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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (February 14-16)

The last two months for the football picks have been embarrassingly bad, but I am not getting any breaks when it looks like I have been in a position to get those. Too often missed chances have cost me massively when I've needed just a single goal to get back on track, while some of my picks have been terrible over that time which has put the season into a deep hole.

I do need to be better with my selections, but it would be really useful to get a little luck behind me over the next six weeks before the international break and begin turning around what had been a promising season which is turning into a big negative.

Derby County v Cardiff City Pick: Saturday proved to be a tough day for the home teams, but I am going to back three of those teams that did let me down.

The first of those is Derby County who have maintained their unbeaten run at home after coming back from 0-3 down to earn a 3-3 draw with Bristol City. This is a team who have scored more goals in recent weeks than they have shown over the course of the season and I think Derby County will feel they have some momentum going into this game having scored three goals to earn the draw.

They have to be careful with Cardiff City who had an impressive 0-2 win at Leeds United on Saturday, but this is a team that has been inconsistent away from home. Cardiff City did play well at Elland Road, but they will have to go hard again and this time I will look for Derby County to do enough to win the three points.

Leeds United v Bristol City Pick: It was a really disappointing performance from Leeds United on Saturday but they have shown they can bounce back and produce their best at Elland Road over the course of the season. They were beaten 0-2 by Newcastle United here in the League and beat Aston Villa in their next home game and I am looking for a similar reaction here.

That won't be easy when you think of how many goals Bristol City have been able to score, although The Robins have been vulnerable at the back and look like a team whose confidence can quickly shatter when they do conceded.

Leeds United do have a very good home record against Bristol City in recent years and I think they can be a little too strong for them here. Odds against quotes for Leeds United to win at home looks tempting enough despite the setback on Saturday and I will look for them to win this time.

Reading v Brentford Pick: Home form is going to be so important for all the teams chasing their spots in the Premier League and Reading have to bounce back from a goalless draw with Barnsley at the weekend. They have been much better at home than on their travels and Reading will be looking to take advantage of Brentford's poor recent form.

This has been a fixture that has proven difficult for Reading in recent seasons having lost 3 in a row at home against Brentford and also being crushed 4-1 at Griffin Park earlier this season.

However Brentford have lost 5 of their last 7 away games in the League and this is a team that has struggled defensively. Brentford have won at Brighton in the Championship this season, but generally have found it difficult when facing the best teams in the Division and I think Reading can have a little too much for them.

At odds against this is the third team who I did back on Saturday that let met down who I am expecting to bounce back at home.

Benfica v Borussia Dortmund Pick: This might be the first time in over fifty years that Benfica and Borussia Dortmund will be meeting one another in a competitive tie, but both clubs have become accustomed to playing teams from Germany/Portugal respectively.

Over the last twelve months, Borussia Dortmund have won at Porto (0-1) and Sporting Lisbon (1-2) so there will be a confidence that they can return from Lisbon with themselves in a very strong position to qualify for the Quarter Final.

In the last seven seasons Benfica have played six German sides including having an entertaining 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich here in the Second Round of the Champions League last season. Those games should mean both teams going out onto the field on Tuesday will have a reasonable idea of the level of competition they are facing and the style of play that is going to be employed.

The onus is on Benfica to give themselves a platform for success in Dortmund next month and the feeling is anything less than a win for the Portuguese side won't be enough for the Second Leg. It should mean Benfica push on to score the goals to win this game, but that might suit Borussia Dortmund who have the quality in the final third that can hurt most teams in the tournament.

Borussia Dortmund showed that by winning in Sporting Lisbon in the Group and coming from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw at Real Madrid. Recent form has to be a big concern for Borussia Dortmund as they have slipped in the Bundesliga, but this Benfica side are perhaps not one of the vintage collection having barely got out of the Group Stage.

Their style does mean there should be chances at both ends though and I do think both Benfica and Borussia Dortmund can play their part in a competitive First Leg. The 1-1 scoreline is perhaps the most dangerous one as that would suit Borussia Dortmund so they could settle for that, but I think Benfica's style may mean opportunities for more goals at both ends.

