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Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (November 1-3)

After a really solid September, October proved to be a really miserable month and one I am glad to see the back of. I didn't really have a lot of luck in October and it was summed up by Manchester United somehow failing to score at least three times against Burnley, although the fan in me would have settled for a deflected 1-0 win after seeing the form Tom Heaton was in.

It has left United off the pace being set by the top teams in the Premier League and has already dented the 20 points from 24 available that I had targeted prior to the Burnley game. Of course that can still be achieved, but it might need a win at somewhere like Goodison Park to get back on track.

Winning games is all that matters to Manchester United right now, but they can put the Premier League to the back of the mind for a few days and try to continue the strong form shown in the Cup competitions. Manchester United have won 4 Cup games in a row since losing at Feyenoord and extending that sequence could see them through to the Europa League Last 32 by the end of the month.

Match Day 4 of the European competitions take centre stage over the first three days of November and this can be a pivotal round of games as teams begin to separate in the Groups. Most of the English teams would love to secure qualification to the next Round without the hassle of needing a result on Match Day 6 which is played in December as the heavy festive period gets going.

That should mean teams are focused on the two rounds of games in November to try and book their places into European competition and then turn attention away from the competitions until February. However that looks a tough task for the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton who either suffered setbacks on Match Day 3 or are in Groups which simply won't be decided easily.

I am looking for a really positive start to November to erase the memories of October and get this season moving back in the right direction and hopefully the little bit of luck every pick requires is on my side.

Besiktas v Napoli Pick: There are some issues in Turkey that means fans are going to have to be doubly careful when they visit Istanbul this week as Napoli and Manchester United both play here in the coming days. Hopefully we don't hear of any unsavoury incidents and everyone gets home safely after watching their football teams in action.

This game is going to be played a couple of hours before the rest of the Champions League schedule on Tuesday and this is a huge game for both Besiktas and Napoli with the top three teams in this Group separated by two points. That is thanks to Besiktas leaving Naples with a 2-3 win two weeks ago after it looked like the Italian team would not only be going through to the Second Round, but were in a strong position to win the Group.

Napoli are still capable of doing that, but that home defeat has complicated matters with away games at Besiktas and Benfica to come. Two losses might mean the Europa League is the best Napoli can hope for and the game here is going to be a tough test for the side who were beaten at Juventus on Saturday thanks to former striker Gonzalo Higuain.

That does mean only 1 win from the last 4 away games in all competitions since beating Dynamo Kiev 1-2 on Match Day 1, but goals haven't been the problem. It is Napoli's defensive issues that have prevented the side from really finding some consistency and it won't be getting easier when visiting Besiktas who have scored twice in 5 of their 6 home games this season.

The exception did come in the Champions League in a 1-1 home draw with Dynamo Kiev, but this looks a game that is going to produce attacking football and chances at both ends of the field. If the teams are as clinical in front of goal as they were in Naples, we should see at least three goals shared out in the early game and that is going to be my pick.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Celtic PickThe 0-2 home loss to Borussia Monchengladbach on Match Day 3 has left Celtic in a precarious position in the Group even when it comes to potentially falling into the Europa League Knock Out Stage. Another defeat on Tuesday will effectively finish off Celtic's chances barring an couple of upsets over Manchester City and Barcelona and earning a win here is a big task when you consider their away form in European football.

Celtic have not won any of their last 9 away games in Europe and they have lost 3 of their 4 away games in the Champions League this season. That includes a 1-0 loss at Lincoln Red Imps and a 2-0 defeat at Hapoel Be'er Sheva and has to be a concern for Brendan Rodgers when you think how effective Borussia Monchengladbach have been defensively at home.

Borussia Monchengladbach have kept 3 clean sheets in a row at home, but goals have been more of a problem for them. They are missing some serious attacking talent which is a concern, but I do think they are going to be a little too good for a poor travelling Celtic team.

However they do look short in the outright market and instead it might make sense to focus on how Borussia Monchengladbach may win this game. I considered backing them to cover the Asian Handicap, but a lack of goals is a concern so instead I have been tempted in by the huge price on Borussia Monchengladbach to win this game with a clean sheet.

They haven't kept too many clean sheets at home in the Champions League, but recent form and Celtic's struggles for goals away from home makes this feel like a big price to me.

