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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (October 18-20)

I continue to make moves to get October back into the positive and took another step towards that this past weekend. I am looking for that to continue this week as we get into the Match Day 3 of the European competition Group Stage and there is also another round of games in the Championship before we move on to another big domestic weekend of football.

The big game this past weekend was the Liverpool v Manchester United one and I have to say that some people just can't be pleased. I thought Jose Mourinho got the tactics close to spot on for the game and a better finish from Zlatan Ibrahimovic would have seen Mourinho once again leave Anfield with a very impressive win.

It's not a bad point at all for Manchester United, although you won't have thought that after the game when plenty of moaners decided to air their grievances, but I would like to see a little more when United travel to Stamford Bridge next Sunday. While Liverpool had the momentum behind them which made Mourinho's tactics easy to understand, I think Chelsea are much more vulnerable if you attack them and I do want Manchester United to do that.

Before that there is a big midweek of action where the Groups in both the Champions League and Europa League begin to take shape. There are three rounds of European games over the next six weeks where the Knock Out Stage participants will begin to be decided but it does look like all the English teams are in a position to make it through.

Things can change very quickly though and there might be a very different feel after the next three days of football is played.

Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur PickIn a Group where the leaders have four points and the bottom club have one point, Match Days 3 and 4 could be crucial in deciding the standings and which teams could be moving through to the Second Round of the Champions League. Bayer Leverkusen and Tottenham Hotspur were arguably the two favourites to make it through when the Groups were drawn, but one of these clubs could find themselves in a very difficult position at the beginning of November, especially if Monaco beat CSKA Moscow twice.

I am looking forward to the double header between Bayer Leverkusen and Tottenham Hotspur as I think we might have two exciting games to look forward to. There is little doubt that Bayer Leverkusen are better going forward than they are defending, and being at home on Match Day 3 should be a big advantage.

However I think Tottenham Hotspur have shown they have plenty of depth having played well without Harry Kane who has been missing through injury. Heung-Min Son will be a familiar face to Bayer Leverkusen fans having played here before moving to Tottenham Hotspur and he has shown he has the goals to make up for Kane's absence and could come back to haunt his former club.

On the other hand Bayer Leverkusen have scored at least twice in 8 of their last 9 home games in all competitions and they have reached that mark in 4 of their last 5 home Champions League games. Bayer Leverkusen don't do a lot of clean sheets and I expect Tottenham Hotspur to create chances here too so I do believe we will see at least three goals to be shared out between them.

Picking a winner is difficult although I have been leaning towards Bayer Leverkusen, but I will stick with the feeling that this is going to be a game with chances for both teams and backing at least three goals to be scored on Tuesday is my pick.

Club Brugge v Porto PickThis is a big game for the bottom two clubs in this Group as the winner can start thinking about closing the gap on Leicester City and Copenhagen, while the losing team might already accept their European adventure is over for the season.

To be fair, not many would have picked Porto to be in this tough spot in the Group having earned a single point from a couple of games in the competition. Their 3-0 win at Roma looks a long time ago now, but Porto can be right back in contention if they can win here.

Their record away from home in European competition doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, but Porto should be significantly better than Club Brugge and can make that count. Club Brugge have lost 4 of their last 5 home European games as they have struggled to bridge the gap in quality between their domestic League and teams they will be facing in the Champions League and Europa League.

Club Brugge have begun to find some improved results at home, but they have been found out in this Group and I can't be keen on backing a team that have conceded 7 goals already in the section. Porto played well enough at Leicester City on Match Day 2 to think they can create chances here and I think they will be a little too good for Club Brugge on the day.

A week ago Porto's price would have been very attractive at close to odds against, but that has been on the drift all week and they are fairly short. However Porto can earn a rare away European victory this week against a side that I think are overmatched at this level and I will back them to get that.

Leicester City v Copenhagen PickThere have been some suggestions that Claudio Ranieri and his Leicester City have been more focused on the Champions League than the Premier League and that is the reason for the inconsistent performances in the defence of their title. Keeping Riyad Mahrez on the bench for the game against Chelsea might have aided those beliefs, but I simply think Leicester City overachieved massively last season.

