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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (October 17-19)

The middle two rounds of the Champions League and Europa League Group Stage can be pivotal in determining the teams that are going to make it through to the Last 16/Last 32 of the two competitions.

It is also a time when you can begin to work out those teams who are likely to win their Group and earn a 'better' draw for the Last 16 and those teams who are perhaps reaching a desperate stage.

At the moment it does feel like all of the English clubs that don't play on Merseyside are in a good position to make it through their Groups as both Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have won their opening two Group games.

On the other hand Liverpool and Everton are yet to taste victory and both have important double headers in which they need to take at least four points if they are going to make it through to the Knock Out Rounds. Liverpool should be good enough to still come through their Group, but Everton are under pressure having dropped points at home against the weakest team in their section as Ronald Koeman's men continue to struggle at home and in Europe.

In a couple of days I will have a short post about the Manchester United game at Liverpool which seems to have divided opinions as to how Jose Mourinho approached things, and that will also cover the game in Lisbon against Benfica. Before that I have wrote about the strong start to the Manchster United season which can be read here.

The Weekend Premier League Picks started well but had a poor ending which was a disappointment. In the next Weekend Football Picks post I will have a full update with the season results which will include the results from the Champions League and Europa League Picks made this week. That post should be ready to go on Friday with the Premier League's opening fixture this weekend being played on Friday evening at the London Stadium.

Feyenoord v Shakhtar Donetsk Pick: It looks like Manchester City are the team to beat in the Group, but for Feyenoord and Shakhtar Donetsk the double header they have over the next two weeks may give one of them a real chance to finish second in the Group. Both have been beaten by Manchester City already, but Shakhtar Donetsk have a home win over Napoli to their name and will be confident of adding to the points earned already when they take on the Dutch Champions.

They definitely performed better against Manchester City than Feyenoord did and Shakhtar Donetsk will be confident of their chances here in Rotterdam. It won't be easy when you think of how poorly Shakhtar Donetsk have played away from home in the Champions League, but last season they showed their capabilities on their travels in the Europa League.

A team like Feyenoord may be more suited to the Europa League level and they have been in poor form with just a single win from their last 4 games in all competitions. It hasn't been any better at home where Feyenoord have also won 1 of their last 4 games in all competitions and they have been beaten twice in that time and they have failed to score in 3 of their last 4 games in front of their own fans.

Shakhtar Donetsk may have lost 2-0 at Manchester City, but they created chances in that game while it was still goalless. They also had won 5 straight away games in European competition before that defeat, albeit in the Europa League rather than Champions League, but I think they can be good enough to earn the victory in Rotterdam.

At odds against they have to be worth backing to move into a good position in the Group with a home game against Feyenoord to come in two weeks time.

Manchester City v Napoli Pick: The Champions League has already had some big games this season in the Group Stage and this is yet another as the current leaders in England and Italy meet on Tuesday evening at the Etihad Stadium. It is Manchester City who have made the superior start in the Champions League compared with Napoli, but both teams are still expected to work their way through to the Last 16 and the double header could determine which finishes top of the Group.

You can't ignore the fact that for Napoli the domestic title challenge is more important than the Champions League this season, but this is a team with plenty of momentum behind them which has to be respected. Going back to last season they have won 16 of their last 17 competitive games and the sole defeat was a little unfortunate when Napoli were beaten at Shakhtar Donetsk on Match Day 1 in the Group.

This is a big challenge for Napoli though as they face a Manchester City team in a very similar period of form as the Italian club are. Manchester City have been very strong at home where they have won 8 of 11 Champions League games and they have won 9 in a row overall since the 1-1 draw with Everton.

Pep Guardiola called the 7-2 win over Stoke City as the best performance since he came in as manager of Manchester City and that has to be a little intimidating for Napoli. As good as Napoli are going forward, they can look a little suspect defensively and a team like Manchester City in their current form will look to expose that.

On the other hand Napoli should be able to cause some problems for Manchester City as other clubs have. The clean sheets might look like Manchester City are strong defensively, but clubs have created chances against them and Napoli are a team who have scored plenty of goals to think they will take those opportunities when they do come their way.