Ludogorets Razgrad v Arsenal PickThere did look to be a clear difference in level of quality that Arsenal and Ludogorets Razgrad could call upon two weeks ago when they played in North London, but I am expecting the game in Bulgaria to be much more competitive. You have to think Ludogorets Razgrad are going to come out with a point to prove and show they are better than the 6-0 defeat to Arsenal on Match Day 3 indicated.

Playing away from home in the Champions League is not an easy task and Arsenal have found that with 1 win from their last 5 away games in this competition. You shouldn't ignore that the majority of those games have come against sides that are significantly stronger than Ludogorets Razgrad, but Arsenal did lose 2-1 at Dinamo Zagreb in the Group Stage last season.

That is the kind of result that has become a feature of the way Arsenal have played in the month of November in recent seasons, but you have to think this current squad is playing at too high a level to be contained. They have been scoring goals for fun, even away from home, and Arsenal should have too much in the locker for Ludogorets Razgrad who conceded three times in quick succession in a 1-3 home loss to Paris Saint-Germain.

It is the feeling that Arsenal will create chances and score goals here which makes me think they are going to have too much for Ludogorets Razgrad. There is the North London derby coming up next Sunday, but Arsene Wenger will know his players have time to refresh for that one and I think he will play a strong line up.

Ludogorets Razgrad did only lose by a single goal margin to Real Madrid at home a couple of seasons ago, but I believe Arsenal will match the Paris Saint-Germain margin of victory here and I will back them on the Asian Handicap.

Manchester City v Barcelona Pick: I was really hoping that the Barcelona 4-0 win over Manchester City coupled with the huge name they bring to England would have seen the layers have the home team as a big underdog in this one. Instead it looks like the layers might have looked back at the result and performance from Manchester City at the Nou Camp and been able to separate those two elements in the same way as I have.

Barring two of the most ridiculous errors you are going to see, Manchester City very much held their own against Barcelona and had plenty of chances to score in that game. A mistake made it 1-0 to the home team and Manchester City never really had much of a hope when reduced to ten men thanks to Claudio Bravo's rush of blood to the head.

Up to that moment Manchester City looked dangerous going forward and I can't imagine Pep Guardiola is going to change that philosophy too much on Match Day 4. Perhaps he goes with Sergio Aguero up front rather than Kevin De Bruyne, but ultimately I think Manchester City can create chances against a Barcelona team who have recently conceded twice at Celta Vigo and Valencia.

The other side of the pitch is still going to bring problems for Manchester City though as Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi can pressure mistakes out of a team that has made plenty of them at the back. Bravo is suspended while Vincent Kompany might not be risked and it points to MSN having their opportunities in this one too.

Barcelona have scored at least twice in their last 5 away games in all competitions, although it should be noted that they are not the best travellers in the Champions League and had to come from behind to beat Borussia Monchengladbach on Match Day 2.

I really believe City have a shot in this one if they are not missing the chances that came their way in Barcelona. They will need to score goals to beat this team and I think Guardiola will play an attacking line up to give his team a chance to do that, but I also believe Manchester City will conceded goals which puts me off backing them to win this game. Instead I can see a situation where both teams combine for an entertaining game that produces at least four goals overall and I will back that to happen.

PSV Eindhoven v Bayern Munich PickOver the last couple of seasons in the Champions League, PSV Eindhoven have proven to be a tough nut to crack, although this is the most attacking team they would have faced in that time. The goalless draw with Atletico Madrid last season and the 0-1 home defeat to them earlier in the Group would have shown PSV Eindhoven the difference in quality, but a team like Bayern Munich is not going to wear them down slowly like Atletico Madrid like to do.

Instead Bayern Munich will look to get forward and score goals and I think PSV Eindhoven will struggle to contain them, especially with more of an onus to get forward and attack. PSV Eindhoven did win all 3 games here in the Group last season, but none of those came against a team as strong as Bayern Munich and the reigning Dutch Champions have just been struggling for goals here all season.

That doesn't bode well against a Bayern Munich team who crushed Augsburg 1-3 away from home at the weekend and who have scored 15 goals in 6 games since the 1-0 loss at Atletico Madrid.

Winning the Group is the motivation for Bayern Munich to keep in touch with Atletico Madrid as well as improving their goal difference and I do think they will be too strong for PSV Eindhoven here. Bayern Munich have only won 2 of their last 11 away Champions League games, but both came in the Group Stage last season and this is a team that also scored twice at Juventus and Benfica on their travels last season.

