be enough chances in this one to provide goals in this Second Leg. The 1-1 final score is a real player in this one too, but I think we will see the teams playing with enough confidence and freedom to combine for at least three goals in this huge game.

Hapoel Be'er Sheva v Celtic Pick: Last week was a rollercoaster ride for Brendan Rodgers and his Celtic players and fans in the First Leg as they threw away a 3-0 lead to be pulled back to 3-2. Two late goals have given Celtic the big edge in the tie having won 5-2 at Celtic Park, but Hapoel Be'er Sheva have been talking up a big game heading into the Second Leg.

Goals might be the order of the day in the Second Leg with Hapoel Be'er Sheva forced to go on the attack and Celtic having plenty of counter attacking ability. In 4 of the last 5 Hapoel Be'er Sheva games there have been at least three goals shared out, while Rodgers has been talking up the attacking potential his side have displayed so far.

The last 5 Celtic games have all produced at least three goals but it does have to be noted that only 1 of Celtic's last 6 away games in the Champions League have hit that target. However this is a rare occasion when the Celtic's opponents have to be a little gung-ho in their attacking performance to try and get back into the tie as soon as possible knowing they need to score three times without reply to get them through to the Group Stage.

2 of the 3 Celtic away games in the Europa League Group Stage did see three or more goals shared out and I think that is the most likely situation in this one. There should be plenty of chances at both ends if the First Leg is anything to go by and late goals might be in play when one of the teams are pushing forward in search of goals which leaves them vulnerable to the counter attack.

Legia Warsaw v Dundalk Pick: A late goal in Dublin has given Legia Warsaw a 2-0 lead over Dundalk going into the Second Leg of this Champions League Play Off tie and the Polish side are now in a very strong position to progress to the Group Stage. The run to this Round from Dundalk has come in surprising fashion and a place in the Europa League Group Stage will be the reward for them.

I imagine the dream draw would be to face Manchester United, but Dundalk are not going to roll over and allow Legia Warsaw to embarrass them in the Second Leg. Unfortunately there is a clear difference in quality and even though Legia Warsaw don't need to win this game, I do think they can go on and prove they are the better side.

The recent form displayed by Legia Warsaw has not been the best, but neither have Dundalk and I just think their run has come to an end. They will give plenty of effort and work hard but Dundalk have to also take some risks during the match and I think Legia Warsaw will be able to win this one by a couple of goals.

Burton Albion v Liverpool PickThe television cameras will arrive at the Pirelli Stadium in anticipation of an upset as Burton Albion look to beat Liverpool in this English Football League Cup Second Round. Nigel Clough has helped his team make a solid start to the new season at the Championship level which is a big leap for Burton Albion who had been playing in the fourth tier just two seasons ago.

Defensively there is room for improvement for Burton Albion, but that same charge can be levelled at the Liverpool first team defence. It is unlikely that Burton Albion will be facing that first team here and that will give them a chance as they have already scored ten goals in five games played this season.

Liverpool will feel they will have their joy going forward too but the five goals conceded by the first choice defence coupled with the changes likely to be made makes Liverpool a vulnerable team here in my opinion.

They look very short in the market when you think how Jurgen Klopp is likely to approach this Second Round game, but I am going to focus on Burton Albion and their chances of scoring at least one goal. This Liverpool defence will be unfamiliar and Burton Albion have been scoring plenty of goals so backing them to score at least once looks a big price.

Chelsea v Bristol Rovers PickThere will be changes made to the Chelsea first team as Antonio Conte rotates the squad, but the Italian has made it clear he still expects a winning performance on the day. Momentum is the key for Conte who will be looking for two more wins this week which will take Chelsea into September with confidence behind them after a difficult 2015/16 season.

It is a big ask for Bristol Rovers to challenge a Chelsea team from the Premier League when you think this club was in the Conference just two seasons ago. They are another team that have earned back to back promotions to now play at a level which is going to be very challenging for them.

That level is still two below the Premier League and there will be plenty of players in the home team who are trying to show the manager they are perhaps deserving of regular starting places. It should mean Chelsea are plenty motivated when taking to the field for a rare Second Round League Cup game and I think The Blues will be far too strong for Bristol Rovers.

Bristol Rovers have won just 1 of their last 6 away games in either League One or League Two and I think Chelsea will take control as their superior fitness begins to tell. I will back Chelsea to cover this Asian Handicap and move through to the Third Round.

Luton Town v Leeds United PickLuton Town showed tremendous character to come from a goal down to beat Championship Aston Villa in the English Football League Cup First Round and their reward is to face another of the big names from that Division. Leeds United are not as strong as Aston Villa on the pitch though and I can see Luton Town perhaps upsetting them, although not convinced enough to back them.

