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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, 13 February 2018

Midweek Football Picks 2018 (February 13-15)

The Champions League and Europa League Knock Out Rounds begin this week and that means the excitement level for the fans begins to raise.

Many of the fans of the English clubs have to feel confident of their chances to go deep in both competitions especially as the Europa League has taken on a new importance for Arsenal now they are looking off the pace of the top four in the Premier League.

The five English clubs in the Champions League will all feel they have winnable ties, although the most vulnerable looks to be Chelsea when they face Barcelona having hit a poor patch of form at just the wrong time.

Before the Weekend Football Picks post I will have my latest 'United Corner' focusing on recent poor performances and a lack of direction that Manchester United have seemingly had when going forward. That should be posted by Thursday ahead of three huge games for United to end February.

Basel v Manchester City Pick: The Champions League Second Round has put together some very interesting ties, but this is perhaps one of the least appealing ones.

Much of that is down to the fact that it feels like a mismatch and I think it would be a big surprise if Manchester City are not able to beat Basel over two Legs.

The First Leg has a few more question marks attached with Basel hosting the game and Manchester City just not looking at their dominant best away from home in recent Premier League games. However Basel's own form has not been that convincing and some changes in the January transfer window will take time to blend in with the rest of the squad.

Basel have speed which can be a big factor against Manchester City on the counter attack, but containing this City attack is a big ask.

Some are taking confidence from the 1-0 win over Manchester United here in the Group Stage, but Manchester United created many chances in that fixture. Unlike United, Manchester City are playing with a lot more confidence in the final third and have a striker in Sergio Aguero who is in stunning form in front of goal.

Manchester City scored four times in wins over Feyenoord and Napoli in the Group Stage and I think a strong team will begin here and put Pep Guardiola's team in a position where they will feel they have more than one foot into the Quarter Final. While Basel can cause some problems, I think they are going to really have problems keeping Manchester City out at the other end and I am expecting the Premier League leaders to win by a healthy margin on Tuesday.

There is a pressure that comes with Knock Out football, but this is a Manchester City team with experience of playing in these Rounds even if they have not been as successful as they would have liked in recent years. However confidence is high in the Manchester City camp and I think they win by a couple of goals, at least, on the night.

Juventus v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: This is one of the better looking Second Round ties in the Champions League and I would be surprised if there isn't everything to play for when Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur meet at Wembley Stadium in the Second Leg next month.

The First Leg has the makings of a tight contest with Juventus in stunning form, while Tottenham Hotspur have beaten both Manchester United and Arsenal and drawn with Liverpool in their last 3 Premier League games. Those results will have given Tottenham Hotspur a big shot of confidence as they head into more big games and it perhaps has raised some questions as to the outcome of this match.

One of the big criticisms of Tottenham Hotspur have been performances in big games, but those results coupled with the 1-1 draw in Real Madrid and 1-2 win in Borussia Dortmund shows what they are capable of. They did have to ride their luck a little bit in Madrid though and Tottenham Hotspur have tended to be a little more vulnerable on their travels against the top teams.

While they deserved their draw at Anfield ten days ago, Tottenham Hotspur have lost pretty comfortably at Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City in the Premier League.

I do think they will have to ride out some rough patches to earn a positive result here especially with the way Juventus have been playing.

8 consecutive clean sheets at home in all competitions and 11 straight wins in all competitions overall means Juventus are coming in with plenty of form of their own. Serie A is the priority for the club and Juventus are in a real battle back home against Napoli, but this is a team who have plenty of momentum behind them and I think that is going to lead to a narrow lead from the First Leg.

Odds against quotes for a Juventus win look too big as far as I am concerned especially when you think of how Tottenham Hotspur have tended to play away from home in 'big' games. I do think Spurs can be tough to break down defensively which will give them a chance in this First Leg, and the likes of Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane will pose a threat to Juventus too.

However home advantage should be a key difference maker in this match and I do like Juventus to come out with a narrow advantage. It is a bigger price than I anticipated for the Juventus win and I think they are worth backing at odds against to come out with the lead.

Porto v Liverpool Pick: You have to feel this First Leg is vital for Porto if they have real ambitions of beating Liverpool in the Champions League Second Round. This has notoriously been a difficult ground for teams from England to visit and Porto have to believe they need a lead to take to Anfield next month in the Second Leg.

Confidence shouldn't be a problem for Porto who have a long unbeaten record to protect and who have won their last 8 home games in all competitions. They have won 4 of their last 6 at home in the Champions League too, although some will question the standard of the teams they have faced compared with the Liverpool one they will play this week.

There is much to admire about the approach Liverpool have, but defensively they remain a team who can be very vulnerable. That is what Porto have to look to exploit, although finding the balance between attack and defence is going to be the challenge they face on Wednesday.