Now they have come back to a more realistic level Leicester City have struggled, but there is no doubting that I am a little surprised by the amount of goals they have conceded. The majority of those have come away from home though and Leicester City have conceded just three goals in their 6 games at the King Power Stadium in all competitions.

I think that home advantage is key here and I am surprised that Leicester City are almost odds against to win this game to make it three out of three in the Champions League.

That is even though I am giving Copenhagen and their 23 game unbeaten run plenty of respect especially after they earned an impressive 1-1 draw at Porto on Match Day 1. It does have to be remembered that Copenhagen generally play at a lower level than Leicester City and this is going to be a tough ask for them to earn another credible away draw which could make them favourites to not only get through to the Second Round, but actually go on and win the Group.

Copenhagen have earned draws in visits to Chelsea twice over the years including in the 2011/12 Champions League Group Stage. The result in Porto should give them belief, and Copenhagen have drawn 7 of their last 8 away games.

However, Leicester City have bounced back from their heavy away Premier League losses with wins in the Champions League already this season and I think they can earn a narrow win in this one. I expected Leicester City to be much shorter than they are and I think they can put themselves into the driving seat to win this Group with a win on Tuesday.

Sporting Lisbon v Borussia Dortmund PickSporting Lisbon might have been the third favourite in this Group, but they might have a big chance to surprise Borussia Dortmund who have not been in the best of form and who have a number of injuries in the squad to deal with.

If Sporting Lisbon can win this game at home they will move above Borussia Dortmund and put all the pressure on the German side to beat them in the return game in a couple of weeks. They will feel confident having scored at least twice in 9 straight home games in all competitions, but Sporting Lisbon will also recognise the strength of the Borussia Dortmund squad that will be visiting.

The home team have won their last 4 Champions League games in Lisbon and Sporting Lisbon have to be inspired by the fact that Borussia Dortmund have lost half of their last 4 away games in all competitions.

However I do think Borussia Dortmund can play their part in this fixture and that has me leaning towards there being at least three goals shared out between the teams. I was tempted to back Sporting Lisbon on the Asian Handicap to avoid defeat, but Borussia Dortmund are not a team who will sit back and remain dangerous going forward which means there should be chances at both ends in this game.

Sporting Lisbon will feel stronger at home and will have to attack as they try and earn a big three points which should also mean more room for Borussia Dortmund on the counter attack. I can see a 2-1 scoreline at least in this one and backing three goals to be shared out is my pick.

Arsenal v Ludogorets Razgrad PickThere are times when Arsenal can flatter to deceive but I still think it would take something special for The Gunners to fail to beat Ludogorets Razgrad and move to within three points of their place in the Second Round. Arsenal have been in fine form although they need to become a little better defensively to make sure they can achieve their goals in the next few months.

The goals conceded on Saturday against Swansea City came against a team that are considerably better than the team they will be playing in the Champions League. Arsenal showed in their win over Basel that they can be strong enough defensively to keep clean sheets in games like this and I think the best way to back Arsenal is to back them to win to nil.

Arsenal have not won a home Champions League game while conceding since October 2014 and their last 4 wins in this competition have come with a clean sheet. They should be too good for Ludogorets Razgrad and I think it will be tough for the Bulgarian side to contain their hosts and also to find enough attacking intent to try and challenge Arsenal.

Arsenal had already kept 4 clean sheets in a row before the 3-2 win over Swansea City and I think backing them to win to nil looks a decent price on Match Day 3.

Barcelona v Manchester City Pick: This is the stand out tie of the Champions League Group Stage in terms of storylines that Barcelona v Manchester City easily creates. Pep Guardiola returning to the Nou Camp for the second time as an opposition manager is going to be the headline, but I do think that has helped make Manchester City a little overrated going into Match Day 3.