Getting to at least two goals here might be enough for Bayern Munich to cover the Asian Handicap and I do think they can win with a little comfort on Tuesday to keep the pressure on Atletico Madrid at the top of the Group.

Monaco v CSKA Moscow PickThis Group looks like one that could potentially come down to Match Day 6 before we know who will make it through to the Second Round. All four teams look evenly matched and that makes these home games very important for every team in the Group.

Monaco will be pleased with four points from six away from home, but they will need to win their remaining two home games if they have serious ambitions of making it through the Group. This one is particularly important against an out of form CSKA Moscow who have lost their last 4 away games in all competitions and have struggled for clean sheets in the Champions League.

With Monaco having won 7 of their last 9 games at home in all competitions, you can see why the layers have them down as an odds on favourite. Monaco had won 4 in a row at home in the Champions League before being held to a 1-1 draw by Bayer Leverkusen and they have been scoring goals at home domestically.

The concern is taking that level into the Champions League and Monaco have only scored more than once in 1 of their last 6 home games in European football. That might not be enough against CSKA Moscow who have scored in 10 of their last 14 away games in the Champions League, but I think Monaco are capable of doing enough to win this game.

Two years ago they beat Zenit St Petersburg here in the Group Stage of the Champions League and I think Monaco can edge past CSKA Moscow this season to put themselves in a very strong position to qualify for the Last 16 on Match Day 5.

Porto v Club Brugge Pick: The late penalty scored by Porto in the 1-2 win at Club Brugge on Match Day 3 could be the pivotal moment for the Portuguese side who are trying to avoid exiting the Champions League in the Group Stage for a second season in a row. It does look like Leicester City might have pushed clear as the Group winner, but the win over Club Brugge has given Porto every chance of joining the English Champions with two of their remaining three games to be played at home.

I expect Porto to have too much for Club Brugge again on Match Day 4 and I do think the latter have struggled to cope with the step up in level. The 4-0 loss in Copenhagen really highlighted that and Club Brugge have not been in the greatest form domestically to suggest they can turn that around here.

Porto have been scoring plenty of goals at home in recent games although the concern is the drop in results at home in their most recent European games. It was a 0-2 home loss to Dynamo Kiev which effectively cost Porto a place in the Second Round of the Champions League last season, but they have beaten the likes of Chelsea and Bayern Munich here over the last couple of years so should have enough to see off Club Brugge.

With the goals being scored domestically, I will look for Porto to come through with a win by a couple of goals at least with goal difference perhaps going to be a huge part of which teams get through out of this Group.

Sevilla v Dinamo Zagreb PickThe Champions League Group Stage can produce some really huge games like Manchester City facing Barcelona, but there are a few mismatches in this Round too. For Dinamo Zagreb it would be an achievement to simply avoid defeat against the likes of Juventus and Sevilla, but ultimately they don't feel any disgrace losing when you consider the level of quality that both clubs can call upon.

It isn't a big surprise that Dinamo Zagreb have particularly struggled away from home and that all but one of their away Group defeats have come by at least two goals. This is a team that is used to bossing things domestically so suddenly asking them to defend in numbers is not something the players are used to or able to do for a long enough period to keep teams from eventually wearing them down.

I do think Sevilla can match those margins of victory here even if they have relied on a strong defence for their points in the Group rather than any free-scoring methods. Goals have been tough for them since the 6-4 win over Espanyol to open the Spanish season, but I do think Sevilla can score at least twice which may be enough for a comfortable win on the night.

An early goal for Sevilla will force their guests to perhaps open up a little bit and I am going to back Sevilla to win by a two goal margin, at least, for the first time at home since the victory over Espanyol. That will keep them on track for a place in the Second Round which might be confirmed at the end of the evening if Juventus have also won at home when they play Lyon.

Tottenham Hotspur v Bayer Leverkusen Pick: All of a sudden Tottenham Hotspur have gone 5 games without a win in all competitions with 4 of those ending in draws. That has led to fans really looking for Harry Kane to return sooner rather than later after initial suggestions that Tottenham Hotspur could not only cope without him, but might actually be better without him.

Those suggestions won't be around now as Tottenham Hotspur have been struggling in front of goal with just 3 goals scored since the win over Manchester City and 2 of those have come thanks to penalties. They've created chances but Tottenham Hotspur have just faltered with the final shot, although some of their issues have come down to misfortune too with the woodwork or top goalkeeping saves preventing Tottenham Hotspur from kicking on.

