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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (May 2-4)

The Champions League and Europa League Semi Final ties begin this week and I have my picks below from the four games to come over the next three days.

Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid Pick: Games between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have been highly competitive ever since the latter have made some significant improvements under Diego Simeone. Atletico Madrid have won the League title and reached two Champions League Finals under Simeone in recent years, but they have yet to get the better of Real Madrid in this competition.

1 defeat in 6 visits to Real Madrid would impress the biggest of European clubs and it will give Atletico Madrid the confidence to believe they can set themselves up for a huge Second Leg in front of their own fans.

However it is Real Madrid who have beaten Atletico Madrid in each of the last three seasons in the Champions League with two of those victories coming in the Champions League Final. There were chances for Atletico Madrid to win all four ties against Real Madrid in that time, but they have lost half of the games against Real Madrid including a 1-0 loss here in the 2015 Quarter Final.

It would be a huge surprise if this First Leg does not go the way that most of us will imagine- that is Atletico Madrid making things really difficult for Real Madrid and hoping to catch them on the counter while keeping the tie alive for the Second Leg. The players are very much aware of what their individual job is here and it is perhaps no surprise that the last 3 here between these teams have ended with fewer than three goals shared out.

I was very close to picking Atletico Madrid to avoid a loss here, and at odds against that was tempting. However I think that is almost certainly mutually exclusive with the chance of seeing less than three goals shared out and in that case I do have the 1-0 or 2-0 Real Madrid wins on my side.

6 of the last 7 overall between these teams have ended with less than three goals shared out and I will back that to be the outcome of this First Leg.

Monaco v Juventus Pick: Both Monaco and Juventus have produced some top performances in the Champions League this season, but it still feels like a tie between the experience of the Juventus backline and the youth and pace Monaco bring in the final third.

Over the two Legs I am expecting Juventus might be able to 'vet' Monaco with their experience vital, but Monaco are playing with a freedom that is hard to ignore. They get after teams early and force them onto the back foot and that is going to be important for Monaco in this First Leg as they bid to have some sort of lead to take to Turin next week.

Having a lead is important for Monaco who have been a little more inconsistent away from home. They have won 13 in a row here in all competitions and Monaco have won 6 of their 7 home Champions League games while scoring at least twice in 5 of those.

Tiredness has been a factor in the second half of their games in this competition though and that has seen the weak defence exposed. I certainly think Juventus will show more attacking intent than Italian sides tend to in away European ties at this level, and I do think Juventus can create chances either on the break or when Monaco just slow down.

On the other hand, I do believe this Monaco team are being under-rated as the home underdog in another Champions League game. That happened against Borussia Dortmund and it was still a game Monaco were able to win with some comfort and I imagine Monaco will have their backers.

However I think the chance of seeing at least three goals looks under-rated because I do believe Monaco will create chances. As well as Juventus did to keep two clean sheets against Barcelona, most who saw that game will recognise the amount of clear cut opportunities the Catalan club had, and Monaco have shown they can be clinical in front of goal.

At some stage I would expect Juventus to get forward too and I am going to take the option of at least three goals to be shared out here in the first of what could be two cracking Semi Final Legs.

Ajax v Lyon Pick: This is a really interesting looking Semi Final with Lyon perhaps being a club that has underachieved in all competitions outside of the Europa League and now facing a well rested Ajax team who have to overcome the disappointment of likely losing the Dutch title in the final weeks of the season.

Both will see the Europa League as a truly winnable competition that will make it a successful season and I am anticipating two tight ties over the next eight days.

Lyon have been the second favourite to win the Europa League behind Manchester United almost as soon as they dropped out of the Champions League. They were looking pretty good a few weeks ago, but the last couple of months have been much more difficult for them and losing games at Roma and Besiktas shows some vulnerabilities.

Those two teams are better than Ajax, but the latter have won 20 out of 21 home games in all competitions including all 6 in the Europa League. The win over Schalke was particularly impressive and having two weeks of rest since the 1-0 loss at PSV Eindhoven will help the home team.

This has all the makings of a close tie, but I am favouring Ajax in the First Leg considering they have been stronger at home and will be pushing for a lead. Add in the fact Lyon have lost 6 of their last 12 away games in all competitions and have lost back to back away Europa League games and you can see why I want to back the Dutch side in this one.

I still have enough respect for Lyon to look to favour Ajax on the Asian Handicap which will at least return half the stakes if the First Leg does end in a draw. That is because Ajax have had a couple of tough losses and might have lost a bit of confidence, but they have been so good at the Amsterdam Arena that I do expect them to have some sort of lead to take to France next week.

Celta Vigo v Manchester United Pick: All four teams left in the Europa League should be fully focused on trying to win the competition and even favourites Manchester United look vulnerable. The injury issues in defensive positions leaves Manchester United in a tough spot as they try to get back into the Champions League and those issues are ones that Celta Vigo will feel they can fully exploit.

Playing attacking football at home will make Celta Vigo dangerous and I wouldn't be fooled by the British media writing them off nor their inconsistent domestic form. Recent results in Spain are based on a team making wholesale changes to keep the key figures ready for the Europa League, while Celta Vigo have beaten Barcelona 4-3 and drawn with Real Madrid 2-2 here.

The goals they can score have been evident in their wins over Krasnodar and Genk in the last two Rounds and I would think Celta Vigo know their best chance to win this Semi Final is putting Manchester United under pressure at home.

There are some tired legs in the Manchester United line up, and defensively they could have some real problems in the First Leg. However they have had three days rest this time and the younger players should give them the pace in the forward areas to cause problems of their own.

Jose Mourinho may be a 'safety first' kind of manager in these Knock Out ties in European competition and has experience of guiding teams to positive results away from home. I have a feeling he may have to be a little more proactive in this one with the defenders he will likely be missing for the fixture and that might see a very entertaining First Leg produced.

Both teams can play their part in that and the chance of seeing at least three goals seems to be underestimated by the layers in this one. The last 2 here in the Europa League have hit that number and Celta Vigo will likely offer enough going forward to challenge Manchester United, but also could be vulnerable to the counter attack.

The 1-1 is the one result that potentially scuppers the pick in my opinion, but I think one of the teams will have a lead in the Second Leg after a decent game is produced.

MY PICKS: Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Monaco-Juventus Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Ajax - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.04 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Celta Vigo-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.45 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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