The Leeds United win at Sheffield Wednesday has played a part in that thinking while they have only lost 1 of their last 6 on their travels going back to last season.

Instead of picking a winner, I think these teams can combine for at least three goals as both teams will give this Second Round match a go. 4 of 5 Luton Town games have ended with at least three goals scored this season and they won't be overawed if they fall behind in this one having come back from that deficit to beat Aston Villa.

Leeds United have tended to play higher scoring games away from home over the last twelve months and they have conceded when facing lower League opposition in this Cup in recent seasons. The 1-1 scoreline is the big concern for my pick, but I think we will see a winner in normal time and I believe that will be 2-1 either way.

Millwall v Nottingham Forest PickThe English Football League Cup can be a difficult competition to read with even teams in the lower Leagues making changes to their starting line ups. That might not be the case for Millwall and Nottingham Forest in this Second Round match and I think both teams will feel they have enough going forward to trouble their opponents.

Britt Assombalonga could be missing for Nottingham Forest who have scored eight goals in two home games in the League, but failed to score in two away games. Nottingham Forest did beat League Two Doncaster Rovers in the First Round of the League Cup, but they conceded in that one too and have yet to keep a clean sheet.

Millwall have scored and conceded in three straight games themselves and I think there is plenty to suggest we will see goals in this one.

The 1-1 scoreline could be a real player, but I am looking for attacking football to be produced by both Millwall and Nottingham Forest which should lead to at least three goals being shared out.

Wolves v Cambridge United PickIt has been a really poor start to the season for Cambridge United, but they are far from out on contention before the first month of the 2016/17 season is in the books.

For Wolves it has been a surprisingly solid start to the new season and I wouldn't be shocked if both teams are looking ahead to big League games this weekend. However a place in the Third Round of the English Football League Cup is up for grabs along with some of the biggest clubs in English football and home advantage looks very important for Wolves.

I would not be expecting Cambridge United to roll over and they have shown they can compete with Championship clubs after beating Sheffield Wednesday in the First Round. However they have not scored in their last 3 away games and have lost both on their travels this season which is another edge to Wolves.

Wolves have won 3 of their last 4 games to start putting the momentum together and I think they will be too strong on the day and cover the Asian Handicap.

APOEL v Copenhagen Pick: The 1-0 home win for Copenhagen has given them the edge in this Champions League Play Off Round tie, but the layers believe APOEL are the more likely winners of the Second Leg. However I think a small interest on Copenhagen to win in Cyprus has to be taken as I look for them to make the Group Stage with another win under their belt.

Copenhagen have won 3 of their last 4 away games in European football and they are unbeaten in all 11 games they have played in all competitions in the new season. It does have to be said they have not been at their strongest away from home but Copenhagen don't need to win this one and look in stronger shape than APOEL.

There has been a week for APOEL to prepare for this game, but that doesn't take away from the fact they have lost 3 of their last 4 games in all competitions. In the last Round they scored three times in injury time to beat Rosenborg 3-0 here which helped them overturn a First Leg deficit, but anyone who saw that game will tell you that it was much closer than the final scoreline.

In fact it could be argued that Rosenborg had the best chances to win the game and I think Copenhagen can take those chances if they come up again as APOEL push to get back into the tie. APOEL only won 1 of their last 6 home games in European competition last season and they were beaten here by Danish club Midtjylland in the Champions League here last season.

As well as APOEL played in their game against Rosenborg, the feeling was that the Norwegian Champions let themselves down with a lack of composure in front of goal. At a big price I will have a small interest on Copenhagen winning this Second Leg and moving into the Group Stage of the Champions League.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Young Boys PickThe First Leg has placed Borussia Monchengladbach firmly in control of this Champions League Play Off tie and I think Young Boys will struggle to contain them in the Second Leg too. Of course Borussia Monchengladbach don't 'need' to win, but this is the opening home game of the new season and that should see them plenty motivated to give the fans something to enjoy.

They might only have won 1 of their last 4 home games in European football, but Borussia Monchengladbach have played the likes of Sevilla (twice), Manchester City and Juventus. All of those sides are significantly better than Young Boys and I am looking for the German side to move into the Group Stage with another impressive win under their belt.

The style of play means Borussia Monchengladbach will get forward to try and score goals and win this Second Leg. The fact they are 3-1 up from the First Leg means their opponents have to come forward and I can see Borussia Monchengladbach having plenty of spaces to exploit on the counter attack.

I also can't ignore the fact that Young Boys have been a poor travelling team in recent European games with the two goals conceded at Shakhtar Donetsk the fewest they have conceded in 6 away games. All of those 6 straight losses suffered have come by at least two goals and Young Boys have lost by three or more goals in half of those defeats.