Now they go back into the Champions League knowing they need to start winning games if they are going to extend their stay in the competition to the Knock Out Stage. A win at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday would send Tottenham Hotspur a long way towards going through to the Last 16 but they will have to do better than when going down to a surprising 1-2 loss against Monaco in this Stadium.

I am not sure being away from White Hart Lane is the right decision from a footballing standpoint, but financially it made enough sense for Tottenham Hotspur to do that. They will have to hope that Hugo Lloris can bring his form here because Bayer Leverkusen are going to test them again having seen the Frenchman make some outstanding second half saves to deny them the victory two weeks ago.

Bayer Leverkusen have not exactly been in the greatest of form themselves, but a 1-2 win over Wolfsburg at the weekend might give them some confidence to take into this game. While they have been scoring goals away from home, Bayer Leverkusen have been conceding them at an alarming rate too and I do think this time we will have goals after the goalless draw in Germany two weeks ago.

Both teams had a lot of really good chances in that game and should really have been better in front of goal and I will take those same opportunities coming up in this one. The draw does Tottenham Hotspur little good this time so they have to be a little more positive and my only concern is that Wembley Stadium hosted a NFL game on Sunday and I worry about the turf conditions.

The weather in London hasn't been too bad though so I expect a good playing surface on which we should see at least three goals shared out.

Fenerbahce v Manchester United PickThe 4-1 win over Fenerbahce in the Europa League Group Stage has been a rare positive moment for Manchester United in recent weeks and the sky is falling in if you believe everything the media tells you. Manchester United have had a tough stretch of games and the draw at Liverpool and a win over Manchester City in the English Football League Cup are solid results.

I don't want to get too down about the goalless draw with Burnley because on another day Manchester United win 5-0 and Burnley feel fortunate to come away with that margin of defeat.

They do need a boost in confidence in front of goal and I expect Jose Mourinho to pick a strong team in this visit to Istanbul with the Europa League still an important competition for the manager. Getting into the top four of the Premier League will be a challenge, but Manchester United have another route back into the Champions League which some fans and members of the media seem to forget.

Instead of criticising the manager for giving the competition the respect it deserves, they should recognise that Manchester United can use the Europa League as a potential second route into the Champions League and should take it seriously.

Being in a tough Group also has played a part in Mourinho's thinking when it comes to starting teams picked and I can't imagine he changes tact here knowing a win could send Manchester United virtually through to the Last 32. That won't be easy against a Fenerbahce team that are far better at home than on their travels and who have won 6 of their last 7 home European games including the last 5 in a row.

Fenerbahce will recognise that Manchester United are not at full strength defensively with half the first choice back four not travelling to Istanbul. That should mean they try and get forward but I do feel there are gaps that Manchester United can expose at the other end of the field too, particularly if Fenerbahce defend as badly as they did at Old Trafford.

I am not sure I like Manchester United as a pretty strong favourite to win here considering Fenerbahce's home record, but instead am looking at the chance of seeing three goals or more at odds against. Both teams look like they will be stronger in attacking positions than defensively and goals have flowed in recent Manchester United away games outside of the trip to Anfield.

An early goal could really open this game up and I think we will see goals at both ends in a game that could be pivotal to deciding who qualifies for the Last 32.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv v AZ Alkmaar Pick: This was supposed to be a Group in which Maccabi Tel-Aviv and AZ Alkmaar would challenge one another to follow Zenit St Petersburg through to the Last 32 of the Europa League. However Dundalk have surprised both clubs to the point where the loser on Match Day 4 might be in too difficult a position to make it through to the next Round.

It should produce an attacking display from both teams and goals have certainly been flowing when Maccabi Tel-Aviv have played at home. 8 of the last 9 games Maccabi Tel-Aviv have played at home have featured at least three goals, while their last 6 here in the Europa League have also ended that way.

Goals have been more of an issue for AZ Alkmaar, but they have featured in high-scoring goals away from home in this competition with their last 8 on their travels ending with three or more goals shared out.

Neither team can settle for a draw and so I expect both to go on the front foot and that should produce an entertaining game.

Nice v Salzburg PickThe Europa League does seem to be a competition that is respected much more on the continent than it is in England, and that has seen French leaders Nice play some relatively strong line ups in the Group. That hasn't paid out for them having lost their opening two Group games, but the win over Salzburg in Austria two weeks ago puts their destiny back in their own hands.

Nice can get through to the Last 32 if they can win their remaining three games and two of those will be played at home where they have won 4 in a row and scored at least twice in each of those wins.

