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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (February 21-23)

This week is set for the remaining Last 16 Champions League First Legs as well as the conclusion of the Europa League Last 32 which will be followed by the draw for the Last 16 on Friday.

There is a lot of football to be played over the next three days and I will begin my picks with the Champions League, then the Championship fixtures this week and finally the Europa League Last 32 Second Legs with all of those picks placed in this thread.

Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid Pick: If this match up had been created in the Champions League Knock Out Rounds twelve months ago, I think Atletico Madrid would be a strong favourite with the oddsmakers and with the fans to beat Bayer Leverkusen. The oddsmakers still favour the Spanish side considerably, but the last few months have been amongst the most difficult of Diego Simeone's reign as manager of Atletico Madrid and that might put a few off from backing them.

The positive for Atletico Madrid is they are not playing a team who have been winning a lot of matches back home and so aren't coming in with a hugely superior confidence. Bayer Leverkusen are in 8th place in the Bundesliga and have been inconsistent, while their home record in the Champions League shows they are hard to beat, but also can struggle to take the next step and win football matches.

The Leverkusen fans will point to the 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid in this Round two years ago, but both teams have a different feel about them now, although I am anticipating another closely fought tie over the two Legs.

Atletico Madrid look short here despite winning 2 of their 3 away Champions League games in the Group. They have not won any of their last 5 away Knock Out ties in the competition, but on the other hand it is hard to back Bayer Leverkusen to win knowing how many of their recent home European games have ended in draws.

The draw does look a big player in the First Leg as both teams will feel that keeps them in the tie for the Second Leg next month at the Vicente Calderon. Bayer Leverkusen will be looking to avoid handing an away goal to Atletico Madrid, while Diego Simeone has to feel his side can beat anyone at home considering they have won 7 of their last 8 in front of their fans in the Champions League.

Instead I am going to look for a recent Atletico Madrid trend in the Champions League to keep going, even without Diego Godin marshalling the troops. 8 of their last 12 away Champions League games have ended with one or fewer goals shared out and that includes in all 3 of their Group games earlier in the season.

The Bayer Leverkusen home games tend to be higher-scoring ones, but I don't think either team will want to take too many risks in this one and the tightness of their games two seasons ago could be replicated in both Legs this time too. Backing under 1.5 goals for a small interest looks the way to go in this one at a decent looking price.

Manchester City v Monaco Pick: I will admit that when the draw was first made for the Champions League Last 16, I thought Manchester City had got away with one by being paired with Monaco. The French League leaders had come through a weak Group at that time, but they have shown little sign of slowing down in the last two months and this is a genuinely tough tie for both clubs.

Anyone who underestimates Monaco like I did initially should be aware of their stunning win over Arsenal in the Last 16 two seasons ago as well as the fact they have beaten Tottenham Hotspur home and away this season. Unlike 'Arry Redknapp, I think Manchester City are a superior team to Tottenham Hotspur and so I do think they will offer Monaco a sterner test, but this looks like a tie that will go down to the last minute of the Second Leg.

Manchester City have been strong at home in recent weeks and they have a very positive record in recent Champions League games. They are unbeaten in 9 Champions League games here which includes visits from the likes of Sevilla, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Barcelona (Manchester City have won 3 of those games) and the players look more comfortable in the demands from their manager.

Facing a Monaco team who have won 3 of their last 10 away European games and were beaten heavily at Bayer Leverkusen and you can understand why Manchester City are the short favourites to win the First Leg. However I think this is going to be far from easy for Manchester City as Monaco have shown they have plenty of pace and goals in the squad and I do think they can play a part in this one.

Manchester City have kept 1 clean sheet in their last 11 games at home in all competitions so it might be a surprise if this Monaco team, who have scored goals for fun all season, is unable to breach this defence. With the two managers in the dug outs, I would be stunned if this isn't a game full of attacking intention and I do think there will be chances at both ends of the field in what could be a really entertaining First Leg.

It has all the makings of a First Leg that can continue the trend from last week and that is producing plenty of goalmouth action and I am looking to see goals.

This is the fourth time in three seasons that Monaco are visiting England and all three previous games have seen both teams score and at least three goals shared out. I anticipate the same will happen here but I will just keep things simple and back at least three goals to be scored in this match.

Porto v Juventus Pick: Over the two Legs of this Last 16 tie, I would be surprised if Juventus aren't going to be progressing to another Quarter Final in the Champions League. They have reinvested the Paul Pogba money to improve their squad and I do feel Juventus are a genuine threat to win an open Champions League competition in the next two months.

That is no disrespect to Porto, but I think this former Champions League winner is perhaps in the third tier of European clubs these days. They finished behind Leicester City in the Group Stage, which has to be a concern, and Porto is not the fortress it has been in recent European games here.