The layers are on top of that with both teams to score and at least three goals to be scored short prices. I am leaning towards Manchester City earning the win with home advantage but even those prices are plenty short when seeing how well Napoli have played and who are very capable on their day. Goals should be the outcome of the fixture and I think it is worth backing at least four goals to be shared out which has been the eventual result in 3 of the last 5 Champions League games at the Etihad Stadium.

Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: There is a lot of confidence in the Tottenham Hotspur squad, but the next few weeks is going to be telling to see where they actually stand compared with the best teams both in England and Europe. In that time Tottenham Hotspur play Real Madrid twice, Liverpool and Manchester United, and Mauricio Pochettino says his team will head to the Santiago Bernebeu with a nothing to lose attitude.

Playing away from home in European competition has been difficult for Tottenham Hotspur who have lost at Monaco and Gent in their last couple of away games. Now they have to face the Champions League back to back winners and that is going to be a real test for the Tottenham Hotspur 7 game winning run away from home in all competitions.

Real Madrid look to be in much better shape than a few weeks ago and these two teams have dominated the Group so far. The winner of the double header will be in command of a top spot finish, but it feels like a really big ask for Tottenham Hotspur to contain a Real Madrid team who look to be improving all the time.

They have won 11 of their last 13 home Champions League games and can make up for the absence of Gareth Bale who would have loved to have faced his former club. Tottenham Hotspur can make life difficult for teams, but I still think they are going to be put under immense pressure here and have yet to take their Premier League form in European competition consistently.

Beating Borussia Dortmund at home and APOEL away are good, solid results for Tottenham Hotspur, but facing Real Madrid in front of their own fans is a different level of task. I expect Real Madrid to prove to be too strong on the day as they were for Manchester United in the European Super Cup back in August and Tottenham Hotspur won't be able to contain the home team.

I will look for Real Madrid to eventually wear down Tottenham Hotspur and I will back the home team to cover the Asian Handicap in a win on Tuesday.

Anderlecht v Paris Saint-Germain Pick: The 3-0 win over Bayern Munich on Match Day 2 is the kind of result and performance that will have made a mark around Europe that Paris Saint-Germain are for real. They are now in complete control of this Champions League Group and now they won't want to let go by dropping silly points against Anderlecht over the next two weeks.

It is going to be tough for Anderlecht to stick with Paris Saint-Germain and the quality the French side have. Anderlecht have already been heavily beaten by Bayern Munich and Celtic and they have found the step up to the Champions League level too high in recent years.

Since November 2012, Anderlecht have lost 8 of 9 home games in the Champions League and the real worry has to be the amount of goals they have shipped in those games. The 0-3 loss to Celtic means Anderlecht have conceded at least three goals in 6 of their last 9 home Champions League games and Paris Saint-Germain could easily be the next team to hit that number in Brussels.

Goals haven't been a problem for Paris Saint-Germain with the front three they can call on and I think this could be another big win for them in the Champions League. Both wins have come by at least a three goal margin so far and I will look for Paris Saint-Germain to match that margin again and will look for them to cover the Asian Handicap here.

Bayern Munich v Celtic Pick: There have clearly been some issues at Bayern Munich which has affected the performances the team have been able to produce on the field and ended with the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti as manager.

Ancelotti and the senior players were not seeing eye to eye and the arrival of Jupp Heynckes feels like it will be a much more positive atmosphere for the players to play in. The 5-0 hammering of Freiburg is a very small sample to underline that statement, but Bayern Munich should improve and they are clearly the favourites to join Paris Saint-Germain in the Last 16 of the Champions League.

After Match Day 2 the Celtic fans would have felt much more confident of their chances of progressing to the Last 16 and surprising outsiders. Plenty had come on national radio to let people know that Celtic could upset Bayern Munich, but I really think there is a big difference in talent between the two squads.

The arrival of Heynckes should mean Bayern Munich are motivated to perform for the new man in charge especially if you believe what players are saying at the moment. He will look for Bayern Munich to get on the front foot and take the game to Celtic and the latter did see what can happen if these big teams have a strong day in the office when they were crushed 0-5 by Paris Saint-Germain on Match Day 1.