Recently they have also been beaten 3-0 at Basel and Young Boys might struggle to contain Borussia Monchengladbach in the Second Leg. I will back the German side to go through to the Group Stage with another strong win under their belt and will back Borussia Monchengladbach to cover the Asian Handicap at home.

Salzburg v Dinamo Zagreb PickThe 1-1 draw in Croatia might have given Salzburg the edge in the Play Off tie, but they can't rule out Dinamo Zagreb who have a very strong record at the Qualifier level in recent years.

Dinamo Zagreb are already assured of maintaining their run of getting to the Group Stage of one of the European competitions with this being their tenth time in a row achieving that feat. However they would love to turn around this tie and make it back into the Champions League Group Stage for the fourth time in six seasons although they have to win at a ground that has been tough in recent times.

It is Salzburg who have won 4 in a row at home in European competition and they have also won their last 5 home Champions League games but without being able to make it through to the Group Stage. Those wins will give them confidence, but Dinamo Zagreb are unbeaten in 14 away European Qualifiers in the Champions League and Europa League and the side have won 12 of those games.

Two seasons ago Dinamo Zagreb were hammered in both games played against Salzburg in the Europa League Group Stage, but the home team will have to deal with their nerves having missed good chances to reach the Champions League Groups in recent seasons. However, I think Salzburg won't have had too many better opportunities than this and I wouldn't be surprised if they finish Dinamo Zagreb off with a late goal to win this Second Leg and cover the one goal Asian Handicap.

Manchester City v Steaua Bucharest PickThe tie has already been won by Manchester City and the layers are not giving anything away by asking them to cover two goals on the Asian Handicap. However I think there is still an excitement under the new guidance of Pep Guardiola and I imagine the manager will use a spine of the players that will likely play a huge part through the season.

There is a suggestion Sergio Aguero will be rested, but Manchester City don't play in the Premier League until Sunday and I think Guardiola will give a few players more minutes to get used to what he wants from them. Those on the fringes might have some more opportunities, but Guardiola has made it clear he expects his Manchester City team to keep winning.

Having a 5-0 lead from the First Leg means Manchester City don't need to win, but that should ease the pressure and let them play their game. Last week they showed they are considerably stronger than Steaua Bucharest who looked naive defensively and gave up too many chances to give me much belief that things will change in the Second Leg.

I don't think Manchester City will get back up to five goals this week but I do think they will show their superiority on the scoreboard again. They looked far too good for Steaua Bucharest and I think the need to impress Guardiola will keep the fires burning as I look for Manchester City to record another comfortable win over their visitors.

Grasshoppers v Fenerbahce PickThis Play Off tie looks all over in the Europa League after two goals in the final twenty minutes allowed Fenerbahce to put a gloss on the First Leg that they won 3-0. That looks very unlikely to be overturned by Grasshoppers who have scored plenty of goals but who have conceded too many to think they can win this one by more than three goals that they will likely need to if they want to move into the Group Stage.

Goals haven't been an issue for Grasshoppers who have scored 19 goals in their 11 games in all competitions this season. In 3 of their 4 home games we have seen three goals shared out by the teams with Grasshoppers scoring two goals in each of those games.

On the other hand Fenerbahce have scored in 6 of their last 7 away games in European football and they will likely have space to exploit if Grasshoppers push forward in search of goals.

This has all the features of a game that should provide goals for the neutrals and I will back there being at least three goals shared out by two teams who have scored and conceded goals in recent weeks with some regularity.

Rosenborg v Austria Vienna PickLast week was an entertaining First Leg between Rosenborg and Austria Vienna which has given the latter a 2-1 advantage ahead of the Second Leg. However Rosenborg were very unfortunate in losing that game and will be confident they can get the better of Austria Vienna this time around.

You have to respect the Austria Vienna away record in European football as their single loss in their last 9 on their travels has come against Atletico Madrid. Austria Vienna have won both away games in the Europa League this season too but that goes against Rosenborg who have won both home games in the Champions League.

I think it is going to be another competitive game and it will be about taking the chances that come if Rosenborg are going to get back into this tie. They missed some big chances at APOEL when the game was tied in the Second Leg and again last week in Vienna, but they have been more clinical in the home games.

Rosenborg have won 13 straight at home in all competitions and scored at least twice in their last 11 and I think they can get the better of Austria Vienna in this one. The layers are very confident, but I think you can go a step further and back Rosenborg to move into the Group Stage and I will back them to Qualify from the tie.

