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Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Midweek Football Picks 2017 (December 5-7)

This is the time of the season when games come thick and fast and most of the top teams in the Premier League have to accept they will be playing twice a week through to the beginning of January.

If you want to be successful you have to find a way to negotiate these fixtures and keep the wins coming and so it is important for the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur to have confirmed their spots in the Knock Out Rounds of their European competitions.

Ok, United are not officially in the Last 16 draw, but barring something completely random happening on Tuesday, they should be through as Group Winners and Jose Mourinho has a chance to give some key players a rest after playing three Premier League games in an eight day period.

Those other clubs I have mentioned also have that opportunity, but Liverpool are the exception as they will be out of the Champions League if they were to lose on Wednesday and Sevilla beat Maribor. That means Jurgen Klopp has to take things very seriously, although Liverpool aren't due to play again until Sunday so there is time for him to prepare his side for the Merseyside derby after this Champions League Match Day 6 round of games are concluded.

You have to be careful with the final set of Group games as teams are likely to make changes with their futures in the competitions secured. You will begin to see some of the layers producing short odds on teams who 'must win' and you have to work out the value as much as possible on the prices that have been set and also keep a keen eye on the team news that comes out.

Bayern Munich v Paris Saint-Germain Pick: Winning the Group would have been the aim for both Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain at the start of the Champions League, but that looks to be decided thanks to PSG beating Bayern Munich 3-0 in the French capital earlier in the section.

Paris Saint-Germain have continued hammering the other teams in the Group which means Bayern Munich have to win by at least a four goal margin if they are going to finish above their visitors. That looks a tall task even if you think of how Paris Saint-Germain were beaten 6-1 at Barcelona in the Second Round of this competition last season, especially as PSG are a much better team this time around.

It was also a day when everything seemed to conspire against them and the talk from the Bayern Munich camp sounds like they are already accepting a Group win is not likely. Even the talk of 'revenge' for the manner of the loss in Paris has been played down, but I do think Bayern Munich will want to prove they are still amongst the favourites to win the Champions League.

That means winning at home on Match Day 6 against another team considered amongst the best in Europe and I do think Bayern Munich can do that. The form has been improving and the injuries are beginning to clear up, while Paris Saint-Germain have not looked happy for a team who have been unbeaten in 21 games in all competitions before the 2-1 loss in Strasbourg.

Bayern Munich have won 17 of their last 19 home Champions League games and Paris Saint-Germain have had some issues on their travels in recent years. Being able to back the home team on the Asian Handicap which is essentially a 'Draw No Bet' market looks a decent option here and I like Bayern Munich here.

Celtic v Anderlecht Pick: Both Celtic and Anderlecht are likely going to try and get on the front foot in this one and try and win the game and I do think there is a potential for an entertaining game at Celtic Park on Match Day 6.

Celtic have been strong domestically and they have given teams problems when they have arrived in Glasgow especially when they are on the level of Anderlecht. The 0-3 win in Brussels means Celtic hold the cards here, but Anderlecht have to be respected having won 6 of their last 7 away games in all competitions.

The problem for Anderlecht is they have to take risks at some point to get back into contention for a Europa League spot. Anything less than a win by at least a three goal margin is not going to be enough and I think that may play into the hands of Celtic who can exploit gaps on the counter attack.

Brendan Rodgers will stick to his principles and look to play attacking football too and these teams could mesh for a high-scoring game which the layers are taking no chances with. However I think the situation also means Celtic could find a way to win this fixture when Anderlecht get a little ragged trying to chase the goals they need.

That could see Celtic ultimately produce another win against Anderlecht and I will back them to do that. I will keep the stakes to a minimum knowing Celtic can afford a draw and a narrow defeat to go through too, but I will look for the Scottish Champions to win a game in which at least three goals are scored.

Manchester United v CSKA Moscow Pick: Some in the media clearly don't understand maths very well when talking about the problems Manchester United had after losing 1-0 at Basel, but the Champions League Group has been well in hand since winning the opening 4 games in this section.

It would be a huge turn of events to prevent Manchester United from winning the Group let along being knocked out of the Champions League and I don't think the players are feeling that much pressure. Even Jose Mourinho is looking to freshen up the starting eleven knowing a narrow loss would be ok for Manchester United to win the Group and get ready for the Champions League Last 16 draw next week.

