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Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (September 26-28)

We are just days away from the second international break in the 2017/18 season, but there is plenty of football to come over the next six days.

It all begins with Match Day 2 in the Champions League and Europa League over the coming three days before the final round of domestic football before the final World Cup Qualifiers begin next Thursday.

The next few months are going to be very busy for all the teams in the top European Leagues and that makes trying to earn Qualification out of the Groups as quickly as possible the key for the clubs playing in the Champions League and Europa League.

That is exactly what the managers of the English clubs will be preaching over the next month as Match Day 2, Match Day 3 and Match Day 4 are completed before the November international break.

APOEL v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: This is a really big game for Tottenham Hotspur who would love to put another three points on the board before having to face Real Madrid twice and then visit Borussia Dortmund. The 3-1 home win over Dortmund has given Tottenham Hotspur a boost of confidence in this tough Group, but it would be for naught if they are not able to back that up in Nicosia.

That should not mean overlooking APOEL who have come through three Rounds to make the Group Stage and who have won 8 of 9 home European ties. That includes beating the likes of Olympiacos and Athletic Bilbao and it is clear that APOEL are much stronger at home than on their travels.

Temperatures in Cyprus can be surprising to visiting teams and that has to be a concern for Tottenham Hotspur, although they may be visiting APOEL at the right time.

APOEL have started poorly domestically in the 2017/18 season and they are facing a Tottenham Hotspur team who have won 5 straight away games and have scored plenty of goals in that time. Losing Jan Vertonghen and Dele Alli to suspensions is a blow for Tottenham Hotspur, but they still head to Cyprus looking the more confident team having scored three times at West Ham United over the weekend.

This is still going to be a tough game for Tottenham Hotspur, but I do think they will prove to be too good for APOEL who have to raise their game significantly if they are going to win this one. Losing 2 of 3 at home is not the kind of form that APOEL would have wanted to be in ahead of this one and I am going to back Tottenham Hotspur to hand APOEL a rare home European loss and do that while covering the Asian Handicap.

Besiktas v Leipzig Pick: This is the first season Leipzig are playing European Football and I have to say I am surprised they are favoured to win at a tough venue like Besiktas. The 1-1 home draw with Monaco shows there is a gap to bridge for Leipzig and I can't have them as favourites to win here.

Besiktas have been a strong team at home and have lost just 1 of 15 here in all competitions. They are also unbeaten in 9 home European ties and Besiktas have won 3 in a row which makes backing them with the start on the Asian Handicap look appealing.

This is also a Leipzig team who have lost 2 of their 3 away games in the Bundesliga this season and I think backing the home team with the start should at least return a portion as a win.

Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk Pick: September has been a really good month for Manchester City with the goals flowing and the plaudits being handed out to Pep Guardiola's men, but they have to keep the momentum going as they get set to visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Stopping Manchester City is going to be a really difficult task for Shakhtar Donetsk considering the goals the home side have been scoring. The layers don't want to take any chances either as they are asking Manchester City to win by another wide margin for the full pay out.

That could happen, but I do think Shakhtar Donetsk are a better side than people may expect as they showed by getting to the Europa League Quarter Final last season. They have experience in the Champions League and while not expecting to be a challenger to win this competition, they showed against Napoli that Shakhtar Donetsk won't be intimidated by the bigger names in the Group.

They did win plenty of away games at the lower level in the Europa League, but Shakhtar Donetsk have lost their last 4 away Champions League games they have played. That includes a loss at Young Boys last season and Manchester City should have enough to secure the three points.

Instead of looking for them to cover the Asian Handicap, Manchester City could be worth backing to win another game with a clean sheet, which has been an underrated feature of their performances this past month. While not being completely dominant at the back, Manchester City have enough possession to limit the chances that teams will create against them and I think they may just be a little too good for Shakhtar Donetsk on the day.

