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Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (April 11-13)

The Champions League and Europa League Quarter Final First Leg ties are going to be played from Tuesday through to Thursday this week ahead of the Easter Weekend.

No one can deny the standard of the Champions League Quarter Final ties which should also give us four very competitive teams moving into the Semi Final of that competition with both of those Legs scheduled for early May.

The Europa League might not have the same level of European names outside of Manchester United, Ajax and Lyon, but all four ties look decent enough on paper and it should be a strong couple of weeks.

This week I will first have the Champions League Picks up and will add the Europa League Picks either on Tuesday evening or Wednesday.

Borussia Dortmund v Monaco Pick: Two of the trendy teams in the Champions League over the last few seasons meet in a big Quarter Final which both Borussia Dortmund and Monaco will feel they should be favoured to win. Once you get through this Round, only three more matches separate a team from the Champions League title and this has the makings of an all time classic Quarter Final tie.

Neither manager or team or any fans around Europe are going to be expecting a couple of low-scoring games between two teams who have combined for over 220 goals in the 2016/17 season.

Both teams play with the same style regardless of who is in front of them and I am not surprised that the oddsmakers are giving nothing away when it comes to seeing at least three goals in this one. I think there is every chance we are going to see something similar to when Monaco faced Manchester City, and I do think Borussia Dortmund will have the edge in the home Leg.

Monaco have lost on their last 2 away Champions League games and they have conceded at least three times in both of those losses. While they have showed some really impressive attacking intent, Monaco have looked vulnerable defensively and a team like Borussia Dortmund will create chances throughout the ninety minutes.

I do believe the absence of Timoue Bakayoko could be huge for Monaco, while the French League leaders have shown they can perhaps wear down from the initial energy levels they have been able to display. That was evident in both Legs against Manchester City and Monaco have already taken one heavy loss in Germany when beaten 3-0 at Bayer Leverkusen.

They don't travel as well as you would like for a team in the Champions League Quarter Final and I am expecting Borussia Dortmund to have a lead to take into the Second Leg. I am expecting goals too with Borussia Dortmund unlikely to take a backward step in this one and instead focus on putting themselves in a commanding position in the tie, while Monaco have shown they can play a part in these big time fixtures too.

Backing Borussia Dortmund to win a game in which there are at least three goals featured is odds against and I will back that to be the outcome from this First Leg.

Juventus v Barcelona Pick: All four of the Champions League Quarter Final ties have some intrigue around them, but you would have to put the ties between Juventus and Barcelona and Bayern Munich and Real Madrid right at the top of the list. The winner of those two Quarter Final ties will believe they can go on and win the Champions League and will certainly lead the markets prior to the Semi Final draw.

First up on Tuesday is the First Leg in Turin as Juventus look to not only maintain their unbeaten record in their new Stadium in European Football, but also to find a way to take a lead to Barcelona next week. An unbeaten run sounds brilliant, but Juventus have drawn 4 of their last 8 home Champions League fixtures and you do wonder if they would be content with a draw to take to the Nou Camp for the Second Leg.

However there is a feeling this current Barcelona team are perhaps more vulnerable than many they have sent out over the last few seasons. Any team with Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi will be dangerous going forward, but Barcelona have not looked comfortable defensively and miss an important figure in Sergio Busquets for the First Leg.

Barcelona have lost away Champions League games at Atletico Madrid, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain since the Quarter Final Round last season. Wins in Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic have also been achieved in that time, but those losses will certainly be at the back of the mind of the players and ones that Juventus must use as an encouragement.

The Catalan club have also lost 3 of their last 5 away games overall as they have slipped up at Paris Saint-Germain, Deportivo La Coruna and Malaga while conceding at least twice in each of those games. 

Juventus have plenty of experience at this level and a brave performance can see them replicate their win over Real Madrid in the Semi Final here in 2015. The days of expecting a negative Italian performance have long been behind us and I do think Juventus will look to get forward and create chances while having full belief in their own defensive organisation to find a way to contain the quality 'MSN' forward three Barcelona will rely on.

You have to feel that Juventus will create their chances in this fixture against a Barcelona backline that have not looked secure for much of the last twelve months. Juventus themselves do have a team that will produce solid defensive organisation when they need to and I am going to back the Italian Champions to have a lead to take into the Second Leg in what could be a fascinating First Leg in Turin.