Games between Benfica and German sides here in recent years have produced at least three goals on a fairly regular basis (5 of last 6), while Borussia Dortmund shared out three goals in their win at Sporting Lisbon. At close to odds against, I will look for that to be the case here.

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona Pick: Games between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona have tended to produce plenty of goalmouth action and I would be surprised if that isn't the case when they meet in the French capital on Tuesday in the Champions League Second Round First Leg.

Unai Emery has had plenty of success in the Knock Out Rounds of European football with Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain will be hoping he can bring that know-how into this Champions League competition. Most of the successes Emery had came at the lower level of the Europa League though and inspiring a win over Barcelona over two Legs is going to be a big challenge for the manager.

He has to know that anything other than a win at home is going to be too big to overcome next month at the Nou Camp. That should mean an attacking formation is set out by Paris Saint-Germain to try and rattle a Barcelona team who have some issues at the back, although the problem is going to be containing the Catalan club at the other end of the field.

Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are all capable of producing the magic in the final third to hurt Paris Saint-Germain who are missing talisman Thiago Silva at the heart of their own defence.

I did consider backing Barcelona to win here like they did two seasons ago, but I think they will need to score at least twice to do that because it is difficult to imagine Paris Saint-Germain not scoring themselves. Backing at least three goals to be shared out as there has been in all 3 games played in Paris since 2013 is where I will go with this First Leg.

Bayern Munich v Arsenal PickThis is a critical portion of the Arsenal season, especially for manager Arsene Wenger, as the pressure of collapsing at the business end of the season in previous seasons weighs heavily on their shoulders. After winning their Champions League Group, Arsenal would have hoped for a much better Second Round draw than taking on one of the favourites to win the Champions League.

A few weeks ago this might not have looked the daunting draw it does now as Bayern Munich were just struggling to cope with the new demands Carlo Ancelotti had for the team. Since then they have been winning games for fun and the players are confident they will be stronger in the Champions League where teams won't defend as deep as they try and do in the Bundesliga.

One of the big criticisms of Arsenal is that they do tend to let teams play against them in these big games and that is their downfall more often than not. Anyone who saw the 1-1 draw at Paris Saint-Germain will recognise the amount of space and chances the home side created and that is not going to cut it at Bayern Munich.

The lack of perceived toughness in the big games was evident again in the 3-1 loss at Chelsea a couple of weeks ago and I think it will take something special for Arsenal to come through over the two Legs. The First Leg is important for The Gunners to try and stay in the tie, but I simply think Bayern Munich are playing much better over the last month and they are going to be too good.

I will back Bayern Munich to have a decent lead to take to The Emirates Stadium next month and I will back them on the Asian Handicap.

Real Madrid v Napoli Pick: It has been a long time since the defending Champions have retained the European Cup but Real Madrid do have a real chance of doing that this season. Overlooking Napoli would be a mistake though and this First Leg looks like being one of the best of the entire Second Round.

Real Madrid have not been at their very best in recent weeks but still have the attacking threat to be a danger to any team left in this competition. They have won plenty of games at home over the last few months and it would be a real surprise to me if Real Madrid did not have a lead to take into the Second Leg in Naples next month.

However I very much expect Napoli to play their part having been on a tremendous run since the end of October and winning plenty of games themselves. This is a team that will come at Real Madrid and have shown they can score goals at the very best teams they face and I do think Napoli will get on the scoresheet in this one.

Real Madrid have not kept a clean sheet in the Champions League this season and Napoli have scored in their last 6 away games in this competition. Napoli have scored in their last 9 away games overall which includes at Juventus, Benfica, Fiorentina and Milan and are playing with the kind of confidence that a team needs when visiting Real Madrid.

I am anticipating a few goals in this one, but I will have a small interest on Real Madrid to win the game in which both teams score at least once. I think home advantage will be just enough to take a lead to Italy, but this tie might be far from over by the time they recommence battle in Naples and I am anticipating the best tie of the Second Round to be contested by these two teams.

Gent v Tottenham Hotspur PickGuessing the kind of team that Tottenham Hotspur are going to pick is a tough ask for this First Leg and that makes them an unappealing price at odds on to win in Belgium. Add in the fact that Tottenham Hotspur have won just 2 of their last 10 away European games and just 2 of their last 13 on their travels overall and it is hard to imagine people rushing out to back them to win here.

