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Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (March 7-9)

The next two midweek dates have been kept aside for the completion of the Champions League Last 16 Round as well as the Europa League Last 16 Round with the draw for the Quarter Final of both competitions being made a week on Friday.

This is the time of the season where every mistake is magnified and the big games come thick and fast.

This week we also have a full round of Championship fixtures as the promotion battle heats up in that Division too, and I will have picks from the next three days of football on this thread.

Arsenal v Bayern Munich Pick: Aside from something incredible happening, this Champions League Second Leg tie looks like a dead rubber with Bayern Munich in a commanding position to move through to the Quarter Final. The 5-1 home win is going to be very difficult for Arsenal to overturn, especially when you consider they have lost 4 of their last 6 games in all competitions and have struggled when facing the best teams in the Champions League and in England.

In saying that, I do think Bayern Munich might be a little short to win the Second Leg despite Arsene Wenger suggesting his team will be set up to attack from the first minute. That might open up the counter attack to Bayern Munich who have some very good players with pace to expose an Arsenal team which presses forward, but I am not convinced Wenger is going to ask his team to go gung-ho.

The importance of a morale boosting performance means Arsenal can't afford to put another loss in the books with the chase for the top four in the Premier League heating up. Defeats to Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Liverpool have dented the confidence and the stories that Alexis Sanchez has fallen out with his manager and teammates has not helped Arsenal who look like they have taken a step backwards.

Looking for a positive result means Arsenal may not be pushing forward to get back into the Champions League Last 16 tie, but instead want to play this as a 'one off' game.

Arsenal have responded to really poor First Leg results at this Stage in the past and I have a feeling they can do that on Tuesday too. Last season they were beaten home and away by Barcelona in the Last 16, but previously they had won Second Legs against Milan, Bayern Munich and Monaco having lost the First Leg, while also earning a draw at Bayern Munich after a First Leg defeat.

This Bayern Munich team have also not been the best travellers in the Champions League with just 3 wins from their last 13 away games in the competition and have lost 3 of their last 4. In fact since beating Arsenal in February 2014, Bayern Munich have won none of their last 8 away Knock Out ties in the Champions League.

There is enough pace to make Bayern Munich dangerous on the counter attack if Arsenal are pushing men forward, but the lead in the First Leg might mean they are perhaps not as sharp as they could be. The poor away record in the Champions League can't be ignored either and Arsenal have lost just 1 of their last 6 home Champions League games here.

That includes a win over Bayern Munich and a draw with Paris Saint-Germain and I will back the home side to avoid defeat in the Second Leg.

Napoli v Real Madrid Pick: The edge has to be given to Real Madrid from the First Leg of this Last 16 tie, but Napoli will feel it is far from over having achieved the task of bringing back an away goal from the Spanish capital. It is still a big task for Napoli because they need to win by two clear goals to give themselves a chance of moving into the Champions League Quarter Final and it is hard to envision a situation where Real Madrid can't score in Naples.

However being at home gives Napoli a chance to put Real Madrid under pressure, especially when you consider they had failed to win 4 away Champions League games in a row before the win in Sporting Lisbon. On the other hand Real Madrid have lost just 1 of their last 9 away games in the Champions League, even if the sole defeat came by a 2-0 scoreline which would put Napoli through to the Quarter Final.

Unfortunately for Napoli they don't do a lot of clean sheets at home and there is every chance this is going to be a high-scoring game as the home team will have to push forward for goals in this one.

High-scoring games has been something of a theme for Napoli in the Champions League with 2 of their 3 home games in the Group Stage featuring at least four goals. In fact 8 of their last 11 home European games have ended with at least four goals shared out as Napoli have shown attacking potential with defensive vulnerabilities in those games.

3 of the last 7 Champions League away games for Real Madrid, including 2 of 3 in the Group Stage, have also featured at least four goals and I do think these teams can match their goal output from the First Leg. Picking a winner in this Second Leg is tough, but I wouldn't be surprised if Real Madrid are able to counter Napoli towards the end of the game to finish them off.

I am not going to be interested in that, but I am simply looking for Napoli and Real Madrid to combine for a high-scoring Second Leg and I will look for at least four goals to be shared out.

Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain Pick: It would take something very special for Barcelona to turn around their 4-0 deficit from the First Leg because I simply cannot see a way they are able to prevent Paris Saint-Germain scoring here.