Atletico Madrid v Leicester City Pick: There might be a few Leicester City fans who have had a little flutter on their team going on and winning the Champions League as their side have begun to look more like the one that won the Premier League title last season. After the success of last season, no one will want to disrespect the Leicester City chances to surprise again, but this would be a huge achievement in beating an Atletico Madrid team who have reached the Champions League Final twice in the last three seasons.

Diego Simeone's side have begun to play much better football in recent weeks themselves and so we should have two teams at their peak in this First Leg.

Unsurprisingly the oddsmakers are giving nothing away with the Atletico Madrid price and I do think they will have a little too much for Leicester City. As well as Leicester City have played of late, they haven't met too many of the better teams in the Premier League in England and this is a big step up from the majority of teams they will see at home.

Atletico Madrid are not likely to blow teams away and Simeone won't be afraid of sending his team out at The King Power Stadium next week to score away goals. Instead his main focus has to be preventing Leicester City grabbing an away goal of their own in the First Leg and that has been the foundation for the Atletico Madrid success in the Champions League.

Since their return to the Champions League in the 2013/14 season, Atletico Madrid have won 16 of 21 home games and they have had 17 clean sheets. The side have had 8 consecutive clean sheets at home in the Knock Out Round of the Champions League which has been a big reason for their success and I don't think they will offer the counter attacking spaces that Sevilla did against Leicester City in the Last 16.

Scoring goals hasn't been an issue for Leicester City in their recent games since Craig Shakespeare took over as manager and that does make them dangerous. However I again state my belief that Simeone will not allow his team to leave those spaces and he has shown that he is willing to take his chances with a goalless draw in Knock Out ties at home.

4 of the last 7 Atletico Madrid home Legs in the Knock Out Stage of the Champions League have ended goalless, but I do think they will score in this one. There is enough quality in the final third for Atletico Madrid to earn a lead to take to England next week in the Second Leg and Leicester City have not been looking secure defensively.

Despite that attacking quality, Atletico Madrid have not scored more than two goals in 14 of their last 17 home games in the Champions League. Most of those have come against much stronger teams than Leicester City, but I am not anticipating Atletico Madrid to go for the kill in the First Leg and take too many risks, while Craig Shakespeare will just want to stay in touch with the opponents for the Second Leg.

It does feel like the most likely result is Atletico Madrid winning this 1-0 or 2-0 and I will back the Spanish side to have a lead going into the Second Leg by winning this one with a clean sheet.

Bayern Munich v Real Madrid Pick: Two of European Football's biggest names meet in a titanic Quarter Final in the Champions League this season and the First Leg will come from Munich on Wednesday. The winner of the Bayern Munich versus Real Madrid Quarter Final might actually be the favourite to win the entire competition and that brings its own tensions.

Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have met on 10 previous occasions in Knock Out European Football and it was Bayern Munich who led 5-4 in terms of going through prior to the 2014 Semi Final. That saw Real Madrid win 5-0 on aggregate, but it was Carlo Ancelotti who was managing in the away dugout that day and this time around the Italian will be behind Bayern Munich.

There is so much to admire about both teams when they go forward, but the vulnerabilities defensively makes this an exciting tie. Bayern Munich have scored at least three goals in their last 6 home games in all competitions and they have won 15 of 16 games here, and they have also won 16 of their last 17 Champions League games in front of their own fans.

Goals haven't been an issue for Bayern Munich, but the same can be said for Real Madrid who have won their last 5 away games in all competitions and have scored at least two goals in each of those. Real Madrid have also scored at least twice in all 4 away games in the Champions League this season which includes a 2-2 draw in Borussia Dortmund and they have only lost 1 of their last 10 away Champions League games.

That loss did come in the Quarter Final in Germany last season when Real Madrid lost the First Leg 2-0 at Wolfsburg, but it is difficult to see Real Madrid failing to score in this one. Mats Hummels, Pepe and Raphael Varane are some big name defenders that likely won't play in the First Leg and I fully expect at least three goals to be shared out between the teams on Wednesday.

Picking a winner is more difficult, but I am leaning towards Bayern Munich having some sort of lead to take to Spain for the Second Leg next Tuesday. They have been scoring plenty of goals at home and Ancelotti should be familiar enough with the majority of the Real Madrid players to help Bayern Munich find the right tactics to secure a lead in this one.