Of course Celtic have to be respected for drawing at Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City last season in the Champions League Group, but Monchengladbach had a poor season and were suffering an injury crisis and Manchester City made wholesale changes with their Last 16 place secured. Neither factors are in play in this one and I think Bayern Munich will be too good for Celtic on Wednesday.

I expect the attacking threat Bayern Munich can produce to see plenty of chances created and I am looking for a team who have won 16 of 18 home Champions League games to win another. I anticipate it may come relatively comfortably by a team who have scored plenty of home goals even through their struggles and I will back Bayern Munich to cover the Asian Handicap.

Benfica v Manchester United Pick: It is going to be very interesting to see the kind of tactics Jose Mourinho will employ in Manchester United's Champions League tie at Benfica just days after the criticism the manager faced for the tactics used in the draw at Anfield. It might not have been the attacking performance the fans wanted at Liverpool, but it was a good result and Manchester United will likely take a similar approach to the game in Lisbon.

However there should be more spaces to exploit in a game that means a lot for Benfica as they try and get back into a Champions League after a couple of disappointing performances. The 1-2 home defeat to CSKA Moscow and the 5-0 defeat at Basel has left Benfica in a precarious position in the Group as they get set to face Manchester United twice.

The home game is huge for Benfica who have to find a way to earn the three points to get back into the Group and that means trying to attack Manchester United. That will bode well for Mourinho and Manchester United who may have more space to exploit on the counter attack in this one than they found at Liverpool who didn't really change what looked a solid system of their own.

Benfica have shown they can be defensively vulnerable in the Champions League and I think Manchester United will have a few more attacking players on display to try and exploit that. Without Eric Bailly Manchester United also don't look as secure at the back as they have in other games and I think the situation for Benfica will mean this fixture has more spaces than you would imagine.

Manchester United away games in Europe under Jose Mourinho have been more functional than exciting, but they were at their attacking best in CSKA Moscow and I think Jose Mourinho will be looking for his side to get forward in this one.

Both teams should have their chances and while I did consider backing Manchester United to win, I also think they are a very short price when you think of Benfica being what most people considered to be the second best team in the Group. I don't thin Benfica are as bad as their results, but they have looked weak at the back which suggests there could be goals in this one.

The home team have to get forward to try and win a game to work their way back into the Group and Manchester United have shown how strong they can be on the counter attack. The game at Anfield was a pragmatic display, but I expect Manchester United to be a little more up the pitch to try and get on the front foot and I will look for these teams to share out three goals at least.

Chelsea v Roma Pick: It has been a tough couple of weeks to be a Chelsea fan who saw their team outplayed by Manchester City in a 0-1 home loss and then became the first team to concede and subsequently lose to Crystal Palace this weekend. They are looking to get back on the horse in this Champions League tie as Chelsea have a chance to take control of the Group, while Antonio Conte will be hoping they can pick up some momentum with three successive home games to come.

The return of Alvaro Morata would be an obvious boost for Chelsea and it does sound like the Spaniard is going to return for this fixture. It gives Chelsea more of a focal point, but with the additional quality he has compared to the back ups in the squad and is likely to be a key to the success Chelsea do, or do not, have this season.

The absences of N'Golo Kante and Victor Moses are a blow, but Chelsea will feel they can make up for that in this game against a Roma team who have been caught a little short when facing the best teams. The 0-1 loss to Napoli on Saturday was a big one for Roma, and even their 9 game away winning run has not come against teams of the quality of Chelsea.

Being able to play on the counter attack will be a bonus for Roma as they will feel more comfortable doing that, but Chelsea have the quality to win this game and put their back to back losses behind them. They have been a tough team to play at Stamford Bridge in Europe and Roma are not the best travellers in the Champions League with their recent European away successes coming in the Europa League.

You can be a little wary considering the Chelsea results in the last couple of weeks, but I will look for them to have too much for a Roma team who have not been able to compete with the best teams they have faced so far this season. I will look for the home team to win by a couple of goals on the night and move into complete command of this Group and I will back Chelsea to cover the Asian Handicap.

Juventus v Sporting Lisbon Pick: After falling short in the Champions League Final in June, Juventus have made a fairly slow start to the new season. It was similar to their reaction after losing the Champions League Final to Barcelona in 2015 and back then Juventus were able to recover effectively.

