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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (March 14-16)

I've had a change in plans for some of the picks going forward to try and ensure the last three months are going to be stronger than the last two have been.

This week is all about the Champions League and Europa League Last 16 ties which will set up the Quarter Final line up. That will be drawn out on Friday for both competitions and this is the time when teams will start scenting the chance to go all the way.

Last week's ties were headline grabbing and I think this week will also be one in which some memorable ties are played.

The picks from the ties this week are below.

Juventus v Porto Pick: The 0-2 lead from the First Leg has put Juventus in a commanding position in this Champions League Last 16 tie and it is a lead they are unlikely to lose.

A few years ago you may have thought Juventus, being from Italy, would look to defend what they have in the Second Leg and ensure their progress through to the Quarter Final. While they won't be in an 'all out attack', Juventus' natural game is to play attacking football and score goals and I think they will look to play the game as if it is 0-0 from the First Leg.

All of the pressure is off having a 0-2 lead, but Juventus will have seen what happened to Paris Saint-Germain when focus is lost and I expect that to be drilled into the players. They are unbeaten in 45 games here in all competitions and 16 in the Champions League so there shouldn't be the collapse that afflicted Paris Saint-Germain in Barcelona.

It is up to Porto to make the play as they need to score at least twice in Turin to give themselves a chance and their travelling fans will have to remember the 0-3 win in Roma in the Champions League Qualifiers earlier this season. However Roma lost two men to sending offs in that game and Juventus should be careful in the tackle knowing that is likely the only way Porto get back into this tie.

At some stage Porto have to send more men forward and I do think Juventus will pick them off and win this Second Leg. The 4 draws in their last 6 home Champions League games is a concern when backing Juventus considering another draw will be good enough to send them through, but they have the attacking potential to punish Porto when the away team become a little desperate.

I think that will see Juventus end up with a win by a couple of goals on the night and I will back them on the Asian Handicap to win this Second Leg.

Leicester City v Sevilla Pick: The key question one has to answer before this game is whether you think Leicester City are showing a more realistic level now than they have been all season or whether this is a team that is still full of average players that overachieved and have been at a more realistic level through the course of the season? Some think Craig Shakespeare has helped the players rediscover their belief, while others think the players have stabbed Claudio Ranieri in the back by underperforming to get the manager out.

I think it is something in between both extremes, but I am surprised that Sevilla have come into the Second Leg as an odds against favourite to win the game. This is a team that has shown they can perform away from home in European Football having won the Europa League in three consecutive seasons and those experiences should mean they are able to have the necessary tactics to win here.

They don't need to win to go through and Leicester City have been much improved in their last couple of games here. They have scored 6 goals in those couple of games against Liverpool and Hull City, but Sevilla are arguably better than both of those teams.

Sevilla will control the ball and they have the pace to counter Leicester City when they come forward, although I do think the home team will create some chances themselves. The recent Sevilla form does temper some of the enthusiasm for them to win this game, especially as Sevilla have conceded in 4 of their last 5 away games in all competitions.

The side did keep 3 clean sheets away from home in the Champions League Group Stage, but Leicester City won all 3 of their home games and this could be a competitive game. An early goal should open the contest and make it fun for the neutrals to watch too and it is likely that one of the teams will be chasing the game in the final 20 minutes which should mean chances continue to be created until the end of the game.

That makes it feel like a game that will see at least three goals shared out and I will back goals in this Second Leg.

Atletico Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen Pick: Having a two goal lead from the First Leg and having scored four goals in Germany should have eased any pressure Atletico Madrid might have been feeling prior to the Second Leg being played at home. They will be aware that Bayer Leverkusen have to send men forward in search of goals in the Second Leg and I do think that will allow Atletico Madrid to pick them off on the counter attack which may suit Diego Simeone just fine.

Having the lead they do, Atletico Madrid are not compelled to win this Second Leg, but I don't think Simeone is the kind of manager who will be looking to settle with what they have. He is trying to help the side build some confidence and momentum and that can only be achieved by putting wins on the board.

Atletico Madrid have been very strong at home in recent weeks unless Barcelona have turned up here, while they have a very good home record in the Champions League. You have to imagine Bayer Leverkusen will commit men forward at some stage and I do think Atletico Madrid will end up getting the better of them in the Second Leg too.

The visitors come in looking to find some form having sacked Roger Schmidt after losing 6-2 at Borussia Dortmund in what has been a miserable season for them. Even getting into the Europa League will be a challenge for Bayer Leverkusen the rest of the season and the real concentration may already have shifted onto the Bundesliga.