On the other hand Tottenham Hotspur should be far too good for a Gent side who are in mid-table in the Belgian top flight and conceded 7 goals in their last couple of European games here against Shakhtar Donetsk and Sporting Braga. However this is a team that has scored goals in the Europa League so far this season and I think they can trouble a Tottenham Hotspur defence that are likely to have some changes made.

Over the two Legs I am expecting Tottenham Hotspur will be too good for Gent, but they may have to wait until the Second Leg to finally put their opponents away. They should have the quality, assuming the majority of their starters are picked, to score goals here and I do think Tottenham Hotspur can match what Shakhtar Donetsk and Sporting Braga did here, although I also think Gent will cause problems of their own.

6 of the last 7 European games hosted by Gent have produced at least three goals and I think both teams will likely score in this one. The home team have to feel their best bet to move into the Last 16 is winning this game and that might leave spaces for Tottenham Hotspur to exploit too and it could be an entertaining First Leg.

I would keep a keen eye on the Tottenham Hotspur team news for this one knowing they have an FA Cup tie to play on Sunday and Pochettino's previous of playing fringe players in the Europa League. However there should be enough quality in the final third to play their part in this one and I will look for three goals to be shared out at odds against.

Rostov v Sparta Prague Pick: At this time of the season, the majority of the Leagues in Eastern Europe have yet to restart after the 'Winter Break' and so it is hard to find an angle on how teams are performing. The last competitive matches have been played over two months ago, yet they come into this Last 32 Round having to get going immediately.

That factor has negated itself when Rostov and Sparta Prague play one another as neither team has been in competitive action. Both teams have played in the Champions League this season before falling down into the Europa League, although Rostov's run to the Group Stage was the more impressive performance of the two.

I did consider backing Rostov at odds on to win this game when you consider how well they played here earlier in the Champions League. Wins over Ajax and Bayern Munich are very impressive, but I was put off by the draws with Anderlecht and PSV Eindhoven.

One factor that did stand out is that both teams scored in each of those games, while Rostov scored at least twice in those 4 games and also conceded two goals in 3 of those games. In fact Rostov didn't have a clean sheet at home in any of their European games this season while only Atletico Madrid prevented them scoring.

Sparta Prague have shown they can be dangerous going forward and that makes odds against quotes for the home team, who have conceded plenty of goals here, hard to stomach.

However I do think Rostov can win the First Leg although I do think they will need to score twice to do that. Sparta Prague have given the likes of CSKA Moscow and Krasnador some really difficult times in Russia over the last eighteen months and have earned a 2-2 draw at the former and a 0-3 win at the latter and Sparta Prague will feel they can score here.

7 of the last 10 Sparta Prague away games in European competition have also featured at least three goals shared out including in 2 of 3 in the Europa League. Both teams should have chances to score and Rostov have shown they can score and concede goals at home which makes the huge price on at least three goals in this First Leg look far too appealing.

Anderlecht v Zenit St Petersburg Pick: You don't really know how some of teams in the Last 32 of the Europa League are going to react to the long 'Winter Break' they have been on and Anderlecht must feel they have a good chance to get into Zenit St Petersburg. Anderlecht have generally played well at home in the Europa League in recent seasons and they are a team that can score goals.

They will need all of those against Zenit St Petersburg who were scoring plenty in the Group Stage, but this is another step up in class. Anderlecht may take encouragement from the goals Zenit St Petersburg were shipping in their away games in the Group having conceded three times at Maccabi Tel Aviv and AZ Alkmaar and also conceding at Dundalk.

Anderlecht have scored at least twice in each of their 4 home games in the Europa League although they were beaten 0-2 by Rostov in the Champions League here. They did concede in each of their 3 home games in the Group and Anderlecht have only kept 1 clean sheet in 6 home European games.

How quickly Zenit St Petersburg can get into their stride is a key for this First Leg, but it does look like another where the layers might have underestimated the chance of seeing at least three goals. Picking that to occur would have been a winner in all 4 home Anderlecht games and all 3 away Zenit St Petersburg games in the Europa League this season and both teams scoring also happened in all but one of those games.