They are back in contention in this Group having beaten Olympiacos 2-0 on Match Day 2 after their 3-0 defeat in Barcelona. The double header with Sporting Lisbon are a couple of big games for both clubs as they are locked on 3 points together.

Juventus have to win the home game if they have serious ambitions of making it through to the Last 16. They should be too good for Sporting Lisbon who had lost 6 straight away Champions League games before beating Steaua Bucharest and Olympiacos this season. Last year they were beaten in all 3 away games in the Group and there is no doubt that Juventus are much stronger than Olympiacos.

It is harder to back Juventus to cover the Asian Handicap when you think of the way their games in the Champions League tend to develop. This is a club that won't look to attack throughout but one who can sometimes settle with a lead and hope to pick off an opponent.

Sporting Lisbon are not likely to go gung-ho in this one which should mean a tight game, although one where I think Juventus will eventually have the quality to break down their visitors. Juventus have won their last 5 home Champions League games and 4 of those have come with a clean sheet, while Sporting Lisbon lost their last 2 away Group games without scoring last season.

At odds against I will back Juventus to have enough to keep the backdoor shut in this one and the quality to find a breakthrough.

BATE Borisov v FC Koln PickThe hope for BATE Borisov and FC Koln is that Arsenal can win their double header with Red Star Belgrade and give one of these teams a chance to finish 2nd in the Group. Neither BATE or Koln have made the kind of start they would have hoped in the Group and the two games against one another over the next two weeks are going to determine which one, if any, is able to challenge for a top two berth going forward.

It should mean the two teams are trying to put some attacking football together and try to win this game, although at this point it probably means more to BATE Borisov than FC Koln. The latter have been struggling mightily in the Bundesliga and they know that has to be the priority, while losing both Europa League games may make that an easier decision to make.

When things like that happen, it may mean that a team is not so bothered about chasing the game, but I think FC Koln will owe it to their fans to try and snap a poor run of form however they can. Picking up some momentum is important for FC Koln too and I think that is motivation enough to try and get forward and give BATE Borisov some problems.

On the other hand BATE Borisov will be looking to use home advantage to full effect. They have been a little inconsistent at home recently but goals have not been a problem for them and I can see these teams combining for at least three goals.

BATE Borisov have scored at least twice in 4 of their last 5 home games, but at the same time they have also conceded at least three times in 3 of those games. It certainly makes the prices for at least three goals to be scored in this one look a little too big and I will back that to be the outcome of this Group game.

Ostersunds v Athletic Bilbao Pick: When I looked through the Europa League fixture list this week, I was surprised to see Ostersunds still not getting the respect that they have perhaps earned. This is a team who have won all 4 home games in the Europa League and were the underdog the last 3 times, while Ostersunds have yet to concede a goal.

Of course you can understand the layers not taking any chances with Athletic Bilbao the visitors this week, but the Spanish club have not been in the best form. The win over Sevilla snapped a run of 4 losses in 5 games in all competitions and they have struggled in the Europa League Group having failed to score in the first couple of games.

Add in the fact that Athletic Bilbao have only won 1 of their last 7 away European ties and you have to wonder if they are a good thing at odds on to win here.

That price just looked wrong to me and I do think Ostersunds can earn a result here which can be backed at odds against. They have proven they can handle the step up in level of competition with wins over Galatasaray, PAOK and Hertha Berlin and I do think Ostersunds would be happy to take a point if they can get it.

With the pressure on Athletic Bilbao to produce, Ostersunds could have success on the counter attack to punish the Spaniards. The lack of goals for Athletic Bilbao and the clean sheets kept by Ostersunds in the Europa League leads me to backing the Swedish club with the start on the Asian Handicap.

Red Star Belgrade v Arsenal Pick: There will be some changes made to the Arsenal starting line up with the big game at Everton in mind and I think that makes the odds for The Gunners look unappealing. While I backed them to win at BATE Borisov, I think Red Star Belgrade are a better team than the Belarusian Champions and they can certainly test what will be a young defensive unit.