Recent form has not exactly been inspiring for Manchester City and they are now heading to a ground on which Barcelona have won 12 straight Champions League games. You can't ignore the fact that Barcelona are not exactly firing on all cylinders themselves, but Lionel Messi is back and the front three that Barcelona have will be licking their lips at going after this vulnerable looking Manchester City defence.

We all know that Guardiola is unlikely to change his system or his tactics and I simply don't think Manchester City are as strong as Barcelona who should be able to dictate the play. Guardiola refused to make changes when at Bayern Munich and that team was stronger than Manchester City but were hammered at the Nou Camp and I can't help but think Barcelona will prove far too good on the day.

Manchester City can't afford to play as they did at Celtic Park or they will be blown off the field, while they also conceded twice at Tottenham Hotspur. Recent games have continued to see Manchester City struggle defensively and I am not sure they will have enough of the ball in this game to get after Barcelona's own defensive vulnerabilities.

I just fancy Barcelona are going to be too strong with their possession likely to turn into a comfortable win and remind Manchester City fans that Guardiola has some work to do to turn this club into one that is capable of winning the Champions League.

Celtic v Borussia Monchengladbach Pick: There wasn't a lot of hope for either Celtic or Borussia Monchengladbach that they could split the Manchester City and Barcelona powerhouses and sneak into the Second Round. Both of these clubs were hammered on Match Day 1 before showing much more at home in Match Day 2, but it does look like both Celtic and Borussia Monchengladbach are playing for 3rd place and a spot in the Europa League Last 32.

Celtic have the slight edge having earned a point in the draw with Manchester City, but they will know they need to win this game if they are really going to finish above pointless Borussia Monchengladbach. That makes this a potentially exciting game as both teams will know the importance of getting forward and scoring goals and I do sense there will be at least three in the game.

The Celtic home games in Europe have tended to lean that way with the last 8 games at Celtic Park in European competition finishing with at least three goals shared out. The goals Borussia Monchengladbach are conceding at the moment does make it possible that Celtic will be able to continue the run of 12 consecutive home games with at least two goals scored.

The question really is how much Borussia Monchengladbach can produce having been hammered in some of their recent away games. They are out of form, but Borussia Monchengladbach have shown they have some attacking threat in their squad and this Celtic team play with a high energy which can lead to mistakes at the back.

I would be surprised if this does end a low scoring game because of what is at stake for both teams and the defensive issues both have shown. Backing at least three goals to be shared out looks to be the pick.

Napoli v Besiktas Pick: It looks like Napoli are already in a commanding position in this Champions League Group but they have lost their last couple of League games in Italy which will have knocked some of the confidence. However I expect Napoli to bounce back and get the better of Besiktas and virtually assure themselves not only of a place in the Second Round, but in a strong position to win the Group.

The side were beaten 1-3 by Roma on Saturday but Napoli had won 10 in a row at home in all competitions prior to that including a thumping 4-2 win over Benfica on Match Day 2. In 8 of those 10 games Napoli have scored at least three times and I think it is going to be difficult for Besiktas to stay with them.

The Turkish side need to be respected though as they have already drawn in Lisbon against Benfica in the Group, but Besiktas did need a late goal to earn the 1-1 draw on that day. They might not be as close to Napoli in this one even if Besiktas head to Italy on a 3 game winning run away from home in all competitions.

Recent European experiences have shown Besiktas have not been at their best when travelling and I think they might face something of a backlash from the home team this week. Napoli have continued scoring at a high rate even after selling Gonzalo Higuain and I think they will be able to win this match by a couple of goals to take complete control of the Group with 3 games still to play.

Barnsley v Newcastle United PickA few weeks ago this might have looked a really big test for Newcastle United considering the form that Barnsley had been in, but recent results have not been as impressive. Barnsley did force a draw with Aston Villa here, but they have been conceding too many goals and that is a big problem ahead of this match.

I think Barnsley can play their part against a team that hasn't conceded a lot of away goals though and their system makes them a team that should be able to get forward and score goals. However I think ultimately Newcastle United are going to be too strong even if their short odds are hardly the most appealing of prices.