In saying that, I do think Barcelona will be much better than they were in Paris in the First Leg and I am expecting them to go out with some pride. They have beaten Paris Saint-Germain the last two times they have visited the Nou Camp and I think there will be times when the French Champions decide that they will sit back and try and protect what they have.

Barcelona have been scoring goals for fun in their last few games at the Nou Camp and they have really responded positively to Luis Enrique's decision to leave as manager. The team have clearly come together for a final push under Enrique and Barcelona look capable of winning a big trophy come the end of the season.

It is unlikely to be in the Champions League, but I am going to back Barcelona to win this Second Leg and perhaps get close to the margin of victory they needed. Ultimately I think a Paris Saint-Germain away goal will end the tie as a contest, but Barcelona will want to restore some pride and I think they win this by a couple of goals on the night.

With that in mind, I will back Barcelona to win the Second Leg on the Asian Handicap.

Borussia Dortmund v Benfica Pick: Anyone who saw the First Leg of the Champions League Last 16 tie between Benfica and Borussia Dortmund must be wondering how the Portuguese Champions have got away with a 1-0 win. They will have to be a lot better if they are going to contain Borussia Dortmund in front of a passionate home support, although Benfica have something to defend here.

An away goal for Benfica will certainly put them in a very strong position in the tie, but Borussia Dortmund will likely be a lot more clinical in front of goal than they were last month. The fact that Borussia Dortmund have scored 12 goals in their last 3 games, and 9 in their last 2 at home will give the home fans plenty of encouragement that they can turn this tie around.

Benfica did score at least twice in every away game in the Group Stage of the Champions League, but they were 4-0 down in Napoli in what turned out to be a 4-2 defeat. They also conceded 3 times to Besiktas so Benfica have to show a lot more defensively if they are going to prevent Borussia Dortmund picking up some momentum in this one.

Ultimately I think Borussia Dortmund are better than Benfica and should have won in Lisbon. You have to respect Benfica for reaching the Quarter Final of the Champions League last season and also scoring goals in away games in the Group Stage, but I think they might just get overrun by the home team in this one.

An early goal for Borussia Dortmund should set them on their way and I will back them to win this game and also move through to the Quarter Final in normal time by asking them to cover the Asian Handicap. Borussia Dortmund are odds on to Qualify for the Quarter Final, but odds against to win this game by two goals in normal time.

I just can't see Borussia Dortmund winning 1-0 in normal time with the goals they have in the side and I think they only go through to the Quarter Final with a win by two or more goals in normal time. With that in mind, I much prefer the odds against quote for Borussia Dortmund to win by at least two goals in normal time and I will back that to happen.

Manchester City v Stoke City Pick: I've been saying for a few weeks that Manchester City look like a team who are rounding into dangerous form at the right time of the season and they have continued producing big results to build the momentum. The next week is a big one for Manchester City who have this Premier League game, the one in hand over Chelsea, as well as a FA Cup Quarter Final and Champions League Last 16 Second Leg to come.

Win those three games and Manchester City will play Liverpool in the final game in March with a real chance to win three competitions this season.

They will need some help in the Premier League to peg back Chelsea, but Manchester City look like a team that could be a threat to win the FA Cup and Champions League. Pep Guardiola has found a system that makes them a really dangerous attacking team and I think Stoke City are going to find it tough to contain them here.

Mark Hughes has to set his side up to do more than contain as Stoke City were hammered at Tottenham Hotspur when they allowed the home team to dictate play ten days ago. In fact Stoke City have had a tough time visiting the teams in the top six all season aside from the 1-1 draw at Manchester United.

Other than that, Stoke City have conceded three goals at Arsenal and four at Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur which doesn't bode well when visiting Manchester City who have scored five goals in their last couple of games at The Etihad Stadium.

Manchester City also have hit four goals in their last couple of games against Stoke City including a 4-0 win here last season. This looks like a fixture that is not coming at a great time for Stoke City and I think Manchester City are going to have too much pace and attacking threat to be contained by a team missing Bruno Martins Indi this week.

I will back Manchester City to win this one by a comfortable margin and will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Blackburn Rovers v Cardiff City Pick: There has been a real reaction to the arrival of Tony Mowbray at Ewood Park, although that might be discrediting Owen Coyle who had also led Blackburn Rovers to a couple of important wins here. Between the two managers, Blackburn Rovers have won 4 of their last 6 League games at home and also pushed Manchester United in the FA Cup and confidence has to be high from back to back League wins over the last week.

