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Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Midweek Football Picks 2019 (April 16-18)

Forgive me, but I am still trying to get over the terrible Fantasy Week I experienced as pretty much every decision I made for my team was the wrong one.

I'll get back to that on Friday when the next Weekend Football thread comes out along with my Fantasy selections for GW35, but this thread is concentrating on the Quarter Final matches to be played in the Champions League and Europa League this week.

Most of the Second Legs to come over the next three days are finely balanced and even the ties that look like there is a real advantage for one of the teams are far from over considering what we have seen in European competition throughout this season.

You can read my thoughts on the four Champions League fixtures and the two Europa League fixtures involving the English clubs below.


Barcelona v Manchester United Pick: The First Leg of this Quarter Final was an interesting game, but Manchester United had to feel disappointed they were not able to test a Barcelona team who are not as strong as previous editions. It does feel the best chance of winning the tie would have been at Old Trafford, but Manchester United have won at big away grounds in the Champions League this season including a stunning 1-3 win in Paris to make it through to the Quarter Final.

That is something that may be on the minds of the Barcelona players, but they will also know they are a much more secure team than Paris Saint-Germain from a mental point of view. Where Paris Saint-Germain have something of a reputation for being potential chokers, Barcelona are unbeaten in 30 Champions League home games and have won 27 of them.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is right to say this is a bigger challenge than winning in Paris despite the closer nature of the scoreline from the First Leg. Ultimately Barcelona are not known to blow leads like the one they have and they are a different beast at home compared with their travels.

Manchester United have won in Paris and Turin during their Champions League run and scored at least twice in both games so there is hope. The performances in recent weeks tempers some of the enthusiasm though and it would be a huge surprise if they can turn up the level after struggling in recent games to really impose themselves.

They key will be to stay in this one as long as possible and hope to exploit nerves for a team that have not reached the Champions League Semi Final since winning the trophy in 2015. It just sounds too far fetched here and as much as I would LOVE to be wrong again (like I was in the Second Leg in the last Round), I can only see Barcelona taking the lead and this time exploiting spaces that Manchester United will inevitably have to leave behind to get back into the tie.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have taken some thumping defeats in visits to the Nou Camp in the last three years and it could be the turn of Manchester United this week.


Juventus v Ajax Pick: The majority of the First Leg of this Champions League Quarter Final was dominated by Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena, but I think Juventus will be far the happier with the 1-1 draw that gives them a slight edge in the tie.

I think there will have to be some wariness of what Ajax are capable of doing when Juventus take in the 1-4 win the Dutch club had at Real Madrid in the Second Round, but being back at home should be a big comfort for the Italian Champions.

The team should be fresh with many being rested for the 2-1 loss at SPAL this past weekend and Juventus have been scoring plenty of goals at home. However they have been far from invulnerable here in the Champions League with 2 losses from their last 5 games played in this competition.

Ajax play with the freedom of youth which makes them very dangerous and they will believe they can score at least one goal that that they need to give themselves a chance of progressing. Balancing attack and defence will be the key and Ajax can't expect Juventus to defend anywhere near as poorly as Real Madrid did in the Last 16.

I do think they will have chances, but Ajax will also have to take risks and Juventus have been scoring goals for fun in front of their own fans. I do think there will be a situation where Juventus are able to expose their visitors on the counter attack to confirm their place in the Semi Final and the Ajax upsets end here.

All respect to Ajax for reaching the Quarter Final against the odds and for some of their performances to get to this Stage. However this may be just a step too far despite the draw in Bayern Munich and win in Real Madrid and I will back Juventus to win a game featuring two or more goals.


Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The First Leg was a real tactical battle between Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, although I do think some of the criticism of the former was unwarranted. Of course he had to expect that Manchester City lost the First Leg, but it was almost a perfect performance in which Guardiola's team missed a penalty and were punished for one lapse of concentration.

A lack of an away goal is an issue here, but I think Manchester City will still be confident having had 3 straight wins over Tottenham Hotspur before the defeat last week. They were arguably the better team and Manchester City have won 12 in a row at home where they are not conceding too many goals.

It does feel like another tactical battle will develop as Tottenham Hotspur look to use the pace of the likes of Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura to get the better of Manchester City. They will be looking to sit in and defend effectively and Mauricio Pochettino will be very much aware of how crucial an away goal could be for his team.