With the way Manchester United have been playing, there is enough momentum to help them win this game on Tuesday and keep things on a positive track ahead of the Manchester derby on Sunday. I expect a strong team to still take to the field and it is a big task for CSKA Moscow to make it 5 straight away Champions League wins.

Prior to this season they had not been the best travellers in this competition and CSKA Moscow are under more pressure to get forward and secure a result. They will likely need to win at Old Trafford to have a chance of going through to the Last 16, but that may also lead to spaces opening up as they chase the game.

Manchester United have been very strong at Old Trafford as they put their 39 game unbeaten run on the line and they have won 11 in a row here in all competitions. With 7 wins in 9 European home games I fancy Manchester United will earn the victory in this one too and I can see a counter attacking goal putting this to bed later in the contest.

That could help Manchester United cover the Asian Handicap in this one and I will back them to do so.

Liverpool v Spartak Moscow Pick: There is some pressure on Liverpool to make sure they win the Group or likely guarantee a really difficult Last 16 tie in the Champions League. However they can't be too desperate as a defeat would likely see them knocked out of the competition and entering the Europa League.

Jurgen Klopp only really has one way he wants to see his side play football so I would expect Liverpool to get forward and try and take the game away from Spartak Moscow in the first half hour at Anfield. At some point Spartak Moscow will have to chase this game too knowing they need a win to get through to the Last 16 themselves and I think it will play into the Liverpool hands.

This is a side who have played better at home when it comes to defensive schemes and most Liverpool fans would expect to have a much better day in the final third than when these teams met in Russia. On that day Liverpool could have won easily but missed a host of chances in the 1-1 draw, but they look a little stronger all around now and I don't think those opportunities go begging in the same way.

Spartak Moscow have also been playing better, but they have yet to really turn it on in the Champions League outside of the 5-1 home win over Sevilla. Draws in both games against Maribor have hurt Spartak Moscow and they will have to be a lot better to deal with Liverpool at Anfield.

All in all it feels like a game that Liverpool will dominate early and then pick Spartak Moscow off as the Russian side are forced to come forward. I expect that will lead to a fairly comfortable Liverpool win on the night and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Manchester City Pick: You do have to take Pep Guardiola's comments seriously about wanting to play a strong team that can win the game in this final Champions League Group game, but it would be a big surprise if changes aren't made to keep the starting eleven fresh. There is a big game coming up on Sunday in the Premier League and Manchester City have already Qualified for the Last 16 so failing to make changes would be a real surprise.

Even with that in mind, Manchester City have enough quality to cause problems for Shakhtar Donetsk who are under more pressure knowing a win leaves them vulnerable to Napoli in 3rd place. They have performed much better at 'home' in recent European games than on their travels which will give Shakhtar Donetsk confidence of securing a result, but they will have to be aware of this Manchester City team.

Recent form has not been the best but Manchester City keep finding ways to win games and the players coming in will want to show the manager they are capable of being used in big Premier League games too.

On the other hand I would expect Shakhtar Donetsk to cause problems too like they did at the Etihad Stadium earlier in the Group. Stronger performances at home will give them confidence and I can see an attacking game develop with both sides more comfortable trying to score goals.

The 1-1 result is the one that scares me as both teams could settle for that with it being enough for Shakhtar Donetsk to go through and Manchester City will want to keep some energy in check for the big game at Old Trafford on Sunday. An early goal may change the mindset though and force the two teams to play with more attacking intent than you may think in this situation and I do think the teams can combine for at least three goals in this one.

It's a decent price when you think how Manchester City games have developed of late, but some may want a small interest in the 1-1 correct scoreline as a saver.

Slavia Prague v Astana PickThe final round of Europa League and Champions League games can be tough to call with managers preparing their players for busy times of the season.

In this one both Slavia Prague and Astana have everything to play for with the winner through to the Last 32 while the home team have the benefit of keeping the draw on their side. I do think Slavia Prague can produce the goods to work their way out of the Group, but my concern is that they don't need to win the game.

Both wins they have earned have come against Maccabi Tel-Aviv who have struggled in the Group, but Astana have not been the best travellers in European competition which should make the difference here.

With that in mind the home team have to be worth having a small interest in as they can perhaps catch Astana chasing the game in the second half. Slavia Prague have a decent recent record and I think they can find some spaces to exploit as their visitors commit more men forward to try and get through to the next Round themselves.