Blackburn Rovers could be catching Cardiff City at the right time if you believe that the players in the away squad might have just eased off a little after moving up the League table. Neil Warnock is not really the kind of manager who will allow that to happen, but the Cardiff City 2-1 loss at Queens Park Rangers on Saturday was a disappointing loss.

I fully expect a reaction to that and Cardiff City had impressed in wins at Leeds United and Derby County prior to that defeat. They also held a strong looking Fulham team at home so Blackburn Rovers will have to work for it if they want to make it 4 straight home League wins.

However I do think Blackburn Rovers are playing with a bit of confidence at the moment and will be tough to beat here. They were only beaten by an 89th minute goal from Leeds United in Blackburn Rovers' last 6 home games in the League and I will back them on the Asian Handicap to perhaps win this one.

Huddersfield Town v Aston Villa Pick: It is hard to know what kind of mindset the Huddersfield Town players have been left in after losing a big game to Newcastle United on Saturday. Mentally it was a blow for the players as they looked to close in on the top two places in the Championship, but Brighton have lost 2 in a row and Huddersfield Town are still close enough to have an assault on the second of the two automatic promotion spots in the League.

Picking up the players is not going to be easy for David Wagner, but being at home where Huddersfield Town have been so successful this season has to help them. The crowd will get behind their team and they are facing an Aston Villa team who have been really poor away from home for much of the season.

Of course Aston Villa have picked up some form which comes with 3 straight wins in the League, and they did snap a 6 game losing run away from home when winning in Yorkshire at Rotherham United on Saturday. The Yorkshire club they play on Tuesday are significantly stronger than Rotherham United though and the lack of Aston Villa goals away from home has to be a big concern that Steve Bruce will want to rectify in the summer.

At this time I do think Huddersfield Town can bounce back from the defeat on Saturday and earn a big win to get the promotion bid back on track. They have overachieved this season, but Wagner won't want the players to feel that way and they have won some big games at home before the loss to Newcastle United.

Wins over Brighton, Reading and Leeds United should mean the players are not overawed by the Aston Villa name coming to town. At odds against, I will back Huddersfield Town to win on Tuesday.

Nottingham Forest v Brentford Pick: Both Nottingham Forest and Brentford have earned some big points over the last seven days which has made sure they are not being sucked back into a relegation battle. For Brentford they are on the brink of being in a position of safety, but there is a lot more work to be done for Nottingham Forest.

The majority of that work is going to be done at The City Ground where Nottingham Forest have been strong for much of the season. The 3-0 win over Brighton was a huge result for them and they will feel they can get the better of Brentford despite the goals that the latter have been producing.

Those goals makes Brentford dangerous and they have scored in their last 6 away games in the Championship and in 4 of those games they have scored at least twice. Nottingham Forest may have had 3 clean sheets in their last 5 at The City Ground, but that has been the exception to the general rule here and the home team will likely need at least two goals to win this game.

The goals have certainly flowed the last two seasons when these teams have met at this ground and I can see both Nottingham Forest and Brentford scoring at least once in this one. Picking a winner is more difficult, even if I am leaning towards the home side, but I think backing at least three goals looks like it will be a safe option as both teams have been creating plenty of chances in recent games.

Sheffield Wednesday v Burton Albion Pick: Sheffield Wednesday and Burton Albion will be heading into this fixture in a desperate search for the three points on offer for differing reasons. While both would be satisfied with their current League position at the end of the season, both clubs will also be aware there is plenty of work to do over the last 11 League games for them to achieve their goals.

Out of the two it is clear that Burton Albion are overachieving by avoiding a place in the bottom three and all credit needs to be given to Nigel Clough for that. They have proven to be a stubborn team to beat in recent games and another point here would be welcomed to keep them ticking along.

That is going to be far from easy against a Sheffield Wednesday team who crushed Norwich City at home on Saturday and have won 8 of their last 10 games at Hillsborough. Sheffield Wednesday are trying to stay ahead of Fulham, who are their closet contenders in the Play Off race, although a consistent end to the season will see The Owls finishing higher than 6th in the table.

I do expect Sheffield Wednesday to have a little bit too much for Burton Albion on Tuesday, although they have to try and break down their visitors as early as possible. Consecutive away clean sheets will have given Burton Albion confidence, but they were beaten 4-1 at Brighton not that long ago and Sheffield Wednesday are considerably stronger at home than they have proven to be on their travels.

