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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Midweek Football Picks 2018 (March 13-15)

The Quarter Final line up in the Champions League and Europa League will be set this week and the draw for the last eight of both competitions will take place on Friday.

Bayern Munich are the fifth team who will make up the eight in the Champions League barring a stunning defeat in Istanbul, but the other three ties are finely balanced this week.

The Europa League Last 16 Second Leg ties are mainly still up for grabs, although the two favourites Atletico Madrid and Arsenal look to be in very strong positions after big wins last week.

It is a big week for all of the teams involved before another weekend of domestic football ahead of a two week break for the top teams around Europe during which time the final international break of the season takes place.

Manchester United v Sevilla Pick: The goalless away draw in the Champions League is not the best result for teams these days considering the importance of earning away goals in this competition, but Manchester United are in a position where a win at Old Trafford will earn them a spot in the Quarter Final.

After wins over Chelsea and Liverpool in consecutive Premier League games at Old Trafford, Jose Mourinho has to believe his side can continue the momentum built up in recent games.

Defensively Manchester United look a tough team to break down and there is an attacking threat which has been shown in their recent wins.

A long unbeaten run at Old Trafford in European competition and 3 wins in the Champions League Group Stage gives Manchester United the edge, but they can't overlook a Sevilla team with plenty of European experience. However Sevilla have been in mixed form and they will have to show a lot of character to get something from this Second Leg.

You have to credit Sevilla for having lost 1 of their last 6 away games in all competitions, but this is a team who did have some difficulty in the Champions League Group Stage. The 2-2 draw at Anfield shows they are capable of picking up results unexpectedly, but Sevilla were outplayed for large parts of that game and were crushed 5-1 at Spartak Moscow.

Twelve months ago Sevilla were beaten comfortably by Leicester City in the Second Leg of their Champions League Last 16 tie which sent them out of this competition.

I can see this Second Leg being a little tense at times with the importance of the away goals not lost on the Old Trafford crowd, but Manchester United look to be in good enough form to get the better of Sevilla. They have won 5 in a row at Old Trafford in all competitions and Manchester United have scored at least twice in all of those wins.

I expect that will be good enough to see off Sevilla in the Second Leg of this Champions League tie. The Spanish side have not been as strong a traveller as they have been at home, despite a recent run of decent results, and Sevilla have lost on their last 4 visits to England while they have conceded at least twice in their last 5 visits to England.

Backing Manchester United to win and cover the Asian Handicap looks to be the right way to go with this Second Leg.

Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk Pick: This is a tough Second Leg to call with reasons to feel that both Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk can earn the necessary result to move through to the Quarter Final of the Champions League.

With an away goal and only a single goal deficit, Roma will have to feel they can do enough at home to beat Shakhtar Donetsk and make their way through to the last eight of the premier European competition for the first time in a decade.

On the other hand, Shakhtar Donetsk have had a lot more recent successes in European competition which could see them have the edge over their hosts who have to deal with the pressure of expectation.

My feeling is that Roma will do enough to win the Second Leg, but I would not be hugely surprised if extra time is needed in this Champions League tie. Roma have played well at home in the Champions League with wins over Chelsea and Qarabag and earning a draw with Atletico Madrid, while they also kept clean sheets in all 3 of those games.

Recent home form has been erratic to say the least with Roma losing 4 of their last 7 here in all competitions, but they have won 2 of their last 3 to try and turn things back around. Roma are also hosting a Shakhtar Donetsk team who have lost 6 of their last 7 away games in the Champions League and who were beaten 3-0 at Napoli in the Group Stage.

There is talent in the Shakhtar Donetsk ranks which makes them very dangerous in this one and I do think they will make life very tough for Roma. Shakhtar Donetsk have won all 5 games coming out of the Winter Break in the Ukraine and they have scored three times in their last couple of away wins, while they also won all 5 away games in the Europa League last season.

The layers understand the tie is finely balanced with both teams a pick 'em to Qualify for the Quarter Final. I think it will be very close too, but Roma have home advantage and a little bit of momentum with a couple of fine wins over Napoli and Torino coming into this one.

That may be enough to secure a win on Tuesday and one that could take them through to the Quarter Final. Shakhtar Donetsk have the talent to be very dangerous too, but I will back Roma on the Asian Handicap in this one.