Instead I think backing the chance of there being at least three goals at a bigger price than the away win is more appealing. As I said, I am expecting Barnsley to play their part in this fixture with the 4-4-2 system they employ, but this is a team that has conceded at least twice in 3 of their last 5 home games.

With the way Newcastle United can play, they are capable of scoring all three goals themselves, but I think both teams will score in a narrow Newcastle United win. Backing at least three goals makes the most sense to me from this fixture.

Brighton v Wolves PickA late, late goal cost Brighton the three points on Saturday, but I think they can make home advantage count and win this game against Wolves on Tuesday. You have to respect the fact that Wolves have earned 4 points from visits to Newcastle United and Aston Villa this season, but they have had some difficulties on their travels including a surprising 2-1 loss to Wigan Athletic.

This has also been a strong home for Brighton even if they had to settle for the 2-2 draw with Preston North End on Saturday. Their poor record against Wolves might be a concern, but at almost odds against they look an appealing price to win this game and keep tabs with the top teams in the Championship.

Brighton have scored twice in their last couple of home games and I do think Wolves are a team that have just begun to struggle for goals in their most recent away games.

I do think if Brighton reach two goals in this one that they will have enough to earn the three points. At the prices I will back them to win this game.

Fulham v Norwich City PickWhen I initially saw the price for a Norwich City win at Craven Cottage I have to say that I was tempted to pick them to win here. That is especially considering how Fulham have played at home since beating Newcastle United back in August, but instead I have swayed towards backing at least three goals to be scored.

I think Norwich City are going to need to score twice if they want to win this game, but they have scored at least two goals in each of their last 4 away games in all competitions.

However Norwich City have also conceded in all but one game they have played on their travels and Fulham look like a team that can play their part in this one. Fulham have conceded at least twice in their last 3 home games though and I think it is all pointing towards these teams sharing out three goals.

Games between these teams at Craven Cottage have not featured too many goals in recent seasons, but I think this fixture can reverse that trend. Backing at least three goals looks to be a tempting enough price and I can see Norwich City winning this one 1-2 to snap their losing record in this part of West London.

Leeds United v Wigan Athletic PickThe home form has been much improved from Leeds United in their recent games at Elland Road and I think they can bounce back from the 1-0 loss at Derby County on Saturday.

Garry Monk is back on the touchline and Leeds United have scored 6 goals to win their last 4 home games in all competitions. That should give them the edge over a Wigan Athletic team that have just been struggling for goals recently, although they have improved defensively as they try and move up the Championship table.

Historically Wigan Athletic have a decent record at Elland Road with 2 wins from 4 previous visits, but I think this current Leeds United team can get the better of Wigan Athletic.

At odds against I think Leeds United can be backed for a fifth straight home win in all competitions as they try and perhaps get a little closer to the promotion chasing clubs in the Division.

Celta Vigo v Ajax PickBoth Celta Vigo and Ajax are likely going to make it through to the Last 32 of the Europa League, but the double header will be a big deciding factor as to which team goes through as Group winners and which goes through as Runners Up.

The form will point to Ajax who have won 9 in a row since being beaten in the Champions League. Go back a few years and that run would be very, very impressive, but I do think the Dutch top flight has lost some of the power it once had and a game at Celta Vigo is significant step up in class.

Celta Vigo had been in much stronger form than how they opened the season but the 5-0 loss at Villarreal is some blow to the confidence. However they have been better at home where Celta Vigo have scored at least twice in winning 3 wins in a row in all competitions and they have beaten Barcelona at home.

I have to respect the fact that Ajax have won 3 of their last 4 away games in European competition which will make them dangerous, but Celta Vigo can take advantage of being at home on Match Day 3. At odds against I will back the Spanish team to take over the lead of the Group at the end of this fixture.