Sheffield Wednesday should be able to find a way to break through the Burton Albion defences and they can earn the three points in this one.

Reading v Newcastle United Pick: The last seven days might be looked back as the key time of the season for Newcastle United in their bid to earn promotion back to the Premier League and the players have responded to the big games they have faced. There was an element of fortune in the 1-2 win at Brighton last week, but the 1-3 win at Huddersfield Town was plenty impressive and Newcastle United have to be confident.

The games don't get any easier for The Magpies who travel to Reading before hosting Fulham in the coming days, but the results achieved has to make Newcastle United believe they can win here.

Reading have been very good at The Majedski Stadium all season and have won 4 of their last 5 games here which should mean they won't be afraid of hosting Newcastle United. They are in a strange position where a win might see Reading still get back into the automatic promotion push, but a defeat could see them under pressure from Fulham for a place in the top six.

They have been strong at home to think they can score against Newcastle United, but preventing the quality at the other end has proved tough for teams in recent weeks. Newcastle United have scored at least twice at Brighton, Huddersfield Town and Norwich City in consecutive away games and that just shows they are a team that are too good for this level.

I expect Reading to play a part in this one too and I am going to back goals for the third Newcastle United away game in a row. They have obliged the first two times and have shown they are capable of scoring plenty of goals, but will give Reading a couple of chances too.

At odds against, I will back there being at least three goals in this one.

APOEL v Anderlecht Pick: The oddsmakers are finding it difficult to separate APOEL and Anderlecht in the First Leg of this Last 16 Europa League tie and I do imagine it is going to be a tight game between these clubs.

Both will know it is a long shot for them to win the Europa League, but the chance to potentially play a Quarter Final against the likes of Manchester United, Roma or Lyon cannot be understated. That is the kind of occasion APOEL and Anderlecht don't get to play too often and will certainly inspire the players to produce their best over the next seven days.

I have to say I do edge towards APOEL in the First Leg with home advantage likely to be a big key in both Legs of the tie. APOEL have won all 4 home games in the Europa League and also won 2 in the Champions League Qualifiers, while Anderlecht have been a little more inconsistent away from home.

Anderlecht do have some positive results away from home with the loss at Zenit St Petersburg snapping their 5 game unbeaten run on their travels in European competition this season. Many teams would struggle when travelling to Zenit St Petersburg, but I do think APOEL's win over Athletic Bilbao here is very impressive.

Backing the home team on the Asian Handicap which would return the stake in case of a draw looks a decent way to get behind APOEL at a big price here. This will likely be a close First Leg, but APOEL can make being at home count and can take a narrow lead to Belgium next week.

Rostov v Manchester United Pick: The Europa League has taken on extra importance for Manchester United as they continue to find it difficult to break into the top four of the Premier League with inconsistent results at Old Trafford holding them back. Make no mistake about it, getting back into the Champions League is the only goal for Jose Mourinho this season and he won't care how Manchester United do that.

It does begin to feel like the Europa League might be the best avenue back into the top competition of European football for Manchester United. But those suggesting this is a good draw in the Last 16 against Rostov might be sorely mistaken in believing there is only going to be one winner in the tie.

Rostov have to be respected simply for the fact they have beaten Bayern Munich here this season in the Champions League, although the German giants are playing much better now than they were pre-Christmas. That is one of 3 wins for Rostov at home out of their 6 European games and only Atletico Madrid have left this part of Russia with a victory.

Over two Legs I do think Manchester United will be too good, but this is a tough away game for the side and I can't have them at odds on to win.

Instead I am looking for the First Leg to provide at least three goals despite the Rostov pitch not being in the greatest condition. Goals have flown at this ground all season in European competition as 5 of the 6 Rostov home games have ended with at least three goals shared out.

Rostov themselves have scored at least twice in every home game in Europe aside from the defeat to Atletico Madrid, and this is a good list for Rostov to have scored against when you note it is Anderlecht, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Bayern Munich and Sparta Prague.

It should also be noted that Rostov did not have a clean sheet in their home European games until they beat Sparta Prague in the Last 32 and half of their 6 home games have seen them concede at least twice.

Everything does point to goals with both teams likely to hit the net in this one and I do think the Second Leg at Old Trafford will be a live game. Whatever way you look at it, at least three goals being shared out by these teams at odds against looks a big price when you consider how Rostov games have developed even if Manchester United away games have not been free-scoring games.