Besiktas v Bayern Munich Pick: There were a number of Champions League Last 16 Second Legs which have proven to be dead rubbers after dominant First Leg wins. Last week we saw both Liverpool and Manchester City fail to win Second Leg ties after strong First Leg wins and I do think Bayern Munich could potentially fall into the same trap.

Unlike Liverpool and Manchester City, Bayern Munich have to visit Besiktas in the Second Leg and they may decide to rest some of their key names for more important games coming up.

It would be foolish to play any of the players who are a booking away from a suspension which would mean Bayern Munich are missing Sebastian Rudy, Joshua Kimmich and Robert Lewandowski, while Jupp Heynckes may also give some other fringe players an opportunity.

That will give Besiktas a chance to secure a morale boosting win in the Second Leg as they bid to redeem themselves after the poor result in the First Leg. The early sending off hurt Besiktas that day and they have been tough to beat in Istanbul in European competition in recent years.

The motivation of playing one of the European giants at home should be enough for Besiktas to really give this a good go. It is an opportunity for Besiktas if Bayern Munich make the wholesale changes that are expected and the away team needed late goals to win at Celtic and Anderlecht in the Champions League Group Stage.

Besiktas are better than both and I think they can play with the freedom of just taking this as a one off game. I will back the home team with the start on the Asian Handicap to at least avoid a big defeat and I do think Besiktas are capable of avoiding defeat against a demotivated visitor that could be looking ahead to the weekend fixture at Leipzig.

Barcelona v Chelsea Pick: There will be some regrets in the Chelsea squad that they did not manage to earn a lead in the First Leg of this Champions League Last 16 tie. They hit the woodwork twice at Stamford Bridge and also had the lead while containing Barcelona before a couple of mistakes at the back allowed Lionel Messi to equalise and leave West London with a 1-1 draw.

I don't think anyone will be surprised that Barcelona are a big favourite to win the tie and also a strong favourite to win the Second Leg at the Nou Camp. They have won 20 of their last 22 games at the Nou Camp in the Champions League and also have won 18 of 20 games here this season.

That's a record that would intimidate the very best teams in Europe when you HAVE to score in the Nou Camp to have a chance to move past Barcelona. It is a tougher task for Chelsea who have lost 4 straight away games in all competitions and who have lacked some confidence in recent weeks.

Antonio Conte will likely employ similar tactics to the ones used at Stamford Bridge where he will want his Chelsea team to set up to contain the spaces Barcelona can operate in. If Andres Iniesta is ruled out, it may make things a little more comfortable in blocking the supply lines to the likes of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

The counter attack is where Chelsea will be dangerous and this is a team that can defend well enough to at least prevent Barcelona from overrunning them. The recent away performances may not have shown the defensive strength that Chelsea will need, but Barcelona have hit a tough patch in front of goal.

Barcelona had scored at least twice in 16 straight games at the Nou Camp, but they have scored one or fewer in 3 of their last 4 here. On the other hand they have shown defensive toughness of their own and Barcelona have conceded just 2 goals in 10 home games in all competitions.

At some stage Barcelona have to expect Chelsea to come out and try and score the away goal they need, but I think Antonio Conte will play this in a manner that Italian Football fans will respect. Chelsea don't need to score in the first 10 minutes of this game so I expect Conte will look to prevent Barcelona from taking control of the match by keeping things tight and perhaps bringing some tension into the Second Leg.

As long as this game is 0-0, Conte will feel Chelsea have an opportunity to win the tie and I think I will go against the layers and look for two or fewer goals to be shared out. That would have been a winner in 3 of the last 4 Barcelona home games and Chelsea have shown they can limit the opportunities their opponents can create in the First Leg.

My concern has to be the poor recent performances from Chelsea, especially away from home, but they are similar to Atletico Madrid who recently lost 1-0 in the Nou Camp. I do think Conte can help Chelsea keep things tight going into the second half and I will back the under market in this one.

Of course an early Barcelona game can change the entire complexion of the tie and force this fixture to open up very quickly, but I think it will go the same way as the First Leg and be a tight game with little between the teams. At odds against, I will look for Chelsea to do enough to frustrate their hosts and give themselves every chance of a huge upset against a Barcelona team that isn't as strong as recent versions of their team.

