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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (May 9-11)

We are now getting down to the final weeks of the domestic season in European Football and that means we will get to see the Champions League and Europa League Finals set by the end of Thursday evening.

To be honest, the Champions League Final is basically already decided with Juventus and Real Madrid holding historically big leads in their Semi Final Second Legs and those two clubs could provide a real spectacle come June 3rd.

The Europa League Final is less secure despite the leads Ajax and Manchester United have from the First Leg as they are playing two dangerous opponents. That Final is set for the 24th May in Stockholm and looks to be the best chance for Manchester United to be playing Champions League Football next season.

One make up Premier League game is also set for this week before we get into the penultimate weekend of the domestic League season in the big European Leagues which begins on Friday.

Juventus v Monaco Pick: It was a pretty impressive performance from Juventus all around in their 0-2 win in Monaco last week and the expectation is that they will be too good when the teams meet for the Second Leg. This feels like a chance to salvage some pride for Monaco than a realistic bid to overturn the deficit from the First Leg as they are facing a team protecting an 18 game unbeaten run at home in the Champions League and who haven't been beaten at home in any competition since August 2015.

The young players of Monaco will be looking to display their talent with a lot more effectiveness than they showed last week and keep impressing teams around Europe. Last week they missed the clinical edge they have displayed over the last few months, but they did have some opportunities against a veteran Juventus defence.

Ultimately I can't see Monaco preventing Juventus from scoring at home and I do think the way Juventus played last week is going to be copied as they look to exploit Monaco on the counter attack. That will be more evident the longer the game goes on and Monaco begin to push more and more men forward and I would be concerned that their last couple of away defeats have both come while conceding five times in each.

I don't think Juventus will take too many risks though and will be happy to see the chances come when they do rather than actively pursuing those chances to win by a wide margin. They rely very much on making sure they are not going to offer Monaco too much encouragement and will be looking to keep the run of clean sheets going, although I am expecting Monaco to be a little more ruthless when the chances do come their way this time.

Last week I did think there would be three goals shared out by these teams and that only came up short thanks to some solid last ditch defending from Juventus. Things will likely open up at some point in this one again and this time I am looking for the teams to combine for at least one more strike in the Second Leg.

Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid Pick: No team has ever come back from a two goal deficit after the First Leg to win a European Cup Semi Final and it would be a huge shock if Atletico Madrid are able to turn around their 3-0 loss to Real Madrid last week. Pride is still a big factor but I have to say I was largely disappointed with the attitude of the Atletico Madrid players in the defeat in the First Leg as they showed little to no belief of their chances of beating Real Madrid.

A lot will have had to changed for them to make this a much more competitive Second Leg, although I do think Atletico Madrid can't possibly play as badly as the First Leg. Maybe Atletico Madrid can relax and play with a 'nothing to lose' attitude, but it does feel they have to play a more open style than they are used to and that is where Real Madrid can take advantage of them.

Real Madrid will sit back and wait to hit Atletico Madrid on the counter and there will be a few occasions when they are able to exploit gaps left behind.

They have already won convincingly here once this season and Real Madrid were able to rest the majority of their big names for the League win at Granada at the weekend. That should mean they are capable of producing another strong performance and I think Real Madrid will have the opportunities to win the Second Leg unless Atletico Madrid are going to play this game without really believing they can move into the Final.

In that case Atletico Madrid might prove a stubborn nut to crack, but I have to think the home fans will urge their team to try and get forward and pressure their rivals in the Second Leg. That could see Real Madrid score a late goal to secure a win here and I think they can be backed at the prices even though they don't 'need' to win the game.

The price factors in the lack of a 'need' for Real Madrid and I think that makes it attractive enough to back the defending Champions League Winners to win the Second Leg.

Lyon v Ajax Pick: There is a lot of pressure on Lyon to put themselves into a position to turn around the First Leg deficit with this being the only avenue back into the Champions League for them. If this was closer, Lyon would feel very confident at home, but the pressure of overturning a three goal deficit is much harder to judge.

No one will dispute Ajax are not the same force on their travels as they have tended to be at home, while a young team are not as experienced as some of those Lyon can count upon. However they have shown they can express themselves away from Amsterdam and the feeling is that Ajax do have enough to score here especially if Lyon defend as poorly as they did in the First Leg.