Inter Milan v Southampton PickIf Southampton fans want to know how far their club has progressed in recent years, a visit to the San Siro for a European game is a very good indicator of the improvements that have been made. Regardless of the quality of the players being sold in what feels like an annual tradition during the summer transfer window or whether managers decide to move on, The Saints keep producing the results on the field.

The last few weeks have been given a very good foundation by a defence that hasn't been conceding goals and Charlie Austin has been in great form up front to make sure chances are being converted. He had two more goals against Burnley and was taken off early perhaps in anticipation of being given a start in Milan, but Southampton will likely make some changes knowing Manchester City are next up on deck.

The same can be said to the under pressure home team who need points to start making up the ground on the teams in this Group after Inter Milan lost back to back games to open the section. Falling out with the 'Ultras' was not a smart decision by Mauro Icardi, but he likely won't start in this one even if he is going to be stripped of the Captaincy.

The changes made by Inter Milan might make it difficult for them to find the rhythm in their play to beat a Southampton team that have been solid defensively. It also suggests there won't be a lot of goals, but I think Inter Milan will be looking to make this a more open game with their attacking intent and Southampton have plenty of ability on the counter attack.

I was tempted to back Southampton with a small start on the Asian Handicap to at least avoid defeat, but Inter Milan are desperate and might be able to throw more looks at The Saints which could surprise the visitors. Both teams have scored in 6 of the last 7 games that Inter Milan have played at the San Siro and I think that might be the outcome here.

However I also think Inter Milan are likely to be pushing forward for a winner which leaves room for Southampton on the counter attack too and I will back at least three goals to be shared out by these teams.

Feyenoord v Zorya Luhansk PickThe big match in the Group on Match Day 3 might be coming from Old Trafford, but both Feyenoord and Zorya Luhansk are still in control of their own destiny and don't need to worry about results between Manchester United and Fenerbahce.

Both Feyenoord and Zorya Luhansk will feel the team that can take at least four points from this double header could be in a very good position to make it through to the Last 32 of the Europa League. That would be especially the case if either Manchester United or Fenerbahce can win both of their games against the other too.

The edge has to be given to Feyenoord who have been in impressive form all season with 11 wins from their last 12 games in all competitions. The fact they have won 8 in a row at home will only increase their confidence that they can put up a big three points in this one and I am leaning towards them doing that.

Zorya Luhansk might be an improved team since Feyenoord beat them in this competition two years ago, but I also think the Dutch leaders are an improved team in that time. You can't ignore the fact that Zorya Luhansk have just struggled against the very best sides they are expected to face this season away from home even if they did win at Dynamo Kiev.

Around that result they have lost at Dnipro, Manchester United and Shakhtar Donetsk and I think Feyenoord will have a little too much for them in this game too. I do respect the fact that Zorya Luhansk haven't been beaten heavily on their travels too often, but Feyenoord have scored at least twice in 5 of their 6 home games in all competitions this season and I think if they reach that number they can beat Zorya Luhansk by a couple of goals and cover the Asian Handicap.

2-0 is the most likely score from this game in my opinion so I will back the home side to put the pressure on Fenerbahce and Manchester United by moving to 6 points after half the Group has been completed.

Genk v Athletic Bilbao PickThis has been a Group that has been highly competitive but also highly entertaining with 3 of the 4 games in the Group featuring at least three goals shared out. I think there won't be much of a backward step by either Genk or Athletic Bilbao on Match Day 3 with the huge rewards that come with a win on the line for both teams.

Genk will respect Athletic Bilbao and all of the qualities they bring into the game, but they will also be aware of how important it is going to be to win their home games. All 4 games in the Group has been won by the home side so the teams that drop points in front of their own fans are likely to be the ones that fail to make it through to the Last 32.

That should mean Genk try and get on the front foot and it can't be ignored that they have scored plenty of goals here. However a team like Athletic Bilbao bring plenty to the table too even if they are inconsistent away from home.

Athletic Bilbao have won 4 of their last 6 away games in the Europa League and 6 of their last 8 away games have featured at least three goals shared out.