Prior to the wins over Club Brugge and Leicester City, Porto had not won any of 4 home games in European competition. That run had seen them lose to Dynamo Kiev and Borussia Dortmund before draws with Roma and Copenhagen.

The Play Off win over Roma has to give Porto confidence they can stun Juventus too, but they were aided by three sendings off in the two Legs and were trailing Roma at home before one of those helped them earn the draw.

Juventus have also played well away from home in the Champions League in recent games which is a different feel to previous squads that may not have been as strong on their travels as they are at home. Winning at Lyon and Sevilla in the Group Stage and leading 0-2 at Bayern Munich in the Champions League Quarter Final last season shows what Juventus can do and they simply don't do draws on their travels this season.

It won't be easy for Juventus because Porto have a long unbeaten run at home to protect, but I think the Italian Champions can earn a priceless away win in the First Leg this week. They score goals and Juventus still defend pretty well which can see them earn the narrow win here and put themselves in a very strong position for the Second Leg at home next month.

Juventus are odds against to win here, and I will back them to do that.

Sevilla v Leicester City Pick: There are times when everything seems to point one way in a football match and then the opposite happens, but I can't see a way that Sevilla are not going to have a healthy lead to take to The King Power Stadium in the Second Leg next month. Sevilla have been one of the highlights of the Spanish Football scene this season while Leicester City have been on an awful run and are mired in a downward spiral that looks destined to see them relegated from the Premier League.

Confidence could not be in two contrasting places going into the First Leg and the high press of Sevilla is likely going to lead to some Leicester City mistakes.

Some will say that Leicester City have saved their best for the Champions League, but I never bought into that line of thinking and simply looked at a Group that most English clubs would expect to Qualify from. It was only Porto's draw with Copenhagen at home which prevented them winning the Group instead as they thumped Leicester City at home and The Foxes have been on a tremendously poor run of form.

Maybe the Champions League will free up those players, but this is a squad that looks short of belief and Claudio Ranieri is struggling to find the answers. Sevilla are also a team with a lot of European experience and have won 6 of their last 8 European ties with only the likes of Athletic Bilbao and Juventus escaping with a result in that time.

Leicester City are clearly not of that level and the focus for all at the club has to be the Premier League. I don't think Ranieri plays a weakened side here, but his first eleven are not exactly inspiring much confidence in their play and I think Sevilla will win this one by a couple of goals and move into a commanding position for the Second Leg.

Last week we saw three of the four Champions League First Legs end with the home team winning by at least two goals and I will look for Sevilla to become the latest to reach that mark.

Derby County v Burton Albion Pick: I have been burnt backing Derby County to win their last two home games and that is very disappointing when you think they scored six times in those games. Not many teams will score at least three goals in back to back home games and win neither, but that is where Derby County find themselves having begun to leak more goals at home.

They have conceded at least twice in their last 4 games here in all competitions and Burton Albion have to be encouraged having seen the likes of Bristol City and Cardiff City score at least three goals as the last two visitors to The iPro Stadium.

Burton Albion have only failed to score in 1 of their last 7 away from home in the League and this feels like another match in which both teams can play their part which has become a regular occurrence in Derby County recent home games. You would still think Derby County will have too much going forward considering Burton Albion have not had a clean sheet in their last 10 away League games and conceded at least twice in 6 of those.

It's hard to trust Derby County after they have let me down so consistently in their last two games, but I think they will probably win this one. However I am going to back at least three goals to be shared out as I can see Burton Albion playing their part in the outcome of this one too and that looks a decent price at odds against.

Huddersfield Town v Reading Pick: There were two angles on this fixture that I wanted to go and had to decide which of those is the more appealing- the first was backing Huddersfield Town to continue a strong run at home and win this game, while the other was backing at least three goals to be shared out at what looks a very big price.

I have decided to go with the latter of those options because I do think Reading are playing well enough away from home to at least score here and Huddersfield Town are still more than capable of scoring the goals to win the match.

Reading might have the edge having had a week to prepare for the game too which just put me off backing Huddersfield Town to win, but The Royals don't really do clean sheets away from home.

6 of the last 7 away League games Reading have played has seen their opponent score at least twice, but the side have also managed to score at least two goals in 4 of their last 5 which is why they have only lost 1 of their last 5 away games. 5 of the last 7 Huddersfield Town home games have also featured at least three goals shared out with one of the exceptions being a 1-1 draw.

I fully anticipate both teams can score in this one and the potential for what the three points can do should mean both David Wagner and Jaap Stam encourage their team to attack until the end of the game. The last three games at Huddersfield Town between these two clubs have also produced plenty of fireworks and I am expecting a very good game of football between them on Tuesday evening as both look to close on the automatic promotion spots.