Gent v Genk Pick: This is a big game for these two teams from Belgium as both would have felt this tie is the most winnable one for them in the Last 16 of the Europa League. Gent and Genk don't have too many opportunities to reach a Quarter Final of a major European competition and so this Last 16 tie has to have raised importance for both.

Initially finishing in the top six in Belgium and playing in the Championship Round would have been the motivation, but Genk are out of contention for those places. Gent, on the other hand, have a big game on Sunday that they have to win to guarantee their place in the top six and they did play a weakened team in the Last 32 against Tottenham Hotspur to ensure they finish high enough in the Belgian top flight.

I don't anticipate that will be the case in this First Leg though as Gent can fight on two fronts over the next two weeks and being at home in the First Leg is very important. Win the next two home games and Gent could be in line for a hugely successful season and I do think they can earn a lead in the First Leg.

Genk have lost some key players in January and I think their goal will be to stay in the tie in the First Leg. They have failed to score in their last 4 visits to Gent though and have already lost here once this season.

I believe the home team will win this one too and I will back Gent to earn a First Leg lead at just under odds against prices.

Olympiacos v Besiktas Pick: The layers have priced up Olympiacos as the favourite in this First Leg but it is Besiktas who come into the Last 16 tie as the favourites to progress to the Quarter Final of the Europa League.

I will admit that I was looking for a couple of ways to back Besiktas in the First Leg as I am convinced they can get a result in Greece. Olympiacos have a poor recent home record in European competition and they are also coming into this one having won just 1 of their last 4 games at home in all competitions.

The problem in backing Besiktas here is that they have been a little erratic away from home in Europe. They have won in Napoli and Hapoel Be'er Sheva, but Besiktas lost 6-0 in Dynamo Kiev which is a result that can be hard to ignore.

I did consider backing Besiktas with the 0.25 start on the Asian Handicap, but 5 of the last 8 Olympiacos home European games have ended in draws. With that in mind I am going to have a small interest in this First Leg ending in a draw which will put Besiktas in a commanding position in the tie.

Both teams should have their chances, but I can see them cancelling each other out in Greece and backing the draw looks the most likely result.

Schalke v Borussia Monchengladbach Pick: Once you reach the Last 16 of the Europa League, country protection is out of the window and that is why we have two German sides meeting at this Stage of the competition. Both Schalke and Borussia Monchengladbach may have been amongst the favourites to win the Europa League if they had not been drawn against one another.

The two League games between these teams were very entertaining in terms of goals scored including just last Saturday when Borussia Monchengladbach beat Schalke 4-2 at home. The reverse fixture had seen Schalke come away with a 4-0 win and having won 3 of their last 4 games at home against Borussia Monchengladbach will mean they should be confident they can take a lead into the Second Leg.

Recent form suggests otherwise though as Schalke have just hit a poor patch of results compared with Borussia Monchengladbach who have won 4 in a row in all competitions. Borussia Monchengladbach have been scoring plenty of goals in that time and they have also won their last 6 away games in all competitions which makes them dangerous.

However Schalke will recognise that the Borussia Monchengladbach defensive vulnerabilities have to be attacked and I can see both managers setting out their teams to get forward and score goals. I am anticipating both Legs to be very entertaining in terms of chances created and goals scored and so I am a little surprised the oddsmakers are offering prices close to odds against for three goals to be shared out.

Despite the Knock Out nature of this tie, I can't imagine either team will change their style too much and that should lead to both teams having their opportunities to score goals.

5 of the last 7 between Schalke and Borussia Monchengladbach have ended with at least three goals shared out including both this season. The last 2 in Schalke have also featured at least three goals shared out and I am going to back this First Leg to end up the same way.

MY PICKS: Arsenal + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet365 (2 Units)
Napoli-Real Madrid Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.20 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Barcelona - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet365 (2 Units)
Borussia Dortmund - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.09 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Blackburn Rovers 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town @ 2.05 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Nottingham Forest-Brentford Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Sheffield Wednesday @ 1.73 Bet365 (2 Units)
Reading-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
APOEL 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)
Rostov-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Gent @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Olympiacos-Besiktas Draw @ 3.30 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Schalke-Borussia Monchengladbach Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

March Update: 8-6-1, + 6.12 Units (30 Units Staked, + 20.40% 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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