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Monday, 5 December 2016

Midweek Football Picks 2016 (December 6-8)

The Group Stage of the Champions League and Europa League are completed this week and there are still some places in the Knock Out Stages of both of those competitions which can be earned on Match Day 6.

Positions in the Group are also important in both competitions so it should still be an interesting round of games even if a number of the Groups have been decided.

The four English clubs in the Champions League all pretty much know their fates- Leicester City go through as Group Winners and Manchester City go through as Group Runners Up, while Arsenal are about 85% sure they will also finish as Runners Up.

Tottenham Hotspur are out of the Champions League and need to avoid defeat at home against CSKA Moscow if they are going to have a chance to at least fall into the Europa League. Some fans might suggest losing on Match Day 6 and going out of all European competition will benefit Tottenham Hotspur in the second half of the season, but players want to play football and there is also the financial benefit of at least being in one of the European competitions going into the New Year.

Things in the Europa League need clearing up for the English teams too with both Manchester United and Southampton needing positive results to go through to the Last 32.  Manchester United still have a chance to win the Group which comes with a better Seeding for the Last 32 draw, but Southampton will only be able to go through as Runners Up if they can get past Hapoel Be'er Sheva on Match Day 6.

Most of the other big names in the two competitions are set to go through to the Knock Out Stage which should make for an interesting draw on Monday 12th December when the next Round will be set.

After a really positive end to November which produced a winning month, the December picks started with a winning weekend of picks. It would have been better if Manchester City had taken a host of chances against Chelsea and Liverpool had not blown a 1-3 lead at Bournemouth, but as a Manchester United fan I am not going to be crying tears of disappointment over those two sides losing games.

Barcelona v Borussia Monchengladbach Pick: The permutations in this Champions League Group have been completed at the end of Match Day 5 with Barcelona through as Group Winners and Manchester City as Group Runners Up. Borussia Monchengladbach have also won the head to head with Celtic which means they have earned their place in the Europa League Last 32.

That does mean changes will be made to the home team, although less likely to happen for Borussia Monchengladbach who have been battling through injuries. However the home draw with Real Madrid on Saturday means Barcelona are looking to snap a poor run of recent form and so there should be focus for Luis Enrique to push his players to produce a big performance.

Neymar is missing, but Barcelona may start both Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi and that makes them dangerous even if they don't have to win. The fans will be demanding Barcelona turn a corner in their form and they do have plenty of time before they are back on the field which should keep them ready to produce their best in this game.

They should have a considerable edge over a Borussia Monchengladbach team who have been struggling all season both at home and in Europe. They have really struggled when having to play away from home as shown in their 4-1 loss at Borussia Dortmund on Saturday and Borussia Monchengladbach have had some big defeats on their travels throughout the 2016/17 season.

Freiburg, Manchester City, Schalke, Bayern Munich, Hertha Berlin and Dortmund have all beaten by Borussia Monchengladbach by at least two goals and all but one of those sides have scored at least three times. Even a Barcelona team with some changes should be capable of proving too strong at the Nou Camp and I will back them to win this game by at least a couple of goals.

Benfica v Napoli PickThere are quite a few dead rubbers in the Champions League this week which have to be negotiated, but the match between Benfica and Napoli is far from one of those. The winner of this match is going to definitely go through to the Second Round, while the losing team will be nervously wondering what is happening in the Ukraine where Dynamo Kiev are taking on Besiktas.

A loss for Napoli would mean a draw for Besiktas would be enough to send the Italian team out, while a loss for Benfica would still require Besiktas to beat a tough Dynamo Kiev team. I don't think either team will be thinking too much about that and the pressure could be on Benfica if they do hear that Besiktas are winning with Napoli holding the head to head tiebreaker if they avoid defeat here.

It does make it an interesting game and I do think we will see some attacking football on display with the Group win up for grabs even if the teams hear Besiktas are losing heavily. The winner of the match wins the Group and avoids some of the big names in the Champions League in the Second Round and that should give them the motivation to get forward.

The onus is most definitely on Benfica who can only win the Group by winning the game and that should make it an enjoyable one for the neutrals. Benfica have yet to get going in front of goal in their home games in the Champions League, but they have shown they do have an attacking threat on their travels and will cause Napoli some problems.

Napoli haven't had a clean sheet in their last 5 away games in all competitions and have managed that in 1 of their last 5 away European games which has to be an issue heading to Lisbon. However they have shown they can score goals and the counter attack is going to be very important for Napoli in this one with Benfica likely to want to push forward whenever possible.