Olympiacos v Arouca PickThe 0-1 win for Olympiacos in Portugal has put them in the driving seat against unfancied Arouca and I expect the experience to see them through to the Europa League Group Stage. Olympiacos were stunned by Hapoel Be'er Sheva in the Champions League Third Qualifying Round, but Arouca have even less pedigree than the Israeli Champions.

The problem for Arouca is they have to score at least once in this game to give themselves a chance to upset Olympiacos. After coming off a really stunning season, Arouca have made a difficult start to the new season and they have suffered some one-sided losses away from home in the last twelve months.

At some point in this game I am looking for Olympiacos to have spaces to exploit as Arouca push forward to get back into this tie. They might not have played well enough to get back into the Champions League Group Stage, but there is plenty of experience that Olympiacos can use to make sure they get into the Europa League Group Stage.

Arouca may struggle with the best way to approach the game having lost 0-1 at home and I am looking for Olympiacos to perhaps wrap up the tie late on while covering the Asian Handicap.

West Ham United v Astra PickThere are a number of injuries in the West Ham United squad going into this Second Leg and Slaven Bilic is desperate to bring in some reinforcements before the transfer window closes next week.

Unlike last season, Bilic won't make wholesale changes for the Second Leg as he does feel getting West Ham United into the Europa League Group Stage is an important part of the club's improvement. Having European football in the London Stadium going into the winter months would be reward for the fans and I do think we will see a much more familiar line up than the one that was beaten by Astra last season.

Missing players like Andy Carroll and Dimitri Payet is a blow, but there is enough quality for West Ham United to beat this Astra team.

Last week I backed Astra on the Asian Handicap but I am going the other way in this Second Leg. Anyone who saw the game in Romania would have noted West Ham United were the stronger team, but the pitch was something of a leveller in terms of the quality of the two teams.

That won't be the case this week as West Ham United play in their new Stadium on a much better playing surface and The Hammers created enough last week to think they can finish the job here. They do play Manchester City this weekend, but Bilic knows the players are away after that and getting in the new faces he wants can only be helped by playing in Europe after the World Cup Qualifiers.

I expect West Ham United to be better this week and they already looked too good for Astra. Aside from another sending off changing momentum as it did when these teams met last season, I can only see West Ham United winning this one by a couple of goals.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Istanbul Basaksehir PickFrom an experience stand point, Shakhtar Donetsk were big favourites to beat Istanbul Basaksehir in this Play Off Round tie and their 1-2 win in the Turkish capital puts them in a very strong position.

I can't see Istanbul Basaksehir getting back into this tie by scoring at least twice and beating a team that have been tough to play in their adopted home, especially in European competition.

Some may point to the fact that Shakhtar Donetsk blew a 2-0 First Leg lead against Young Boys in the Champions League, but the Second Leg was away from home and being in the Ukraine gives them a strong advantage.

While I think Shakhtar Donetsk progress, taking this Second Leg alone it has to be pointed out that they don't need to win to move through. In fact a 0-1 defeat would be enough for Shakhtar Donetsk to progress and their thinking might be a little more clouded than Istanbul Basaksehir's who have to score at least twice so know they need to attack.

However I think Shakhtar Donetsk have enough experience to deal with their situation and they showed a 1-2 win still brings out the best of them in the Second Leg at home when crushing Sporting Braga 4-0 in the Quarter Final last season. The first goal is going to be critical in this Second Leg, but Shakhtar Donetsk will likely find plenty of spaces to exploit if they can get that as Istanbul Basaksehir start getting a little desperate to get back into the tie.

Shakhtar Donetsk finished off Anderlecht and Young Boys with late goals at home in recent European games and I can seem them doing the same here to win this Second Leg by two clear goals too.

MY PICKS: Monaco-Villarreal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Coral (2 Units)
Roma-Porto Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Hapoel Be'er Sheva-Celtic Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 BWin (2 Units)
Legia Warsaw - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burton Albion Over 0.5 Team Goals @ 1.91 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Chelsea - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.70 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Luton Town-Leeds United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Millwall-Nottingham Forest Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Wolves - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Copenhagen @ 2.88 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Borussia Monchengladbach - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Salzburg - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Grasshoppers-Fenerbahce Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Rosenborg to Qualify @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Olympiacos - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
West Ham United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Shakhtar Donetsk - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Stan James (2 Units)

August Update17-17, + 2.65 Units (61 Units Staked, + 4.34% Yield)

Season 2015/16133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% 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)

1 comment:

  1. It was expected for Manchester City to win yesterday's game. Delph's goal came as a nice surprise. It is good to see Manchester City scoring a victory in this match and going further in the groups of Champions League. I am sure Guardiola will have to review the team's offensive and defensive strategy for the next matches.