It might not be the flood of goals that have been featuring in recent Manchester City games, but Pep Guardiola's only concern will be getting up to 6 points ahead of the double header with Napoli and I think his team will do that. Backing them to win with a clean sheet is odds against and is worth a back here.

Monaco v Porto Pick: In 2004 this was the Champions League Final, but both Monaco and Porto look some way short of being able to go all the way this time around. Monaco have lost some key players over the last transfer window from the team that were in the Semi Final in the 2016/17 season, while Porto are not the powerhouse they were under Jose Mourinho.

The three points on offer is very important on Match Day 2 as both Monaco and Porto are looking for their first win in the Group Stage of the Champions League.

Monaco might have lost some key players, but they have been playing well enough at home domestically to think they can have the edge in this one. Porto are playing well too, but they have not been able to take that form into the Champions League where they have lost 2 of their last 4 away games in the competition and I think the home team can be backed at odds against in this one.

It will likely be a tight match that will come down to which team will be more clinical in front of goal, but I think Monaco can earn the edge at home.

Spartak Moscow v Liverpool Pick: This could be an important game for Spartak Moscow and Liverpool after draws on Match Day 1 with the winning team likely to feel pretty good about their chances of progressing to the Last 16. It does feel like the game could be more important to the hosts having dropped two points in Maribor earlier this month, but this is a big test for Spartak Moscow having been a little inconsistent throughout this new season.

They will always feel like they will get a chance against the Liverpool defence, but the worry for Spartak Moscow has to be in their own final third. This is the first time in the 2017/18 season that Jurgen Klopp can play all four of his attacking players as Sadio Mane returns from a suspension to join Philippe Coutinho, Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firmino.

All four could start on Tuesday and that will put Spartak Moscow under pressure considering they have conceded at least twice in 2 of their last 3 home games.

When Liverpool go forward they do look very dangerous and having Coutinho in the line up gives them a bit more creativity when things are tighter in the opponent's half of the field. I do think Liverpool will be the stronger team on the day, but you always have to consider how poor they can be defensively which should give Spartak Moscow their chances.

However Spartak Moscow could be missing Quincy Promes which would take away a big threat they have and I think Liverpool will take advantage. A long trip to Moscow is always difficult, but Liverpool should be experienced enough to deal with that having won 0-1 at Rubin Kazan in their last Europa League campaign.

I will look for Liverpool to earn the three points in this second Champions League game and I think they can win by a couple of goals on the day to cover the Asian Handicap set. Even a one goal win will earn a profitable return and I do expect Liverpool to win here.

Atletico Madrid v Chelsea Pick: This is the kind of Champions League fixture that you may expect to see much later in the competition, but Atletico Madrid and Chelsea have to face one another in the Group Stage this time around.

It could be a big game for the two teams who are battling Roma to find their way into the Last 16 and so caution might be the order of the day. That perhaps comes a little naturally to both Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte although both managers have players who can create the magic to win games.

A new Stadium makes it European debut on Wednesday when Atletico Madrid host Chelsea, but they have been strong at home in the Champions League with 9 wins from their last 11 home games in the competition. They are very tough to beat in front of their own fans, but you do have to wonder if the players will have some issues in their new environment.

That hasn't shown up in the League though as Atletico Madrid have won both games played in their new home.

Chelsea have been in fine form themselves, but this is a significant step up in level of opponent compared with games at Leicester City and Stoke City. It is a fixture from which a point would be appreciated and I think that is what Chelsea will be looking for and perhaps trying to stun Atletico Madrid on the counter attack.

Ultimately I don't think there will be much between the teams because Atletico Madrid are not really a team that will ever blow an opponent away. Chelsea defend really well with the three at the back, but they will be tested by the quality Atletico Madrid have and I think the home team at odds against is a big price that has to be backed.

The home record in the Champions League is the reason Atletico Madrid have come so close to winning the competition in recent years and I think they will do enough to find their way to the three points in this one.