I am expecting both teams to score in this one and I think we will eventually have a winner with both Genk and Athletic Bilbao happy enough to play attacking football. At odds against I will back at least three goals to be scored in this one.

Manchester United v Fenerbahce Pick: I wouldn't be that surprised if there are as many as nine or ten changes to the Manchester United starting line up from the one that played at Anfield on Monday to the one that starts this important Europa League Group game. Even with that in mind, there are players like Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial who will all be expected to start in this one.

That doesn't take away the fact that Fenerbahce are getting to play Manchester United at the right time, especially away from home, as they look to maintain their lead over United in the Group. Jose Mourinho is clearly giving the competition the respect it deserves as he has played strong looking line ups in both Europa League Group games already this season, but this one comes at a really bad times, just three days after Liverpool and three days before Chelsea so the changes have to be expected.

It hasn't seemingly been reflected in the prices though as Manchester United are a strong favourite to beat Fenerbahce but I think this will be anything but a comfortable night for the home team. That even though Fenerbahce have been something of an underachiever so far in the Turkish top flight, but who will bring back Robin Van Persie to face his former club.

Fenerbahce will always be remembered as the first European team to win at Old Trafford, but they have struggled in England generally with 6 losses from 9 matches here. Since beating Manchester United in 1996, Fenerbahce have lost 4 of 5 games in England and they have only managed to score in one of those games.

I think that is the way United will try and go about beating Fenerbahce and that is by giving little away defensively and hoping to wear them down over ninety minutes. A makeshift line up could take time to get into rhythm, but Manchester United have players with a point to prove like Rooney, Martial and Mkhitaryan and those have the quality to beat Fenerbahce by a comfortable enough margin that I have moved away from picking Manchester United to win by a single goal margin.

I believe Mourinho will make sure his team know the importance of keeping Van Persie contained and keeping the backdoor shut in this one. Fenerbahce have scored in their last 6 away games in European competition, but needed a late, late injury time equaliser against Zorya Luhansk to keep that run going and I will back Manchester United to find a way to win this one with a clean sheet.

Rapid Vienna v Sassuolo PickAs I have mentioned, the Group containing Rapid Vienna, Sassuolo, Athletic Bilbao and Genk have produced some entertaining games with goals being scored at a high rate.

I am expecting the Genk vs Athletic Bilbao game to produce goals and I am expecting the same from Rapid Vienna vs Sassuolo.

Rapid Vienna have scored plenty of goals at home in recent games and 10 of their last 11 home games in the Europa League have produced at least three goals. They should have their chances against Sassuolo who have conceded at least twice in their last 4 away games in all competitions, including in Genk on Match Day 2, but Rapid Vienna will have to be aware of the attacking threat the Italian side pose.

They have now scored in their last 11 away games in all competitions and Sassuolo are more than capable of playing their part in this one too. That is because Rapid Vienna have 1 clean sheet in their last 12 home games in the Europa League and the quotes of just under odds against for goals has to be taken.

MY PICKS: Bayer Leverkusen-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.86 BetVictor (2 Units)
Porto @ 1.75 William Hill (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 2.05 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Sporting Lisbon-Borussia Dortmund Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Arsenal Win to Nil @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Barcelona - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Celtic-Borussia Monchengladbach Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.67 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Napoli - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 @ Bet Victor (2 Units)
Barnsley-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet365 (2 Units)
Brighton @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Fulham-Norwich City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Leeds United @ 2.20 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Celta Vigo @ 2.15 William Hill (2 Units)
Inter Milan-Southampton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Feyenoord - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)
Genk-Athletic Bilbao Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Manchester United Win to Nil @ 2.70 Coral (2 Units)
Rapid Vienna-Sassuolo Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)

October Update: 14-18, - 4.01 Units (60 Units Staked, - 6.68% Yield)

September Final43-28-1, + 35.17 Units (133 Units Staked, + 26.44% Yield)
August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)
Season 2016/1773-66-3, + 26.17 Units (257 Units Staked, + 10.18% 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)

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