It does give the feel of a game that will see chances and goals at both ends and I do think backing at least three goals to be shared out is the right call. That is being offered at odds against and there should be some spaces opening up as this game develops which both Benfica and Napoli have the quality to expose.

Manchester City v Celtic PickThis game doesn't have any real meaning aside from pride on the line in the 'Battle of Britain' although I expect that means more to Celtic than it does to Manchester City. Pep Guardiola will want to erase the memory of the 1-3 defeat to Chelsea in the Premier League as soon as possible, but he will make changes to his starting eleven in anticipation of the busy Christmas period that will be beginning on Saturday.

That might give Celtic a chance in this one, but I do think Manchester City have enough quality in the squad to make changes and still look the stronger team. Celtic have been very good in Scotland, but they don't travel well in European football where the difference in strengths of the Scottish League compared with many others is highlighted the most.

Celtic did earn a solid 1-1 draw at Borussia Monchengladbach, but they are going to have to be at their very best to challenge Manchester City even if the latter are going to make a number of changes. I do think it might take a little time for Manchester City to get into rhythm, but they should still be too strong for Celtic on the day and earn a morale boosting win.

I wouldn't be surprised if both teams score in this one, but I think Manchester City will pull away in the second half with a little more clinical finishing in front of goal. They have struggled to put teams away at The Etihad Stadium, but some of the fringe players will come out with something to prove and I think they will find room against this Celtic defence to show Guardiola they can be a part of this squad going forward.

Paris Saint-Germain v Ludogorets Razgrad PickMatch Day 6 of the Champions League can be something of a minefield with teams already through to the Second Round while others might be more focused on their domestic matters at a difficult time of the season. Getting some rest is important for managers, but Paris Saint-Germain still have some work to do knowing they can win this Group by matching the Arsenal result.

They have to feel that Arsenal will win in Basel having done the same themselves earlier in the Group and that should mean Paris Saint-Germain come out focused in this one. If they do that, you have to believe they will have too much for a Ludogorets Razgrad team that have heart, but not the quality to really keep up with the home team.

Losses in the Champions League Group Stage over the last three seasons have come in heavy fashion for Ludogorets Razgrad including a 6-0 defeat at Arsenal. Paris Saint-Germain do seem to have saved their best performances of the season for the Champions League this season and they did beat Basel comfortably at home and will feel they can match that margin.

Any win will ensure Paris Saint-Germain win the Group regardless of what Arsenal do in their game so they don't need to go out and score a bunch of goals in this one. However the motivation to win the game should see Paris Saint-Germain create chances throughout this fixture and that should see them eventually wear down Ludogorets Razgrad and win by a comfortable margin.

They are very unlikely to match the six goals scored by Arsenal, but I do think Paris-Saint Germain can match the margin of win over Basel and I will back them on the Asian Handicap.

Juventus v Dinamo Zagreb PickWinning the Champions League Group would be a big achievement for Juventus who failed to do that last season and were handed a difficult Second Round tie with Bayern Munich. They will hope to avoid the German giants this time around as the most dangerous of the teams that have confirmed a 2nd place finish, but there is no doubting Juventus will want to win the Group and hope to earn a good draw in the next Round.

A win guarantees Juventus top spot in the Group and it would be a huge upset if they were not able to do that against Dinamo Zagreb who have found the teams in this Group a couple of levels too high for them. This is also a team that has struggled for goals in the Group as they have yet to score, while Dinamo Zagreb have not been the best travellers once they get into the Group Stage.

They have lost their last 11 away Group games in the Champions League since the 2011/12 season and 8 of those losses have come by at least three goal margins. It does have to be said that Juventus have not been as dominant at home in the Champions League as they have been in Italy, but they were 0-4 winners in Zagreb and I do think they will get to 3-0 at least in Turin.

Juventus haven't won a home game in the Champions League by a three or more goal margin since November 2012, a run of 17 games in the competition. However it has to be said that not many of those teams have been of the standard of Dinamo Zagreb and I think the Old Lady of Italian Football can earn a big win on Match Day 6 and confirm their spot in the Second Round as Group Winners.

Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund PickFor some reason there seems to be some pressure on Zinedine Zidane as manager of Real Madrid despite a 33 game unbeaten run in which they have won the Champions League and also put themselves in a commanding position to win the Spanish title for the first time in five seasons.

A late equaliser at Barcelona would have eased that somewhat and Real Madrid can continue their defence of the Champions League title by beating Borussia Dortmund at home and winning this Group. The German side can afford a draw to ensure they finish top, but Borussia Dortmund play a certain way and are unlikely to change that and that style should suit Real Madrid down to the ground.