CSKA Moscow v Manchester United Pick: Not many would have picked CSKA Moscow to win in Lisbon on Match Day 1 and that surprise result means two clubs with 3 points meet in this fixture. Manchester United were as comfortable as most predicted when seeing off Basel at Old Trafford but this is a tough looking away game for them.

However this is also the kind of fixture where Jose Mourinho knows exactly how to set up his side to earn the victory. I would expect Mourinho to make sure Manchester United are tough to beat with the belief that his team are going to be capable of creating some chances of their own to put themselves in a position to make it two wins from two in the Group Stage.

Last season Manchester United showed they can perform very solidly away from home in the Europa League after losses to Feyenoord and Fenerbahce. Following those early Group setbacks, Manchester United beat Zorya, Saint-Etienne and Celta Vigo without conceding a goal, and earned 1-1 draws in Rostov and Anderlecht too.

The game in Anderlecht looked to be the perfect away performance from Manchester United before a late goal was conceded and I think this is a squad of players who will head to Moscow with plenty of confidence. The Europa League success has given the players a shot in the arm and Manchester United have looked solid defensively this season which is likely to be the foundation for any success here.

CSKA Moscow have been playing well to get into the Champions League Group Stage, but they haven't been dominant at home and have found the step up to the European level a tough one to bridge. The win in Benfica may have improved CSKA Moscow's own confidence, but they were beaten 0-1 by Tottenham Hotspur in the Group Stage last season and I think Manchester United can match that.

It won't be easy and I do wonder if Jose Mourinho will break up the Phil Jones-Eric Bailly partnership that has been so solid for Manchester United this season. If they do start I think Manchester United can keep CSKA Moscow at arm's length and there is enough quality in the squad to find a breakthrough here.

September isn't a bad time to play in Moscow and I expect the playing surface to be one that Manchester United can get the ball down and try to dictate things. Backing Manchester United to be solid defensively and win here with a clean sheet looks a big price.

Winning away from home in European competition has not been something Manchester United have done too frequently in recent years, but their last 6 wins on their travels in the Champions League and Europa League have come with a clean sheet. I will back that to be the outcome of this one as Manchester United move into a strong position to try and win this Group as early as possible.

BATE Borisov v Arsenal PickThis is easily the kind of fixture you could have seen in the Champions League in recent years, but BATE Borisov and Arsenal have to settle for a clash in the Europa League Group Stage this time around.

You would have to say that while Arsenal are going to be making changes, they should still be starting a strong enough team who can get the win here in Belarus. It won't be easy with how well BATE Borisov can play at home, especially when you consider they are unbeaten in 6 home European games and in the last Champions League Group Stage they did beat Roma and draw with Bayer Leverkusen.

However this is an Arsenal side who have looked better over the last few weeks and who should have a number of players on the fringes of the first team who will start here. They showed against FC Koln that those players will be enough in the early games in the Europa League and I think Arsenal will be able to create the chances to win here.

You can't always know what a manager will decide to do in this competition, but Arsene Wenger has players like Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud in the final third who should earn the start. Those players should be good enough to create chances against this BATE Borisov team and I would expect Arsenal to be in a position to win this game by a couple of goals.

BATE Borisov have shown it won't be easy here in recent years, but they have not played too many teams of the level of Arsenal and I will back the latter to cover the Asian Handicap in the victory.

Nice v Vitesse Pick: There would have been a lot of hope for Nice that they could find their way into the Champions League Group Stage this season, but they exited in the Qualifiers during what has been an inconsistent start to the campaign.

Things have looked to be improving of late during a 4 game unbeaten run, but Nice have struggled to find the right performances in their European games. 1 win from 5 home European ties since the beginning of last season is a big disappointment for Nice, but their 1-5 win at Zulte-Waregem will have given them a shot of confidence.

They should be too good for Vitesse despite the side coming in with an impressive 1-2 win at Ajax which is part of a good start to the new season.