Juventus, Besiktas and Monaco have all scored at least twice as 3 of the last 4 teams to visit Porto in the Champions League. That will encourage Liverpool to go in search of one or two away goals which could prove highly valuable in the context of the tie, and they are a team who have been scoring a fair few goals in recent away games.

Liverpool also scored at least twice in 3 of their 4 away Champions League games so far this season and I have to say I am expecting to see goals in this fixture.

With the onus on Porto to attack, I think there could be spaces to exploit for both teams who will want to get forward. That could see opportunities at both ends and I am going to back at least three goals to be shared out when the teams play in the First Leg.

All 3 Porto home Champions League games featured at least three goals and 3 of 4 Liverpool away Champions League games have done the same. I don't think Liverpool will stray from their philosophy which should mean an attacking game develops and backing at least three goals looks the most likely outcome.

Real Madrid v Paris Saint-Germain Pick: This has to be considered the tie of the Second Round of the Champions League by some distance with both Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain the leading favourites to win the Champions League alongside Barcelona, Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

Only one of these teams can progress to the Quarter Final though and I think there are big repercussions in play for the losing team to add to the pressure of the occasion.

Neither club is going to be satisfied by a Second Round exit and I think there will be sweeping changes at Real Madrid and huge coaching changes at Paris Saint-Germain in the months ahead if their team is beaten in this tie.

That will be on the minds of the management staff, but you have to think the players are keen to show off the array of talent that will take to the field. Both Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain look like huge threats when going forward with confidence, but defensively there is room for improvement and there is every chance they gel together to produce two memorable fixtures much like Barcelona and PSG did twelve months ago.

It is hard to believe this tie will come close to the drama that was provided, but goals were not in short supply in that tie and I expect this one to follow suit.

Both teams look very comfortable with the ball and the attacking players on show should be able to create some big openings for some of the best footballers in the world. It is hard to see those chances not being converted into goals and I think it is no surprise the layers are offering pretty short odds for four or more goals.

However I think there is every chance of that number being reached even if their two matches in the 2015/16 Group Stage produced a grand total of one goal. The last 5 Paris Saint-Germain away games in the Champions League have produced four or more goals, while Real Madrid have looked very vulnerable defensively and dangerous going forward in recent games.

Some times these fixtures can disappoint, but I am not sure Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain know another way to play except getting forward and scoring goals. I will look for that to mould into a top class Champions League game, at least from an attacking point of view, and at least four goals to be scored on Wednesday in the First Leg.

Ludogorets v Milan PickMost will be expecting Milan to get past Ludogorets over the two Legs of this Last 32 Europa League tie to be played in the next eight days. However this First Leg looks a tougher fixture than the layers believe as Milan are going in as strong favourites to secure a lead in Bulgaria.

That could be down to the fact that Ludogorets have not played a competitive fixture since December while Milan are on an 8 game unbeaten run. There are definite signs that Milan are feeling more confident than they have been in weeks, but Ludogorets have been a tough test for teams visiting Bulgaria and will know how important the First Leg is to them.

Ludogorets have shown they can play some decent attacking football at times and I think they are going to challenge Milan at times. They have been involved in some high scoring games at home in European competition this season as Ludogorets have looked to get forward which has ultimately left them exposed defensively too.

They have played 6 home European games this season and both teams have scored in 5 of those and Ludogorets have to know their best chance of the upset will come if they can earn a First Leg lead. Milan's away games in Europe have tended to trend the opposite way with tight games produced, but they could be forced into a more entertaining game by the approach of their hosts.

The 1-1 scoreline could be the biggest blow to this pick, but I think both Ludogorets and Milan will have their chances to combine for at least three goals at odds against in this First Leg.

Nice v Lokomotiv Moscow Pick: There are a few fixtures in the Champions League and Europa League over this period where some of the teams involved are resuming competitive action after Winter Breaks domestically.

That can make it tougher to get a read on how they are going to perform with fitness perhaps a concern when facing a team who have been playing plenty of competitive football.

That is the case when Nice host Lokomotiv Moscow on Thursday in the First Leg in France and I think that has contributed to the home team being an odds on favourite to win this fixture. However Nice have not been in great form and that makes it much harder to trust them to win this game.

Nice have been better at home though and have won 6 of their last 9 in front of their own fans, while also winning 2 of 5 European games here this season. That makes them dangerous, but Lokomotiv Moscow are also a tough team having lost just 1 of their last 8 away Europa League ties.

The defeat did come last season in the Last 32 of the Europa League though and I think Nice may have enough to secure a narrow advantage from the First Leg. I will keep my interest in this game to a minimum though with Nice not exactly firing on all cylinders, but I think they have played well enough at home to secure a First Leg lead against an opponent that perhaps may run out of energy in the second half off the long Winter Break.