Goals might be the order of the day at odds against and I will look for the three goal mark to be hit at least.

Sheffield Wednesday v Brentford Pick: No one should be underestimating a Brentford team who may have lost 3 away League games in a row, but one who led at both Preston North End and Reading before losing those games. That makes them potentially dangerous with all the pressure on Sheffield Wednesday to keep away from the teams after the Play Off spots, but the goals being conceded by Brentford makes it hard to believe in them.

That should be an area that Sheffield Wednesday can expose as they have scored at least twice in 4 of their last 5 League games and also in their last 3 at Hillsborough. Defensively The Owls remain one of the stronger teams in the Division and they also have won their last 2 home games against Brentford.

It does all point to Sheffield Wednesday improving their run of 6 wins in 7 League games at home and they look a decent price to do that. I was a little surprised they are shorter than Reading were to beat Brentford last week, but Sheffield Wednesday are one of the form teams in the Championship and they can win this one at odds on.

I do think Brentford can cause some problems, but ultimately Sheffield Wednesday have the edge in both final thirds and that should see them earn another important three points.

Bristol City v Fulham Pick: Both Bristol City and Fulham will be desperate for the three points available in this fixture which is part of their make up list in the League. Both know the importance of the three points they can earn for their respective goals and we could see a decent match at Ashton Gate on Wednesday.

Scoring goals hasn't been a problem for either team, but they have had issues when it comes to defending and keeping teams from scoring.

That could be in evidence on Wednesday as both Bristol City and Fulham prefer being on the front foot and this could provide yet another high-scoring game in the Championship during the week.

The last 4 overall between these teams, including both this season, and 5 of the last 6 at Ashton Gate between them have produced at least three goals and I would be surprised if that was not the case in this one. Bristol City are the team who will push forward at home which has seen them score plenty, but also concede at least twice in 4 straight before goal-shy Rotherham United pitched up in town.

None of the last 5 Fulham away games have featured at least three goals, but they can't afford to sit back and give away these valuable points and the teams can contribute for at least three goals on Wednesday. I would expect both teams to score at least once and from there is it is anyone's chance to win.

Fenerbahce v Krasnodar PickThis tie is finely poised between Fenerbahce and Krasnodar and I do wonder if the lack of an away goal for the Turkish club will come back and haunt them. However Fenerbahce have played very well at home in European competition and winning 8 in a row here in either the Champions League or Europa League will give them the belief they can turn this tie around.

Fenerbahce have beaten the likes of Monaco, Manchester United and Feyenoord in those run of home wins and they also beat Lokomotiv Moscow from Russia at this stage last season. The passion from the home side should inspire the home players and I think they can get the better of Krasnodar on the night, but whether that will be enough to win the tie is another issue.

They are facing a team who haven't had a lot of competitive football in the last few months and Krasnodar have struggled on their travels. They have lost half of their last 6 away games in the Europa League and Krasnodar only scored a single goal in those losses.

I do think Fenerbahce will be the better team on the night and I think they are going to be a little too good for Krasnodar. I think they are the more likely team to progress, but I will keep it simple and just back Fenerbahce to win this one in the 90 minutes.

St-Etienne v Manchester United Pick: In all honesty this tie should already be over after Manchester United put a gloss on the First Leg with a couple of late goals to take a 3-0 lead to France. They created enough chances in the First Leg to expect Manchester United to score here, especially with Jose Mourinho admitting he will play a strong team, and an away goal will be too much for St-Etienne to overcome.

However you have to acknowledge the size of the game for St-Etienne for both the players and the fans and I fully expect them to want to exit the Europa League with some pride. If they score the first goal early on there could be some nerves in the Manchester United team that St-Etienne will look to take advantage of, but ultimately their goal has to be to try and win the game and go out with some pride.

St-Etienne have played well at home in recent weeks and they have shown at Old Trafford that they can create chances which will make them a threat in this Second Leg. They won't want to see their home winning run come to an end having won their last 3 here and St-Etienne have to feel they have a chance against a Manchester United team that have lost 6 of their last 8 away European games.

The problem for St-Etienne is always going to be whether they have enough to contain Manchester United's attack when they are pushing forward and I think the Second Leg could be as entertaining as the game at Old Trafford was. St-Etienne can play their part again and backing at least three goals to be shared out at odds against could be a big price at the end of this Second Leg.

Ajax v Legia Warsaw PickThe goalless draw in Warsaw last week means Ajax and Legia Warsaw will both believe they have a chance to progress through to the Last 16. The home advantage is likely to be the difference maker for Ajax though and I do think the Dutch side can get past the team exiting the Champions League at the Group Stage.

Ajax have drawn a lot of their recent home games in Europe which is a concern for them, but they did win 3 in a row in the Group earlier this season. Those wins over Panathinaikos, Celta Vigo and Standard Liege will give Ajax the belief they can get the better of Legia Warsaw and they have also won 12 of their last 13 games here in all competitions.