All four of the Champions League Quarter Finals have some major stories around them to excite the fans, but I do think this has the most on the line with the winning team likely the favourites to win the competition. I do think it will be decided in the Second Leg, but I am going to back Bayern Munich to earn the lead from the First Leg in what could be a high-scoring tie. You can back Bayern Munich to win in a game that features at least three goals at a decent price and that looks to be the play in this First Leg.

Ajax v Schalke PickThe Europa League might be headed at the market by Manchester United, but all eight teams left in the competition will believe they can on and win the trophy in Stockholm next month. Both Ajax and Schalke will feel they have overcome a big obstacle if they can come through this Quarter Final tie, but there is every chance it is going to go deep into the Second Leg before things are decided.

The First Leg is going to be key for Ajax who have used the Amsterdam Arena as the foundation for their successful run through to the Quarter Final. They have won all 5 games played here in the Europa League and Ajax have reached their first Quarter Final since the 2003 Champions League season.

No one in the Ajax squad will believe this is anything but the biggest test they have faced in the competition as Schalke have proved to be difficult to beat in the Europa League. They have been inconsistent in Germany, but Schalke have only lost 1 of their last 10 away European games and avoiding defeat here would make them a big favourite to progress to the Semi Final next month.

The oddsmakers are anticipating a close First Leg and I don't think there will be a lot between them. Ajax have only conceded 3 goals in their last 8 home games in all competitions and they have won all of those games, while they have also kept clean sheets in 4 of their 5 home games in the Europa League with wins in each of those too.

Schalke have found goals in the 2 away Knock Out ties in the Europa League this season and have some impressive wins at PAOK and Nice behind them. They should be able to have their moments in this one too, but I am going to have a small interest in Ajax to pick up a win in the First Leg.

I will keep the stakes to a minimum in this one because of the respect I have for Schalke and the performances they have produced in European competition over the last eighteen months. However, I do think the Ajax camp will take a risk or two to ensure they have some kind of lead to take to Germany next Thursday and I will back them to get that.

Anderlecht v Manchester United Pick: The oddsmakers are unlikely to take too many chances with the Manchester United prices for individual games in the Europa League for as long as they remain in the competition. They are barely touching odds against to win the First Leg in Brussels this week and that does look short when you consider how well Anderlecht have played at home in the Europa League this season.

Anderlecht have won 4 of their 5 home games in the competition including beating Zenit St Petersburg, but this is by far the biggest test they will have faced at home. Failing to win here will make things incredibly difficult for Anderlecht in the Second Leg at Old Trafford next week and that should be on display in the First Leg.

They are a team that will like to get forward and attack and will believe they can expose one or two vulnerabilities that Manchester United have displayed. Anderlecht have to be hoping there are a couple of tired legs in the away side but it does look a big ask for them to beat Manchester United over two Legs.

Jose Mourinho has so much experience of Knock Out European Football that you would imagine he sets up a solid Manchester United team who will be looking to do their damage on the counter attack to take a lead into the Second Leg at Old Trafford. The away performances in the last 3 Europa League games have been very professional from Manchester United and that has seen them keep a couple of clean sheets which is what Mourinho will be looking for in Brussels.

I did consider backing at least three goals to be shared out by the teams as Anderlecht have produced goals at home. Even their loss in the Europa League came in a game where they were leading 2-0 at home before falling into a 2-3 defeat against St Etienne.

However Manchester United are the best team they have faced this season and I would expect that to make a difference here. Mourinho won't want an open game and I think that will make things difficult for Anderlecht, while Rostov did win 0-2 here in the Champions League Qualifiers and Shakhtar Donetsk won 0-1 here in the Europa League Last 16 in the 2015/16 season.

I did mention the Manchester United price might be a little short because I do think the manager would accept a 1-1 kind of score before the game kicks off. However Manchester United do look a much stronger team on paper and I think they can weather an early storm before producing enough quality in the final third to produce a First Leg win to set up an 'easier' day in the office in seven days time when they host Anderlecht in the Second Leg.