It does have to be said that Atletico Madrid rarely win games easily at home in the Champions League but half of their last 8 games here have been won by at least a two goal margin. I can see Atletico Madrid picking off Bayer Leverkusen the longer this game goes on and ultimately I can see them winning this one by a couple of goals and then look forward to the Quarter Final draw on Friday.

Monaco v Manchester City Pick: Anyone who loves defending and saw the First Leg of this Champions League tie might have been having kittens, but for the neutrals it would have been one of the more enjoyable football games of the season. Both Monaco and Manchester City proved they are very good going forward, but shocking defensively, and the feeling is they will pick up from where they left off in Manchester.

I do have to say that the playing surface in Monaco is not as good as the one they have at The Etihad Stadium, but it has been a ground where Monaco have thrived. They have already beaten Tottenham Hotspur here this season and Monaco have continued to produce a high amount of goals in front of their fans.

They will need those goals to overturn the 3-5 deficit from the First Leg and some Manchester City fans might point out the 6 consecutive away clean sheets their side have achieved. However none of those teams are of the same attacking threat as Monaco and I think Pep Guardiola is right that Manchester City will be knocked out of the Champions League if they fail to score on the night.

Manchester City might even need more than a solitary strike to stay in the Champions League, but I am expecting the likes of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero to have their chances in this one. Monaco have plenty of attacking threats themselves who are being monitored around European Football and it would be a stunner if there aren't goals in this Second Leg.

I fully expect there to be enough chances for both teams to hit the net multiple times as we saw in the First Leg and an open game looks to be in the offing. I will look for the Second Leg to follow the same pattern as the first and I will back at least four goals to be shared out on the night.

Besiktas v Olympiacos PickThe First Leg has this Europa League Last 16 tie finely poised, but I am not sure I am as confident in Besiktas getting the job done in the Second Leg as the oddsmakers seem to be. I backed the Turkish Champions to get a result in Greece last week, but Olympiacos have been better on their travels in the Europa League compared with at home which is a reversal of their recent seasons.

They have already won 0-3 in Turkey in the Last 32 having drawn the home Leg against Osmanlispor and so Olympiacos will feel they can challenge Besiktas. It also should be said that Besiktas have conceded in all 4 home European games this season and needed a late goal in the last Round to beat Hapoel Be'er Sheva after drawing all 3 Champions League Group games here.

It could mean this Second Leg reaches the same mark as the First Leg with the game getting to 1-1 at some point, but goals do change the game and at it might mean there are spaces to exploit at various times during the ninety minutes.

Besiktas have scored at least twice in 6 of their last 8 home games in all competitions, while Olympiacos have won 3 of their 5 away games in the Europa League.

Both teams have scored in all 4 Besiktas home games in Europe this season and this does feel like a fixture that potentially goes into extra time. I will be looking for both teams to score at least once in this one at odds against.

Anderlecht v APOEL Pick: I didn't expect Anderlecht to have enough to take a lead back to Belgium from the First Leg in APOEL last week, but that result looks like it will be good enough to take them through to the Quarter Final of the Europa League. This is a team that has played much better at home than on their travels, while APOEL have not been the best travellers in European competition.

Of course there was plenty pointing to APOEL to have enough to get an edge in this tie last week when playing at home where they have been so strong so you just never know in football. However Anderlecht have been playing very well at home and look the stronger team with a very good chance of making it through to the next Round.

Anderlecht have won 6 of their last 7 home games in all competitions and scored at least twice in each of those which should be too much for APOEL to handle. APOEL do have a solid 0-1 win at Olympiacos behind them in the Europa League Group Stage, but this is a team that has lost at Rosenborg, Copenhagen, Young Boys, Astana and Athletic Bilbao this season.

At some point APOEL are going to have to take a risk and I think Anderlecht will be able to pick them off at home. I can see Anderlecht doubling their lead on aggregate in the first half and then having a few opportunities to finish APOEL off when the Cypriot Champions try and get back into the tie.

Being at home means Anderlecht shouldn't be able to sit on a narrow lead and they will be expected to come forward and score goals like they have done. A knock out blow late in the Second Leg can see them cover the Asian Handicap in this one and I will back Anderlecht to do that.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Schalke Pick: The First Leg looked like it was promising goals when both teams scored inside the first half hour, but an inspired goalkeeping display and some poor play in the final third prevented Schalke taking a lead into the Second Leg. I do have to think Borussia Monchengladbach are much better than they were for much of the First Leg, especially being at home, but I prefer the angle of this game featuring at least three goals that the First Leg just missed out.