They will feel they have the edge over Salzburg who have struggled in the Europa League after falling out of the Champions League and who might be more focused on domestic matters. Three losses means Salzburg are effectively out of the Europa League already and I think they might struggle to raise themselves for the remaining games in the Group.

Salzburg have lost half of their last 6 away games in European competition and Nice are expected to play a strong team to get back into position in the Group. With home advantage and goals flowing in the team, I think Nice can win this one at odds against.

PAOK v Qarabag PickThis is a pivotal game in this Group for both PAOK and Qarabag as they chase the 2nd spot behind Fiorentina who look to be the pick of the teams in the Group. Both PAOK and Qarabag have earned 4 points so the winner is going to go a long way to securing a place in the Last 32 of the Europa League with two games to go.

The home advantage looks to be a key for PAOK and I think that will give them enough of an edge to win this. At first I was a little concerned with the fact that PAOK have won 1 of their last 6 home games in European football and that 3 of their last 5 games here in those games have ended in goalless.

However I think Qarabag have shown they have some difficulties on their travels and I am not sure they can keep PAOK from scoring. The home side have been very strong defensively so one goal might be all we need to see them claim the three points having conceded just 1 goal in their last 7 at home in all competitions.

Qarabag have perhaps found it a little difficult when travelling in Europe against the superior competition they face compared with at home. Their 2-0 win over PAOK two weeks ago should give them confidence, but PAOK have proven much stronger at home and I will back them to win this one.

Southampton v Inter Milan PickTwo weeks ago Inter Milan beat Southampton 1-0 at the San Siro and that might have suggested a tight game, but instead it was one filled with chances and I am also unsure how Southampton lost that game. They could have been two or three goals up by half time alone and I expect a stronger Southampton line up to begin this one at home.

The layers have cottoned onto that with Southampton at a very short price, one you might not have expected to see against Inter Milan in recent seasons. That looks too short for me when you think Inter Milan had scored in 5 consecutive away games in all competitions before the 1-0 loss at Sampdoria which cost Frank de Boer his job as manager.

How Stefano Vecchi approaches this game and that uncertainty makes Inter Milan a dangerous team to back against, but those goals suggest they can give Southampton something to think about. On the other hand they have been poor defensively and The Saints only failed to score last weekend against Chelsea because of a poor linesman decision to rule out Charlie Austin's strike.

Goals can be a problem for Southampton but their pace in forward areas makes them dangerous for Inter Milan and I can see the home team having just enough to earn the three points. However it will need two goals with Inter Milan likely to be a threat in forward areas too and Southampton won't miss the chances again that they created two weeks ago.

At odds against backing at least three goals looks an attractive price.

Villarreal v Osmanlispor PickThere is a tendency to struggle to know what kind of teams that managers will play in the Europa League but clubs from Spain tend to take the competition very seriously. That should still be the case for Villarreal who dropped into the Europa League and were set as one of the leading contenders to go on and win the trophy in May.

While they have not been able to really take a hold of this Group, Villarreal have two home games left in the section and a win on Thursday will put them in a commanding position to make it through to the Last 32.

With the home form as it is, Villarreal should be too strong for visitors Osmanlispor who blew a 2-0 home lead against them in Match Day 3 in a 2-2 draw.

The Turkish side have not been in great form of late with a 7 game run without a victory behind them. They have also been conceding too many goals away from home and that will likely be an issue against a Villarreal team that are comfortable going forward and looking to score goals.

I think Villarreal prove to be too good on the day and I think they will win with some room to spare. I will back the home team to cover the Asian Handicap and move into a position to qualify for the Last 32 on Match Day 5.

MY PICKS: Besiktas-Napoli Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Borussia Monchengladbach Win to Nil @ 2.70 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.08 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City-Barcelona Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.30 William Hill (2 Units)
Bayern Munich - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.93 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Monaco @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Porto - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sevilla - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.71 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur-Bayer Leverkusen Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Fenerbahce-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 William Hill (2 Units)
Maccabi Tel Aviv-AZ Alkmaar Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Bet365 (2 Units)
Nice @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
PAOK @ 1.80 Coral (2 Units)
Southampton-Inter Milan Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Villarreal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)

October Final29-41-2, - 21.23 Units (139 Units Staked, - 15.27% 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 2016/17102-107-5, + 4.94 Units (396 Units Staked, + 1.25% 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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