I don't think it will be a decisive lead with the Second Leg in the Russian capital to come, but I will take a small interest in Nice having a lead from the First Leg.

Ostersund v Arsenal Pick: On paper this looks to be a tie that should be dominated by Arsenal and the layers are anticipating the same with the English side short odds to win the First Leg in Sweden.

I don't think Ostersund will be too concerned about being the underdog having spent the entire Europa League campaign surprising teams who should have beaten them on paper. The likes of Galatasaray, PAOK and Hertha Berlin have all lost to Graham Potter's team in Sweden, while Athletic Bilbao needed an 89th minute goal to earn a 2-2 draw here.

The long lay off since December is a concern for Ostersund against a Premier League club like Arsenal but I do think they can pose problems for a team who have been travelling poorly of late.

A much changed Arsenal team have won at BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League, and I am second guessing Arsene Wenger by suggesting a strong team could be played in this First Leg.

That makes Arsenal more dangerous with the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil supporting Danny Welbeck. It should be something Wenger considers with the Europa League increasing in importance in each passing Premier League week, and the fact that Arsenal are not playing this weekend means the players will have plenty of time to recharge the batteries following this fixture.

A strong team will cause Ostersund problems like Athletic Bilbao did, but Arsenal still look vulnerable defensively and I think the home team will cause problems of their own.

I was tempted to pick Ostersund with the start on the Asian Handicap considering how well they played at home against teams in the Europa League. However the attacking qualities of Arsenal makes it hard to oppose them in this kind of fixture.

It does make me want to back at least three goals to be shared out though because all of the attacking quality of Arsenal is almost matched by the defensive vulnerabilities. I won't be surprised if both teams score in this one and I am expecting an attacking display from both clubs with the expected teams they are going to pick.

Celtic v Zenit St Petersburg Pick: Both Celtic and Zenit St Petersburg will feel this is the kind of opponent they would have potentially met in the Champions League and that should mean both Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Mancini will be reminding their players of the size of the task in front of them.

It is Zenit St Petersburg who will come into this Europa League Last 32 tie as the favourites to go on and progress to the next Round, especially if they can head away from Glasgow with an away goal or two behind them.

Zenit St Petersburg have scored plenty of goals in the Europa League this season which will make them a real danger to a Celtic team who have not made Glasgow as much of a fortress in Europe as they would have liked. Celtic have lost 5 of their last 8 home European ties including all 3 in the Champions League Group Stage this season.

That means the pressure is on Celtic to find the right balance to earn a lead that they will be able to defend in St Petersburg. Injuries may make it more difficult for Celtic, but Rodgers will ask his team to play one way and that is to attack their visitors and try and force their way into a lead.

Attacking football like the way Rodgers wants his team to approach things does make Celtic a little more vulnerable defensively and teams have been able to come to Celtic Park and score goals. This Zenit St Petersburg team will believe they can do the same and these two teams could combine for three or more goals ahead of the Second Leg in St Petersburg next week.

Goals have flown in recent Celtic home European games and I think both teams will have chances in this one. There may even be the potential for late goals if Celtic are chasing or if Zenit St Petersburg get a little tired coming out of the Winter Break and I will look for three or more goals to be shared out in this one.

Lyon v Villarreal Pick: One of the best looking Last 32 ties in the Europa League is played between Lyon and Villarreal, two clubs who have had success in the Champions League in recent memory.

However both have become a little more accustomed to the Europa League and will be looking for a strong run in the competition as perhaps a strong path back into the Champions League. Both have reached the Semi Final in the last couple of years with Villarreal doing that in 2016 and Lyon last season, while the latter have the added motivation of knowing the Final will be played in their home Stadium in May.

I am finding it tough to separate these teams with both Lyon and Villarreal showing what they are capable of with recent League wins over Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain respectively. However both teams have come off the boil and come in with losing trends in recent games which makes it tougher to work out the outcome of the tie.

However I do think home advantage is key for Lyon in the First Leg and I think they can use that to have a lead to defend in Spain. Villarreal have been strong away from home in the Europa League since their Semi Final loss to Liverpool in April 2016, but Lyon have won 6 of 7 home Europa League ties over the last twelve months which has to give them confidence.

It will be tight and I do think both teams will have everything to play for in the Second Leg in seven days time, but I am going to back Lyon to have the lead by winning this First Leg.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Juventus @ 2.25 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Porto-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Real Madrid-Paris Saint-Germain Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.30 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Ludogorets-Milan Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Nice @ 2.00 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Ostersund-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)
Celtic-Zenit St Petersburg Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Lyon @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)

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