Celta Vigo v Genk Pick: This is a huge opportunity for both Celta Vigo and Genk to make it through to the Semi Final of a major European competition and it could be an entertaining tie over both Legs. While Genk have lost some key players in the January transfer window, they will be playing with house money and looking to shift all the pressure and expectation onto their opponents.

Most will be expecting Celta Vigo to be too strong over two Legs, but I don't think they will have things all their own way. They have been inconsistent in Spain all season and they have won just 2 of their 5 home Europa League ties this season while conceding in the last 4 in a row.

That is a vulnerability that Genk will be looking to expose as they have scored at least twice in 7 straight away games in the Europa League. That includes in a 5-3 loss at Athletic Bilbao in the Group Stage, but the indication is that Genk will not take a backward step in this one as they look to take an away goal, or two, back to Belgium for the Second Leg next week.

While they have shown they can find their way to goal Genk have also conceded at least twice in 6 of their 8 away Europa League games this season. That includes in both Knock Out ties after Christmas and this is a team that also conceded three at Rapid Vienna and five at Athletic Bilbao in the Group.

It does feel like this Quarter Final could produce a number of goals in both the First and Second Leg of the tie and I am anticipating goals on Thursday. Both teams have every chance of getting on the scoreboard during the First Leg and neither has looked good enough defensively which suggests attack could be the best form of defence.

The goals have certainly flowed in the Genk away games in the Europa League this season and I do think we will see at least three shared out in this one too. Backing that is a little under odds against and I will look for the First Leg to surpass the total.

Lyon v Besiktas Pick: The best looking tie of the Europa League Quarter Finals looks to be the one between Lyon and Besiktas who both entered this competition having finished 3rd in their respective Champions League Groups prior to Christmas. They are two of four teams left in the Europa League who have started this season in the Champions League and the winner of this tie will have plenty of confidence in going all of the way.

The teams falling out of the Champions League have had a big impact on the Europa League with 10 of the last 18 Finalists actually teams who had begun in the Champions League. In fact half of the last eight Europa League winners are teams who begun in the Champions League so both Lyon and Besiktas will feel they are removing a big team on their path to winning the trophy.

Picking a winner in the tie is much more difficult than the initial gut feeling may suggest. Immediately most would have picked Lyon to come through with the bigger European performances in recent years, but Besiktas have shown toughness already by drawing in Benfica and Olympiacos and beating a Napoli team who have shown how good they can be.

Those results are impressive, but Lyon have been scoring plenty of goals both in France and in European competition which has placed them behind Manchester United as favourites to win the competition. They had recently won 6 straight games at home while scoring at least four times in each and that includes thumping AZ Alkmaar 7-1 and Roma 4-2 in the Europa League Knock Out Stage.

The 6-0 defeat Besiktas suffered in Dynamo Kiev then becomes the stand out result and will perhaps have some leaning towards Lyon winning the First Leg with room to spare. However Besiktas have drawn in Benfica and beat Napoli 2-3 which shows a side that can score away goals and will pose a threat to a Lyon defence who have kept 3 clean sheets from their last 9 home games in all competitions.

The manner in which Lyon approach games suggest Besiktas will find spaces in this one, but I also think the home team will be confident they can score the goals to win the First Leg. It isn't a surprise to me that the oddsmakers have shortened the prices on both teams to score and over 2.5 goals to be shared out as I do think there is every chance both markets are hit.

I don't think this tie will be decided in the First Leg in France, but I do believe Lyon will bounce back from the home loss to Lorient and get back to winning ways here. The goals they have scored at home will cause problems for Besiktas and you can back Lyon to win this game with at least three goals shared out at odds against.

That feels the best way to approach the game as Lyon have showed they can be vulnerable defensively, but also have the capability of hitting the total by themselves. I think home advantage will count for Lyon in the First Leg and that will be my pick from the fixture to be played on Thursday.

MY PICKS: Borussia Dortmund to Win & Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 William Hill (2 Units)
Juventus @ 2.75 Bet365 (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid Win to Nil @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Bayern Munich to Win & Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Ajax @ 2.62 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Manchester United @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Celta Vigo-Genk Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Lyon to Win & Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Coral (2 Units)

April Update14-13, - 0.92 Units (54 Units Staked, - 1.70% Yield)

March Final39-40-3, + 6.64 Units (157 Units Staked, + 4.23% 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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