Real Madrid have been scoring plenty of goals at home and they have covered for the absence of Gareth Bale effectively enough. They should be able to create chances against a Borussia Dortmund team that have conceded at least twice in 4 of their last 5 away games in all competitions and Real Madrid also have a strong home record against Borussia Dortmund.

This should be a really good game for the neutrals to enjoy with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund two of the better attacking teams in European football. I am surprised that the layers have given Real Madrid the kind of prices they have and I think they have been very strong at home in the Champions League where they have had 20 wins from their last 22 home ties.

At just short of odds against, I think Real Madrid have the motivation to play a strong team and can score the goals to get the better of Borussia Dortmund. I'll keep the play simple and just back the current Champions League winners to earn the three points which will win them the Group on Wednesday.

Feyenoord v Fenerbahce PickThis is a big game for both Feyenoord and Fenerbahce who have to believe Manchester United will be good enough to avoid defeat in the Ukraine against Zorya Luhansk and move into the Last 32 regardless of what happens in this game. That means this is likely a straight fight between Feyenoord and Fenerbahce with the pressure on the home team who have to win by at least two goals or hope Manchester United lose their game at the same time.

They looked to be in a good position going into Match Day 5, but Feyenoord were beaten easily at Old Trafford and that has left them in this tough spot. Feyenoord have to feel confident they can win at home where they have won 6 of their last 7 home Europa League games including both this season, while they have scored at least twice in 4 straight home games overall.

That can be coupled with Fenerbahce's struggles away from home where they are simply not as strong as they in front of their passionate fans. Fenerbahce are also in a difficult position as they have to be wondering whether they should stick or twist- even a one goal defeat is enough to send them through to the Last 32 but a win would mean being Seeded in the next Round so finding the balance between attack and defence won't be easy.

I think Fenerbahce may look to sit back and frustrate Feyenoord but that looks to be a dangerous game to me. With the home support behind them, Feyenoord would likely be happy to be able to get on the front foot knowing they need goals to make it through the Group Stage and I think Fenerbahce may have some problems here.

I do fancy Feyenoord to win this game with home advantage, but I do have a concern of them being up by one late in the game. Knowing they will likely need another to get through, Feyenoord could easily be caught on the counter attack by Fenerbahce which might kill this pick, but I like the home team at odds against to win this game. Both teams are much better at home than they are on their travels and I don't think there is much between them with that factor likely to be the key in determining a winner.

Rapid Vienna v Athletic Bilbao Pick: The top two places in this Europa League Group have been decided but Athletic Bilbao still have Seeding to play for by trying to win the Group. They need to better Genk's result who are visiting Sassuolo at the same time and it is going to be a difficult task for Athletic Bilbao.

Home form has been so important for teams in the Group and three home wins have taken Athletic Bilbao through, while the same can be said for Genk. Both Rapid Vienna and Sassuolo were able to win one at home, but a draw in their other home game meant they have fallen too far behind as they looked to move into the Last 32.

Rapid Vienna would love to sign off on European competition with a win and they have been scoring goals at home in the Europa League which makes them dangerous. Recent games have also shown Athletic Bilbao are able to attack but look vulnerable defensively and so Rapid Vienna have to feel they can expose those issues.

On the other hand Athletic Bilbao should be able to create chances and score goals in this one while Spanish clubs do tend to play very well in the Europa League. With the importance of trying to win the game to win the Group, Athletic Bilbao should keep pushing forward which will give Rapid Vienna space on the counter attack and I do think there will be opportunities at both ends of the field in this one.

Backing at least three goals to be shared out looks a decent price and I will back that to happen in this Match Day 6 Group game.

Sassuolo v Genk PickThis is the one Group that has produced plenty of high-scoring games in the Europa League and I can see Sassuolo and Genk providing another one. Both of their home/away games respectively have seen at least three goals shared out each time and this might be no different.

It isn't just in the Europa League that goals have flowed in Sassuolo games with 9 of their 11 home games in all competitions producing at least three goals shared out including the last 5 in a row.

Genk can play their part with 8 of their last 9 away games in all competitions producing at least three goals including both in the Europa League Group Stage. With nothing on the line for Sassuolo I do think they can play an open game which will see chances produced at both ends of the field and I think backing goals in this game at close to odds against is a big price.

Zorya Luhansk v Manchester United PickJose Mourinho can understand the disappointment the fans will be feeling as Manchester United continue to shoot themselves in the foot in the Premier League. However I am firmly behind the manager when he points out how well Manchester United have played and how ill-deserved some of the points they have lost have been.