The two League games between Borussia Monchengladbach and Schalke produced a high number of goals including a 4-2 win for the former here two weeks ago. That means Borussia Monchengladbach have won 4 in a row at home against Schalke and each of those games featured at least three goals shared out.

There was certainly enough positive play in the First Leg to think there will be chances in this one too. The onus is on Borussia Monchengladbach to get forward being at home and the fans looking for them to positively make their way through to the Quarter Final, but Schalke are going to be dangerous too and I wouldn't be surprised if both teams score in this one too.

This time I am looking for the teams to at least show better composure in the final third when the opportunities come their way and I am looking for the teams to share out three goals at the very least. 6 of the last 8 Borussia Monchengladbach home games and 6 of the last 8 Schalke away games have ended with that number reached and the goals have tended to flow when they have met here.

It looks an intriguing price to look for the over 2.5 goals to come in and I will look for that to happen in this Last 16 Second Leg.

Manchester United v Rostov Pick: I have to admit that the playing surface made things very difficult for both Rostov and Manchester United in the First Leg, but I did expect more from the hosts who had a bit of fortune about their equaliser in what was a poor quality game. The 1-1 scoreline was probably a fair reflection of the game, but this should be a much better watch for the fans at Old Trafford.

The scoreline is also one that makes this very much a live Second Leg and it is a big game for both Manchester United and Rostov. It is looking like the Europa League is the best avenue back into the Champions League for both clubs and so two strong teams should be picked for the Thursday evening game.

Being at home in the Europa League has proved to be good times for Manchester United this season who have won all 4 games played at Old Trafford in the competition. They have won the last 3 while scoring at least three times and all have come by a comfortable margin and it will be difficult for Rostov who have to score at least once here.

Respect has to be given to Rostov for some positive results at Anderlecht, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Sparta Prague away from home in European competition this season. However 3 of those have ended in draws and Manchester United are a step up from that level of opponent, while Rostov were beaten in Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid.

I do think Manchester United could have done without playing 60 minutes on Monday with just ten men, especially Paul Pogba who will have a couple of days to rest ahead of this game. However he should have the energy of players like Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick and Henrikh Mkhitaryan around him with none of those players having more than 30 minutes in their legs on Monday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back to lead the line too and I do think Manchester United might have a little too much on the day. I am not anticipating an easy game because Rostov work hard and they will be compact, but at some point they might have to come out to try and get back into the tie and Manchester United can punish the spaces they leave behind.

I am thinking we will see a situation where Manchester United are leading going into the last 20 minutes and are then able to capitalise on the Rostov side pushing forward which leads to the home team moving through with a cover on the Asian Handicap.

Roma v Lyon Pick: There was plenty of good football on display in the First Leg and the feeling is that the Second Leg will also produce some attacking fireworks from Roma and Lyon. The home team don't really have a choice with a 2-4 deficit from the First Leg, but the last couple of weeks will have encouraged Roma having seen Barcelona and Monaco overturn big defeats from the First Leg and still move through to the Quarter Finals in April.

I don't think there is a lot between Roma and Lyon so it is a big challenge for the home team, especially as they have lost a bit of form of late. The 0-3 win in Palermo would have given them confidence, but Roma had lost 3 big games in a row before that and that has to be playing on the mind.

Even more so is the fact this club have lost their last 4 Knock Out ties played in European competition at home. That's a really poor sequence for Roma who are considered amongst the favourites to win the Europa League and it has to be one that the players are well aware of.

It is difficult to be enthusiastic about the chance Lyon have of the upset when you think they have won 1 of their last 6 away games in all competition, but they certainly are capable of avoiding a loss here. Lyon lost narrowly in Sevilla, but earned a draw at Juventus, who are the leading lights of Italian Football, when they met in the Champions League Group Stage.

They will have spaces to exploit as Roma have to push forward and I do think Lyon might be able to do enough to earn a result here and move on to the Quarter Final. Lyon have a goalscorer in Alexandre Lacazette who should take the opportunities that are created and it might be difficult for Roma to get back into the tie which will mean needing to take risks.

That is when Lyon can make hay in this one and I will look for them to cover on the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Juventus - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 2.02 Bet365 (2 Units)
Leicester City-Porto Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Stan James (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Monaco-Manchester City Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.10 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Besiktas-Olympiacos Both Teams to Score-Yes @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Anderlecht - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet365 (2 Units)
Borussia Monchengladbach-Schalke Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Lyon + 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)

March Update: 21-22-2, + 1.96 Units (87 Units Staked, + 2.25% Yield)

February Final31-50, - 29.34 Units (157 Units Staked, - 18.69% 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 2016/17243-272-9, - 57.45 Units (1029 Units Staked, - 5.58% 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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