On the other hand, any time Arsenal can play the likes of Jack Wilshire, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and potentially Alexis Sanchez in the forward areas, you have to think they can create chances. That is especially at the Europa League level with those players more accustomed to Champions League nights at this time of the season.

They should be able to give Red Star Belgrade something to think about, but we have also seen Arsenal looking far from secure defensively so far in the Europa League. With the confidence Red Star Belgrade have to have when playing at home, I think they can cause problems for Arsenal too and there could be a few goals shared out in this one.

Red Star Belgrade have to know that getting forward and testing a changed Arsenal backline is their best chance of securing a surprise result, but that may also play into the hands of Arsenal who should be dangerous on the counter attack. There is more on the line for Red Star Belgrade in this one, but I think Arsenal can have a free shot here knowing that they still have to host this opponent and I am looking for an attacking game to be rewarded with goals.

Zorya v Hertha Berlin Pick: This was supposed to be a Group in which Athletic Bilbao and Hertha Berlin would dominate, but both clubs have struggled. The layers aren't giving away any prices on those two teams though and I think Hertha Berlin are perhaps a little over-rated on their visit to the Ukraine.

They are facing a Zorya team who held both Fenerbahce and Feyenoord here in the Europa League last season and who have been given a boost in confidence in their 0-1 win at Athletic Bilbao on Match Day 2. Zorya have lost to Manchester United and Ostersunds in recent home European games, but I am not sure Hertha Berlin are playing with a full belief in their own system.

Hertha Berlin have not won any of their last 4 away games in all competitions and have lost 3 of those which makes it hard to pick them to win here. They look very short when you put that run of form down and I think Zorya are capable of at least holding them to a draw if not quite good enough to win this one.

You can get a start with Zorya on the Asian Handicap which will return a profit as long as the home team avoids defeat and I will back them to do that.

Dynamo Kiev v Young Boys Pick: Revenge has to be on the mind of the Dynamo Kiev players who were knocked out of the Champions League Qualifiers by Young Boys in August. In both games Young Boys scored in injury time which proved to be the difference in an away goals victory for the Swiss side, but Dynamo Kiev will want to show that upset was nothing more than a fluke.

The game in Kiev ended in a 3-1 win for Dynamo Kiev and they have scored three times in both Group games in the Europa League which will give them the belief they can earn a measure of revenge here. They are also facing a Young Boys team who have lost 8 of 11 away European ties and generally have been beaten by a comfortable margin in those games.

Young Boys may feel confident going to Kiev this time around considering they did win the Champion League Qualifier, but I think all of the pressure will come from the home team. A win for Dynamo Kiev would put them on the brink of making it through to the Last 32 in the Europa League and I do think they are going to be too strong for Young Boys.

With the added motivation of wanting to get the better of Young Boys after the Champions League Qualifiers I think Dynamo Kiev will get the better of their visitors. Young Boys have been beaten by by at least two goals in 7 of those 8 European defeats I have mentioned earlier and I will back Dynamo Kiev to cover the Asian Handicap.

Villarreal v Slavia Prague Pick: Both Villarreal and Slavia Prague have made a positive start to this Europa League Group and the winner of the double header over the next couple of weeks will likely secure a spot in the Last 32 of the competition.

Both teams will believe they are good enough to win at least one of the next two games, but in this one you have to give the edge to Villarreal who have been strong at home.

Compare that to Slavia Prague who have lost 4 of their last 6 away European ties over the last fifteen months and you can see why the edge has to be given to the home team. Slavia Prague are an improving team, but this is a significant step up to the usual level of competition they face and I think Villarreal will be able to show that on the day.

Villarreal have been a little inconsistent in recent seasons which can make it difficult to trust them, but I do think they will be too good on the day. I will look for Villarreal to secure a win by a couple of goals on the day and will back them to cover this Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Shakhtar Donetsk @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Manchester City-Napoli Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.20 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Real Madrid - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.93 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Paris Saint-Germain - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bayern Munich - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Benfica-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Chelsea - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Juventus Win to Nil @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
BATE Borisov-FC Koln Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Coral (2 Units)
Ostersunds + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Red Star Belgrade-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Zorya + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Dynamo Kiev - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Villarreal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.12 Bet Victor (2 Units)

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