They have kept the majority of their better results for the Cup competitions this season as Manchester United have moved through to the English Football League Cup Semi Final and will be looking to get into the Knock Out Stage of the Europa League. Manchester United are in control of their own destiny knowing a point will be enough to go through, but 5 consecutive away losses in European games can't be ignored.

Those have come in some difficult games like Liverpool at Anfield, but I think the losses to Wolfsburg, Midtjylland, Feyenoord and Fenerbahce are underwhelming. This time last season Manchester United just needed a result on Match Day 6 of the Champions League at Wolfsburg but were beaten on that day so some of the players might be a little nervous.

Manchester United do have a big game against Tottenham Hotspur to come this weekend, but I think Jose Mourinho will continue playing strong teams with some changes. That should be enough for Manchester United to get a result here, but I am not at all interested to back them at the incredibly short prices the layers have put up.

It is disrespectful to Zorya Luhansk who have drawn with both Fenerbahce and Feyenoord in the Group already, especially as Fenerbahce needed an injury time goal to earn that draw. Zorya Luhansk have conceded late goals to lose their last 2 home games in the Ukrainian League and this is a team that has not failed to score at home since August 2015.

That will make them dangerous and leads me to wanting to pick both teams to score in this one at odds against. Zorya Luhansk have long been used to scoring at home and Manchester United have had 1 clean sheet in their last 8 away games in all competitions. On the other hand Manchester United have created chances and have scored in all but 2 of their last 9 away European games.

It seems the layers are very much expecting a straight forward day in the office for Manchester United, but I think they have been a little weaker defensively and will offer Zorya Luhansk chances. I do think Manchester United will do enough to get through, but this will be tough and both teams to score is a big price which is not reflecting the abilities of both teams in front of goal.

Panathinaikos v Celta Vigo PickThere might not be much of the line for Panathinaikos outside of playing for pride, but the Greek fans will rarely allow their team to lose without offering something going forward. That passion should mean Panathinaikos give this game a real effort as they try and win at least one of their Group games in the Europa League.

For Celta Vigo there is plenty to play for as they try and earn the win by a wide enough margin to guarantee their place in the Last 32. This is a team that can score goals, but Celta Vigo have also conceded plenty of goals through the season while they have also struggled for wins away from home in European competition.

They have to push forward and score the goals to win this game and that should give Panathinaikos a chance to exploit spaces on the counter attack which should make this a good game to watch. Both Panathinaikos games in the Europa League Group at home have resulted in at least three goals shared out and Celta Vigo have shown they can concede as many on their travels as they can score.

Celta Vigo look short considering their issues turning goals into wins away from home and their poor European travelling record. At the same price you can back at least three goals to be shared out and I will back that to happen.

Southampton v Hapoel Be'er Sheva PickBalancing the Premier League with the Cup commitments has been a challenge for Claude Puel through the season and that has led to some inconsistent results for Southampton. This is a solid team who can produce some very good football though and Southampton have been much better at St Mary's where they have also won both Europa League Group games this season.

I do think Southampton will enjoy the position they are in with Hapoel Be'er Sheva needing to score at least once in this game to have a chance to make it into the Last 32 of the Europa League. That means Southampton can use the pace they have on the counter attack to punish a side that have lost comfortably at Celtic and Sparta Prague away from home in Europe and I do think the English club will be too good on the day.

You have to give Hapoel Be'er Sheva credit for being in this position after beating Inter Milan twice in the Group, while they have been in very good form in recent weeks which should give them plenty of confidence. However they are in a tough spot as they look to find the balance between attack and defence knowing they need to score but not wanting to leave too many spaces behind them for Southampton to exploit.

I do think Southampton will have enough to win this game and I can see them punish Hapoel Be'er Sheva on the counter to win by a couple of goals later in the game. I will back The Saints to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.

MY PICKS: Barcelona - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Benfica-Napoli Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet365 (2 Units)
Paris Saint-Germain - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet365 (2 Units)
Juventus - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Real Madrid @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Feyenoord @ 2.25 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Rapid Vienna-Athletic Bilbao Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Sassuolo-Genk Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Zorya Luhansk-Manchester United Both Teams to Score @ 2.30 Coral (2 Units)
Panathinaikos-Celta Vigo Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Southampton - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)

December Update: 5-3, + 3.50 Units (14 Units Staked, + 25% Yield)

November Final40-38-3, + 5.76 Units (159 Units Staked, + 3.62% Yield)
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 2016/17142-145-8, + 10.70 Units (555 Units Staked, + 1.93% 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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