Villarreal v Maccabi Tel-Aviv Pick: This Group is already decided as far as Villarreal and Maccabi Tel-Aviv are concerned and there are likely to be some changes in the home starting eleven with Barcelona to come in three days time.

That should mean there are a few issues for Villarreal to negotiate as they are perhaps trying to work out the chemistry to put themselves in a position to win this game. They could be helped by the struggles Maccabi Tel-Aviv have been having in the Group and I do think Villarreal are going to be able to secure yet another win in the section.

Villarreal have been a mixed bag in their recent home Europa League games, but I think they can show they are the superior team and they could be worth a small interest to win by a couple of goals on the day.

It is odds against for that to happen, but Villarreal will have seen the way Maccabi Tel-Aviv have struggled away from home in this Group. Both losses have come by at least a two goal margin and I will look for Villarreal to do enough to become the latest to beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv by that margin.

Marseille v Salzburg Pick: There is more on the line for Marseille than Salzburg on Match Day 6 so you have to expect the team line up to indicate that as the home team look for the point which will send through to the Last 32. Both teams have big domestic action to look forward to on Sunday, but Marseille are at home compared with Salzburg who are travelling and that can play a part in the selections of the two managers too.

It won't be an easy game for Marseille who are facing a Salzburg team who have yet to lose in the Group, but Marseille have been much better at home.

I am looking for Marseille to just use the extra motivation in this fixture to lead them to a win and I think they can be backed for a small interest to beat Salzburg by a couple of goals on the night. Salzburg have already won the Group and they are in a real battle for top spot in Austria, while Marseille are hosting Saint-Etienne in a few days time which should mean they can put in the big effort in this Europa League game as well as the home game in the French League on Sunday.

Marseille have won 5 of their last 6 home games in all competitions and I will back them to win and cover the Asian Handicap on Thursday.

Real Sociedad v Zenit St Petersburg Pick: Neither Real Sociedad or Zenit St Petersburg can point to any significant form in recent weeks with the majority of Zenit's better performances coming at home while Real Sociedad have struggled in general.

There is plenty on the line for both clubs on Thursday with top spot up for grabs and I think Real Sociedad can use home advantage to earn that.

As poor as the recent results have been, Real Sociedad are a side that have scored plenty of goals and I am not sure Zenit St Petersburg can exploit their defensive issues.

I wouldn't invest a lot in this with both teams through and perhaps more interested in their League form rather than putting too much into this fixture. However I do think finishing with a Seed for the Last 32 draw is hard to ignore and I believe Real Sociedad can get the better of a Zenit St Petersburg side who have just hit the wall on their travels in recent weeks.

At odds against it has to be worth a small interest in backing Real Sociedad to win.

Zorya v Athletic Bilbao Pick: There are a few fixtures around the Europa League where the two teams competing with one another are in direct conflict for a place in the Last 32. This is one of those with Zorya capable of finishing above Athletic Bilbao with a victory, while the Spanish club just need a result to ensure they are playing European Football after Christmas.

There is much on the line, but Athletic Bilbao look very short when you think of how they have performed in recent weeks. They are also not a side that can be backed with a lot of confidence on their travels in the Europa League having won 1 of their last 8 away games and even that came after trailing 2-0.

Zorya have not exactly been lighting things up themselves though and I think Athletic Bilbao should be able to show they are the superior team. It was Zorya who won 0-1 in Bilbao, but that should only focus the Athletic Bilbao players who know a draw would be good enough to go through.

I have to say Athletic Bilbao look plenty short when you think of the recent form and lack of wins away from home. This can't be a confident side, but I think they will have enough to earn the point they need and backing the draw for a small interest looks the way to go.

The situation is a concern because Zorya will need to chase the game if they are behind or level with time ticking down and that could leave Athletic Bilbao with spaces to exploit. However I am not sure the Basque club are in a position to really take advantage or playing with the confidence to exploit any defensive lapses, and I will take a small interest in the draw.

MY PICKS: Bayern Munich 0 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Celtic & Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.60 Coral (1 Unit)
Manchester United - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.11 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Shakhtar Donetsk-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Slavia Prague @ 1.75 William Hill (1 Unit)
Villarreal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Marseille - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Real Sociedad @ 2.10 Bet365 (1 Unit)

Zorya-Athletic Bilbao Draw @ 3.60 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

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