Athletic Bilbao v Marseille PickLast week I picked there being at least three goals in the First Leg between these two teams, but even I was surprised by the incredibly quick start made by Marseille  which has given them the platform to take a 3-1 lead into the Second Leg.

The tie might look very much in their favour, but Marseille have shown they are not quite as strong away from home as they are in front of their own fans in the Europa League this season. They have lost 3 of their last 4 away Europa League games and Athletic Bilbao have shown they have plenty of quality at home having won 8 of their last 10 home Europa League games.

However it can't be ignored that they have also lost 2 of their last 4 in the Europa League at home, including a 1-2 defeat to Spartak Moscow in the Last 32 Second Leg, and so I do think both teams will have their opportunities in this one.

At some point Athletic Bilbao will have to take a few more chances which could leave gaps for Marseille to exploit, while the whole game could open up very much like the First Leg if we do see another early goal for either side.

Both teams do have goals in their squad and I will look for at least three in the Second Leg as I expected to come in the First Leg.

Dynamo Kiev v Lazio Pick: After coming from a goal behind, Lazio will be very disappointed that they have not been able to head to the Ukraine with a lead from the First Leg. The game in Rome came alive in the second half as Lazio and Dynamo Kiev played out a 2-2 draw with all four goals scored after half time, and that scoreline leaves potential for another entertaining clash when they meet again on Thursday.

The task is simple for Lazio as they have to get forward and score here, but that should mean Dynamo Kiev are able to employ similar tactics as they used against Lazio last week.

However Lazio have shown they can score goals away from home in the Europa League and that could lead to an open game with the situation dictating one of these teams will have to take chances at some point in this fixture.

Dynamo Kiev did manage to hold AEK Athens to a goalless draw here in the Last 32 which helped them get past the Greek side on away goals, but Lazio are a better team than that. They may have lost 1-0 at Steaua Bucharest in the Last 32 First Leg, but Lazio had scored at least twice in their 3 away Group games in this competition and Dynamo Kiev had not kept a clean sheet in 6 home European games before the draw with AEK Athens.

The Ukrainian team have usually scored plenty of home goals in Europe though and I think both teams will have their successes in another high scoring game.

Zenit St Petersburg v Leipzig Pick: This was another game where I picked at least three goals to be scored in the First Leg and once again I am going back to the same market as I am in the Athletic Bilbao and Marseille tie.

Anyone who watched the First Leg would have appreciated the attacking display of football that Leipzig produced and they may be disappointed to only lead 2-1 on aggregate. They created some big chances to extend that lead before Zenit St Petersburg earned a priceless away goal, but Leipzig are unlikely to change their game plan when they head to Russia for the Second Leg.

They may want to be a little more cautious when facing a Zenit St Petersburg team who have been much stronger when they have played at home. They have scored at least twice in their last 4 home Europa League ties and overcame a single goal deficit in the Last 32 when crushing Celtic 3-0 here.

Zenit St Petersburg have shown they can use plenty of goals at home, but Leipzig have to be respected too having scored four goals in Monaco and three goals in Napoli. Leipzig won both of those games and have shown they can overcome defensive vulnerabilities by getting on the front foot and it would be a surprise if they don't play with a similar ambition in this one.

I think the teams could combine for another game with at least three goals shared out as both look capable of hurting the other when they get forward. I really think the tie in on the knife edge here and either team could progress to the Quarter Final at the end of this one, while extra time and penalties can't be ruled out either.

I don't imagine Leipzig will be looking to contain their hosts and sit on the lead they have and that could lead to a pretty open game with three or more goals shared out.

Arsenal v AC Milan Pick: The scheduled opponent for Arsenal this weekend is in FA Cup action which means The Gunners can put all of their attention on this fixture which is the last game they play in March.

With the players away on international duty a week after this game is in the books, Arsene Wenger would be very foolish to risk the ire of the fans by rotating his squad. The Europa League is clearly the focus for Arsenal the rest of the season and Wenger has to have noted the way his side almost blew a 0-3 lead against Ostersund from the First Leg when they trailed 0-2 at home in the Second Leg.

Neither Wenger or the players will want to make the Emirates Stadium become a tension filled environment and so I expect to see as strong a team as Arsenal are able to field in this one.