It won't be easy when you consider Legia Warsaw have won 6 of their last 7 away games in all competitions. However they were beaten in all 3 away games in their Champions League Group Stage and Legia Warsaw have lost 6 of their last 9 away games in European competition.

The first goal is going to be critical in this Second Leg, because it will force the other team to play much more expansively. If Ajax can go ahead, I think they will be able to pick off Legia Warsaw in the second half to get past a difficult test in the Last 32 and I will back them on the Asian Handicap.

Fiorentina v Borussia Monchengladbach Pick: The 0-1 lead from the First Leg might give Fiorentina the advantage in this Europa League Last 32 tie, but it is not one that guarantees progress to the next Round. Of course Fiorentina will be the favourites to progress, but they have lost half of their last 8 home Europa League games and a defeat here would likely send them out of the competition.

They are facing a Borussia Monchengladbach team who have lost back to back games over the last week, but one who have won 3 of their last 4 away games in all competitions. Like Fiorentina, they are not as strong in European games though as they have lost 5 of their last 8 on their travels and they are under the pressure of having to score here.

Fiorentina have been playing well domestically with 5 wins in 7 games at home since their 2-3 loss to PAOK in the Group Stage of the Europa League. They have scored at least twice in 7 of their last 8 home games and I think Fiorentina can win this Second Leg to earn their place in the Last 16.

I wouldn't be surprised if this is a higher scoring game than the one in Germany last week, and I am anticipating goals to be scored too, but Fiorentina can just get ahead of Borussia Monchengladbach and win this Second Leg. I will also make a rare decision to also back at least three goals to be shared out at a decent price in this one as I am expecting a 2-1 scoreline in favour of the home team and both teams can produce an entertaining game.

Tottenham Hotspur v Gent Pick: I really wasn't sure that Tottenham Hotspur would be sending out as strong a starting eleven as they did in either of their last two games and so now it would be a weird decision to not try and win this Europa League Last 32 Second Leg. The 1-0 defeat in Belgium has put Tottenham Hotspur in an awkward position, but they will believe they have enough quality to turn things around at Wembley Stadium on Thursday.

The 2 losses here in the Champions League cost Tottenham Hotspur their spot in the Last 16 of that competition, but they did beat CSKA Moscow 3-1 here and I would think they can match that margin of win at the least. The big names should all be playing and Tottenham Hotspur recognise the need to keep two avenues into the Champions League open at this time.

For Gent a decision was made to rest some of the starters as the club are desperate to get into the Championship Round of the Belgian top flight. They might send out a more recognised team having headed over to London with a 1-0 lead, but the main ambition may be to defend in numbers and frustrate the Premier League club like they did in Belgium last week.

However Gent were hammered at Shakhtar Donetsk, the club most closely linked to the level of Tottenham Hotspur, when they met in the Group Stage of this competition. Gent have not played as well on their travels as they have at home in recent months and I am going to back the home team to win by a margin that sends them through to the Last 16 without the need for extra time.

Genk v Astra Pick: Neither Genk nor Astra are considered a real threat to win the Europa League, but the winner of this tie will move through to the Last 16 where they could be potentially paired with a really big name of European Football. The tie looks to be in the balance after a 2-2 draw in the First Leg, although obviously Genk have the advantage of being able to go through with a low scoring draw.

I am not anticipating that to be the case as Astra have shown some attacking potential away from home in the Europa League this season. They are also a team that can capitulate when pressing too far forward, but there is no choice for Astra as they need to either win 0-1 or score at least twice to get anything out of this tie.

That should mean Genk have opportunities on the counter attack, even though they have lost some big players in January, and we should seen an open contest as long as Astra still have a chance. If Genk do move into a 2-0 lead it is a game that could potentially fizzle out if the away side have just lost a bit of belief in what they are doing, but most other scorelines should see Astra really give this a go.

4 of 5 Astra away games in Europe this season have ended with at least three goals shared out and I will look for this to be another one.

MY PICKS: Bayer Leverkusen-Atletico Madrid Under 1.5 Goals @ 2.88 Betfair (1 Unit)
Manchester City-Monaco Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.67 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Juventus @ 2.30 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sevilla - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Derby County-Burton Albion Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town-Reading Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Sheffield Wednesday @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bristol City-Fulham Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Fenerbahce @ 1.83 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
St-Etienne-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Ajax - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.07 Bet365 (2 Units)
Fiorentina @ 2.50 Stan James (2 Units)
Fiorentina-Borussia Monchengladbach Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.03 Bet365 (2 Units)
Genk-Astra Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

February Update: 20-31, - 11.86 Units (98 Units Staked, - 12.10% 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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