On the other hand, Ajax have conceded at least twice in half of their 8 away European games this season including in the last two Rounds at Copenhagen and Schalke. That will encourage Lyon to get forward considering they have scored at least three times in half of their 6 home European games and perhaps there will be some life in this tie.

The first goal is going to be key and I can see this being another open Semi Final tie like the one in Amsterdam was. I did consider backing Lyon to win a high-scoring game, but I think there is enough here to believe Ajax can cause some problems especially on the counter when Lyon get desperate and they could score some goals when exploiting gaps left behind.

I would be really surprised if both teams don't score here and I can see them coming close to match the goal output of last week, but will simply look for the two teams to combine for at least four goals on Thursday.

Manchester United v Celta Vigo Pick: The remaining games in the Premier League are no longer the concern for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United with their best chance of getting into the Champions League coming by winning the Europa League. It was clear from the team picked against Arsenal that Manchester United have had an eye on this Second Leg and that should mean fatigue is not really a ready made excuse.

Manchester United played really well in Spain for large portions of that First Leg and only some poor finishing prevented them from returning to Manchester with one foot in the Europa League Final. Now there is still some pressure on the favourites as a Celta Vigo goal would level up the tie instead of having some margin of comfort, but the chances created in Spain has to encourage Mourinho.

A line up with the likes of Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly and Paul Pogba all with a week of rest under their legs is likely to be too good for Celta Vigo. It has been difficult for Celta Vigo to turn the switch on and off for Europa League games when they have not been taking their League games seriously and they did look a little out of their depth last week.

This is a team that still needs to be respected having won at Real Madrid while knocking them out of the Copa Del Rey and Celta Vigo also overcame a 0-1 First Leg loss at home to beat Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League. They will feel they can create chances, but their one away loss in the Europa League at Ajax saw Celta Vigo outplayed.

The 3-2 scoreline flatters them on that day and I think Manchester United will have the better of the chances and just have to show more clinical finishing in front of goal. They had enough to win easily in Spain and Manchester United have been better in the Europa League with the starting eleven likely to feel rested and ready to go in this one.

It is not always in Mourinho's nature to take unnecessary risks so you can see Manchester United perhaps sitting back a little if they do take the lead in the Second Leg. However I think Manchester United will have enough chances to hit Celta Vigo on the counter attack in this one to create more opportunities in front of goal and I think they move into the Europa League Final with an impressive Second Leg win.

Southampton v Arsenal Pick: Both Southampton and Arsenal are not exactly firing in their best form at the moment despite the positive results both achieved on Sunday in the Premier League. I have to say that there are some big questions for both teams to answer going into this Wednesday Premier League game, but regardless I am stunned by Arsenal being a short favourite to win at St Mary's.

Yes Arsenal beat a distracted Manchester United 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium to get their top four ambitions back on track, thanks partly to Southampton earning a goalless draw at Liverpool earlier in the day. However they have been very poor away from home in recent weeks and 5 losses from their last 6 Premier League away games is not going to encourage anybody to back a team at just over odds against.

The problem is Southampton have looked really poor in recent games as the season winds down for them and they have not won any of their last 4 League games. Both Manchester City and Chelsea hammered Southampton, while they have not scored in 3 of their last 4 Premier League games.

Defensively they have looked good enough in the last couple of games, but they will be tested by Arsenal. On the other hand, a more positive approach from Southampton is likely to give them every chance in this one against an Arsenal team who have been beaten at the likes of West Brom and Crystal Palace in recent Premier League games and were rocking at Middlesbrough.

Prior to the FA Cup loss to Arsenal in January, Southampton have had a strong recent home record against The Gunners. I don't think Arsenal are as good as the oddsmakers clearly believe they are and even a demotivated Southampton team can raise their game for the visit on Wednesday.

Fatigue could be a factor for both teams, but I am going to take Southampton with the start on the Asian Handicap to avoid defeat.

MY PICKS: Juventus-Monaco Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.90 Bet365 (2 Units)
Real Madrid @ 2.70 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Lyon-Ajax Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.99 Bet365 (2 Units)
Southampton + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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