However Vitesse are lacking experience in European football and that naivety may have been a reason they were beaten 2-3 by Lazio on Match Day 1. Playing away from home is another challenge for Vitesse and I will look for Nice to have a little too much for them in this on and will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Ostersund v Hertha Berlin Pick: There is clearly a difference in quality in the Swedish and German top flights and that is a big reason Hertha Berlin will be the favourites to win in Ostersund.

They are capable of doing that, but Hertha Berlin are not a team who have travelled very well in recent months with 10 losses from their last 15 away games in all competitions. Hertha Berlin did recently win a German Cup game at Hansa Rostock, but teams have underestimated the challenge of coming to Ostersund and that may see the favourites come unstuck here.

You have to respect Ostersund have only lost 1 of their last 15 home games in all competitions, but the majority of those have been in the Swedish domestic League. However they have also won all 3 home Europa League games this season with wins over Galatasaray and PAOK very strong results.

Ostersund have goals in their side at home and their 0-2 win in Zorya was a really good result already in the Group. Beating Hertha Berlin won't be easy, but I will back the home team with the start here which will at least provide a positive return as long as Ostersund can avoid defeat.

Everton v Apollon Limassol Pick: Winning back to back games at Goodison Park over the last eight days will have done Ronald Koeman and Everton the world of good and they will be confident they can get their Europa League Group back on track. The 3-0 hammering in Atalanta means Everton can't afford to drop points at home if they do want to make their way through to the Last 32, especially with a back to back against Lyon to come.

They have beaten Sunderland and Bournemouth here and Koeman will likely pick another strong team against Apollon Limassol.

The Cypriot League is not the toughest around and Tottenham Hotspur's win at APOEL earlier in the week will have shown the difference in the quality between their League and the Premier League in England. Apollon Limassol did show heart to score a late equaliser against Lyon in the Group already, but they may not be as strong when they head out on their travels.

Apollon Limassol have already lost at Aberdeen in the Europa League this season and I think Everton will get the better of them here.

Clean sheets have been a problem for Everton, but they have only conceded 4 goals in 6 home games in the 2017/18 season and three of those came against Tottenham Hotspur. That is going to be the foundation from which Koeman will look to build and I think Everton can be backed to win this one with a clean sheet at odds against.

Ludogorets Razgrad v Hoffenheim Pick: This looks like it will be a difficult Group to come through with three clubs who began in the Champions League making up the quartet, while Sporting Braga are the exception but also the only club with a win through the first round of fixtures.

That makes this game in Bulgaria between Ludogorets Razgrad and Hoffenheim a big one for both clubs.

Ludogorets Razgrad have the extensive European experience to call upon and have won their last 3 home games in European Football, but Hoffenheim have to be respected having continued to surprise in Germany. However Hoffenheim are looking for their first positive result in European competition having lost all 3 games they have played against Liverpool (twice) and Sporting Braga.

Hoffenheim are a team who can get forward and score goals, but they are perhaps a little naive at the back. That is highlighted by the fact they have scored at least least twice in 3 consecutive away games, but at the same time have conceded at least twice in each of those games.

I do think Ludogorets Razgrad have the experience to take advantage of the defensive issues Hoffenheim will have, but I also think the German club will be dangerous in the final third. Picking a winner is therefore tougher than you may think, but picking at least three goals to be shared out looks the obvious play.

Usually it won't work out when everything is pointing to an 'obvious' pick, but I do think these two teams are built to share out goals. I will back at least three to be shared out with all three results on the win-draw-win market a distinct possibility.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Besiktas + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 2.20 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Monaco @ 2.15 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United Win to Nil @ 2.62 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet365 (2 Units)
Nice - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet365 (2 Units)
Ostersund + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Everton Win to Nil @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Ludogorets-Hoffenheim Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)

September Update: 17-21-3, - 4.28 Units (77 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)

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