In the First Leg Arsenal showed they still have far too much for this current AC Milan team who have been in fine form back in Italy, but are still some way short of the standards this famous club have produced. They have been producing some strong results at home, but the First Leg loss may mean AC Milan have turned their attention to finishing in the top four in Serie A rather than progressing further in the Europa League.

While I don't believe Gennaro Gattuso will want to see his side give up, he could rest players for the League game this weekend. It is a big ask for Milan to come to the Emirates Stadium and win by a two goal margin especially as Arsenal proved to be very dangerous on the counter attack in the San Siro seven days ago.

Arsenal have a number of players who will be very comfortable at the Europa League level and I think they have shown that with their second string team being good enough to reach the Last 16. Now I expect another fixture where Arsene Wenger picks the very best team available to him to avoid any tension on the way through to the Quarter Final and I like Arsenal to win the Second Leg at an appealing price.

Lyon v CSKA Moscow Pick: Having a First Leg lead from an away tie is clearly going to give the host of the Second Leg a big advantage, but Lyon will be the first to admit that their 0-1 lead over CSKA Moscow is not a decisive one.

They will respect the fact that CSKA Moscow had won 4 away games in the Champions League this season before their narrow defeat at Old Trafford. The same 1-2 win at Benfica and Basel would be enough for CSKA Moscow to earn their way past Lyon into the Europa League Quarter Final so the home team has to make sure they avoid any complacency.

Lyon have been playing well at home with a single loss in their last 7 games here in all competitions while they have won 4 of those games. They have also won 7 of their last 8 home Europa League games going back over the last thirteen months and Lyon are highly motivated to reach the Europa League Final which is being held in their own Stadium.

The situation is a good one for Lyon in the sense that they don't have to take risks and can look to pick off a CSKA Moscow team that have to score here. They also did look the superior team out in Moscow which will give them confidence and I can see them going in front at home and then being able to pick off their visitors as they chase a way back into the tie.

There is no doubt that Lyon will feel they can show better composure in the final third to create more opportunities at home and I will look for the home team to secure another win over CSKA Moscow. I will back Lyon to cover the Asian Handicap and pick off CSKA Moscow on the counter attack to earn a full payout with a win by a couple of goals on the night, even if a single goal win for Lyon will provide a profit here.

Salzburg v Borussia Dortmund Pick: You had to be impressed with the way Salzburg went about their work in the First Leg of this Europa League Last 16 tie and the top Austrian side are worthy of their 1-2 lead over Borussia Dortmund.

In fact better finishing may have given Salzburg an even bigger advantage in the Second Leg in front of their own fans. Even so, I do think Salzburg are capable of securing their place in the Quarter Final and I am not convinced they should be the underdog in this Second Leg.

We know Salzburg don't need to win this Second Leg to overcome Borussia Dortmund, but I think the situation is a good one for the home team. Their opponents have to come here and score twice at least and that should mean Salzburg can play this game very much like the First Leg and use the counter attack to expose the spaces Borussia Dortmund will invariably leave behind.

Borussia Dortmund are a team with goals in the side, but they were fortunate to draw at Atalanta in the Last 32 Second Leg. They looked to be going out of the Europa League that day, but managed a 1-1 draw which means Borussia Dortmund have not won any of their last 7 away European ties.

They have lost 4 of their last 6 and Dortmund are in a tough position as they need goals but have seen teams have a lot of success against them. Salzburg have been very strong at home both in Austria and in European Football and I think they are going to be very dangerous throughout this Second Leg and can win this fixture.

Salzburg are certainly a big looking price to do that, but I think Borussia Dortmund have to be respected for producing a 5 game unbeaten run away from home. We still have a chance to back Salzburg as the home underdog which means getting a start on the Asian Handicap and I will back the Austrian side to earn a positive result on their way through to the Quarter Final.

If Borussia Dortmund are chasing the game at any point, Salzburg could secure the victory for sure in this Second Leg with their speedy counter attacks causing plenty of problems in the First Leg. A bit more composure in front of goal would be nice, but I like Salzburg here with the start regardless.

MY PICKS: Manchester United - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Roma - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Besiktas + 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.03 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Barcelona-Chelsea Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.37 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Athletic Bilbao-Marseille Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Dynamo Kiev-Lazio Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Zenit St Petersburg-Leipzig Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Lyon - 0.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Salzburg + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)

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