The oddsmakers must believe in the First Legs being tight affairs cliche and they aren't too wrong with only 5 of the 16 First Legs in the Europa League last season finishing with three or more goals. However I think both teams can play their part in this one and Anderlecht will be pushing for a lead which may leave spaces and I will back at least three goals to be shared out at odds against.

Athletic Bilbao v APOEL Pick: A team from a weaker European League can be hard to judge when they are performing so well at home and that is where APOEL are. They have been the best team in Cyprus for some time, but APOEL have yet to be able to bridge the gap to the teams in the European competition and not since surprising everyone by reaching the Champions League Quarter Final five seasons ago.

They will need to be at their best to stay in this Last 32 tie after the First Leg when visiting Athletic Bilbao who have been very good at home all season.

Athletic Bilbao score goals at home and that will make them dangerous although they can be a little inconsistent on their travels which may cause problems down the line. They have also played well in the Europa League in recent seasons and Athletic Bilbao scored 9 goals in their three home Europa League Group games.

That attacking threat might be too much for APOEL to handle having conceded at least twice in 3 of their last 5 away European games. APOEL have shown some attacking threat of their own but this is arguably their toughest opponent they have faced so far and I think Athletic Bilbao will be too good in this First Leg.

The home team will be looking to build a margin of victory to take to Cyprus next week and I will back them to win by a couple of goals on Thursday.

Manchester United v St-Etienne Pick: Manchester United host St-Etienne at Old Trafford for the first time in the First Leg of this Last 32 Europa League tie and Jose Mourinho will be looking for his side to continue their dominance in the Cup competitions. The form at Old Trafford was key for Manchester United to progress to the Last 32 having won all 3 games here in the Group Stage and the side have been very strong at home in the Cup competitions.

The side have won all 8 Cup games played at Old Trafford under Jose Mourinho and I don't think you can ignore the fact that 6 of those have come by at least two goals. Manchester United have had some issues with finishing off the chances they are creating in the Premier League, but that has not been the case so far in the Cup games having scored at least four times in games at Old Trafford against Fenerbahce, Feyenoord, West Ham United, Reading and Wigan Athletic.

You have to expect Mourinho will play a strong side that can get Manchester United into a strong position ahead of the Second Leg which is played in St-Etienne next Wednesday. Getting into that position won't be easy against a St-Etienne team who have improved in each of the last three seasons in the Europa League and who are on a 10 game unbeaten run in this competition and have won 4 of their last 5 away games.

They are also playing well in a French top flight which was represented so well by Paris Saint-Germain earlier this week and St-Etienne have drawn at The Parc des Princes already this season. A narrow defeat at Nice shows St-Etienne can defend well, but this is a huge test for them against a Manchester United team who have been creating plenty of opportunities at Old Trafford.

Since returning to the Europa League in the 2013/14 season, St-Etienne have played 15 away games in the competition and have lost 5 of those but none by more than a single goal margin. That includes games at Lazio and Basel but St-Etienne did have to come from 2-0 down to beat Anderlecht 2-3 in their last away Europa League game.

Their record does have to be respected, but Manchester United have really put their strongest performances in front of goal in the Cup games and I think they will have a little too much for St-Etienne in the First Leg. While I respect the run of games in the Europa League without a loss by more than one goal, I think this is the toughest test they have faced and I expect Manchester United to head to France next week with a margin to defend.

MY PICKS: Derby County @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leeds United @ 2.15 William Hill (2 Units)
Reading @ 2.30 Bet365 (2 Units)
Benfica-Borussia Dortmund Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Paris Saint-Germain-Barcelona Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Bayern Munich - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Real Madrid Win and Both Teams to Score @ 2.88 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Gent-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Rostov-Sparta Prague Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Anderlecht-Zenit St Petersburg Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Athletic Bilbao - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Bet365 (2 Units)

February Update9-17, - 12.36 Units (49 Units Staked, - 25.22% Yield)

January Final32-47-1, - 30.88 Units (164 Units Staked, - 18.83% Yield)
December Final38-40, - 7.93 Units (153 Units Staked, - 5.18% 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 2016/17212-232-9, - 28.11 Units (872 Units Staked, - 3.22% 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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