Pep Guardiola will know the same and, unlike twelve months ago, I don't think he will be pushing his team for the fast start they needed to try and overturn the 3-0 deficit they had at the same stage against Liverpool last season. This time I think the manager will be looking for control and making sure his players are concentrated defensively.

Harry Kane's absence is a blow, but not a fatal one for Tottenham Hotspur. I do think the potential absence of Dele Alli coupled with Kane's absence could be a blow and Manchester City can overturn the First Leg deficit.

The home team have not been conceding too many goals at the Etihad Stadium since the three conceded to Crystal Palace back in December and I think the first priority here will be to keep a clean sheet. Pep Guardiola will always believe his team have at least one goal in them so this feels like a fixture that could potentially be balanced for a while with my selection being Manchester City to win with a clean sheet.


Porto v Liverpool Pick: It will take an almost perfect performance from Porto if they are going to overturn the deficit from the First Leg and move into the Champions League Semi Final at the expense of Liverpool. The 2-0 away defeat makes it very difficult to imagine they can do that, but Porto did create enough chances to believe they can cause problems for their opponents.

Porto have been strong at home in recent games and they have also won 6 of their last 7 games here in the Champions League. However none of the players and fans would have forgotten the exception in that run which was the 0-5 defeat to Liverpool in the Last 16 fourteen months ago.

The home team will have to take chances at some point and I think Liverpool are going to be able to exploit those on the counter attack. The visitors have to find the balance of trying to manage this fixture to conserve some energy for big games coming up, but they can't afford to allow Porto to build some momentum especially with a relatively poor away record in the Champions League.

The counter attack is going to be very important for Liverpool and I think they are good enough to win on the day, although Porto can play a part too with the chances they were able to create in the First Leg. If both teams show even a little more composure I think they will be able to combine for a Second Leg that features three or more goals on the night and that is going to be my recommendation for this fixture.

My worry would be that Liverpool score first and knock the stuffing out of their hosts and the remainder of the fixture is played at a light tempo, but both teams have looked like they are capable of scoring goals when they go forward against the other and I do think three or more will be shared out.


Chelsea v Slavia Prague Pick: The First Leg in the Czech Republic was quite a tight and competitive affair, but Chelsea's win in Prague has given them the edge and I would expect them to make it through to the Semi Final of the Europa League.

The importance of the competition may have increased after the 2-0 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday, but Maurizio Sarri has long been taking it seriously and Chelsea players have enjoyed their experiences in the competition. Chelsea have won all 5 Europa League games played at Stamford Bridge this season and they have scored three or more goals in their last 4 as they have been able to make serene progression through the draw.

I would expect them to have too much for a Slavia Prague team that have just hit a poor patch of form with 2 wins from their last 5 in all competitions. Slavia Prague have also been beaten in half of their 6 away European ties this season and I do think the pressure will be on them to get forward to try and get back into the tie which can give Chelsea the chance to counter attack and finish them off.

I can see that happening in the second half as Slavia Prague begin to have to take risks and Chelsea may be able to win the Second Leg by a slightly wider margin than the First Leg. This feels like a fixture Chelsea will be able to win by a couple of goals on the day and I will look for them to cover the Asian Handicap.


Napoli v Arsenal Pick: Any time a team wins 2-0 at home in a European Knock Out tie there is no doubting the very strong position they have put themselves in, but this Arsenal team are vulnerable on their travels and Unai Emery may regret not seeing his team take more of the chances that came their way last week.

Regret will also be on the mind of Carlo Ancelotti as Napoli missed some late chances to earn an away goal to take back home and now his team are going to have to play an almost perfect game to get back into this one.

A single Arsenal goal is going to put a lot of pressure on Napoli to find the goals to get out of the tie, but the confidence will come from 4 wins in 5 European fixtures played here this season. They have kept clean sheets in 3 of those 5 games including in both of the Europa League Knock Out ties they have played and Napoli will believe a vulnerable Arsenal defence can be exposed.

Ultimately I think they are going to have to take chances and that will give Arsenal an opportunity to at least grab one away goal which should be enough to take them through. However, I think Napoli may be good enough to find the win on the day and I will back them to win a fixture containing two or more goals.

MY PICKS: Barcelona - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor
Juventus to Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 2.00 Ladbrokes
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 2.45 Bet Victor
Porto-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor
Napoli to Win & Over 1.5 Goals @ 1.95 Ladbrokes

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