Home advantage counts for a lot. When preparing this feature, great sides traveling to tough venues is always one of the things I look for; it typically makes for an excellent contest. Games where the fans will galvanize their team, makes things difficult for the opposition and provide a brilliant leveler.
At this stage of the campaign, with plenty to play in a host of Europe’s top divisions, fans can make all the difference. Liverpool supporters created a stirring atmosphere for their side to revel in last weekend and as the weeks tick down on the season, this weekend there are plenty of other sets of supporters who will be looking to do the same. So often, it’s they who can inspire their team to that vital result transforming a good season into a great one or a bad campaign into a decent one.
So, we’ve got a host of different types of games this weekend. One each from England and Germany where a team perilously close to relegation welcomes a side challenging at the top end of the table.
Some managers could be in for a little flack this weekend too, as Sunday sees a former hero set to come in for some stick from his old supporters and an under pressure boss looking to salvage something from a very disappointing season.
As always, kick off times are in Eastern Time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy your football!
Hamburger SV vs. VfL Wolfsburg
Saturday, 12:30PM, GolTV
A clash in Germany that has huge connotations at both ends of the Bundesliga table. Wolfsburg are chasing a Champions League spot whilst Hamburg are in dire need of a victory to help stave of their relegation worries.
The race for the fourth and final Champions League spot is really beginning to hot up in the Bundesliga. Bayer Leverkusen currently occupy fourth position, but they’re just one point clear of Wolfsburg and two clear of Borussia Monchengladbach. Wolfsburg saw off the challenge off strugglers Nurnberg last weekend with an emphatic 4-1 victory and they look the form team out of the aforementioned trio as we move towards the season end.
Hamburg are running out of games if they are to drag themselves out of the relegation mire. They currently sit 16th in the table in one of the two relegation playoff spots, but they’re just one point back on VfB Stuttgart who are currently in 15th. They remain one of the biggest names in Germany and relegation would be a disaster for the club given the calibre of player they have in their squad.
A win here would go a long way to alleviating those relegation woes, though. Stuttgart face a tough game against Schalke on Sunday and if Hamburg must do their utmost to shift them pressure on them in this exceptionally tight scrap for survival.
Norwich vs. Liverpool
Sunday, 7:00AM, NBCSN
They’re almost there, and as Steven Gerrard bellowed to his players after their 3-2 win over Manchester City, they have no intention of letting this slip.
Liverpool are in the box seat for this Premier League title now, and if they win their last four games then they’ll be lifting their first domestic championship in 24 years. Brendan Rodgers and his team have had a tremendous season and this enterprising, dynamic Liverpool side would certainly be popular winners if they were to finish top of the pile.
The next step in their title charge is a trip to Norwich City, and the Canaries have plenty to play for themselves in the final four games of the season. They’re just two points ahead of Fulham in the battle to stay up and have much sterner run-in than their relegation rivals.
At this juncture, the games at Carrow Road against Arsenal on the final day and against Liverpool this weekend look their best chance of picking up some much needed points. The old stadium should be bouncing on Sunday and the Norwich crowd will do their utmost to inspire their team to a big result.
To pick up some points, Norwich must stop Luis Suarez, a task they’ve found rather difficult in their last four games against the current league leaders; the Uruguayan has netted a whopping 11 goals in his last four games against the Canaries.
Everton vs. Manchester United
Sunday, 11:10AM, NBCSN
After losing to Crystal Palace in midweek, Everton’s Champions League charge was somewhat halted. But there’s arguably no better opportunity to get back on track than when Manchester United rock up at Goodison Park on Easter Sunday in what will be David Moyes’ first return to his old club as Manchester United manager.
Prior to the shock defeat to the Eagles, the Toffees had won seven games on the bounce and Champions League qualification was in their hands. But now, they trail Arsenal by one point in the race for fourth, with a much tougher run-in to tackle.
Moyes and his team have little to play for at this late stage in the campaign, but he’ll be keen for his side to put in a strong performance at a venue where he’s sure to get a fair bit of stick from the Everton supporters; the Goodison Park faithful lost a lot of respect for their former boss after his comedic pursuit of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines.
But the Toffees supporters will surely focus the majority of their efforts on backing their team. Arsenal travel to Hull City on Saturday evening and could easily drop points, Roberto Martinez’s team must be prepared to capitalize if they do.
Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao
In the long illustrious history of the Catalan giants, have they ever had a fortnight as destructive as the one just passed?
They’ve lost three consecutive games in three different competitions and look set to finish the season without any silverware whatsoever. The writing looks on the wall for Tata Martino, unless he can oversee a dramatic turnaround in the Spanish title race.
Their only remaining shot at a trophy is in La Liga and it’s imperative they get back to winning ways in front of their own supporters on Easter Sunday. But that certainly won’t be easy, as they face an Athletic Bilbao side looking to cement their Champions League credentials.
The Basque outfit beat Barcelona at the San Mames earlier this season and will be confident of adding to Martino’s misery. They play with an intensity and dynamism that has troubled Barcelona as of late, and it’ll be intriguing to see how Lionel Messi and co. respond to that challenge.
It’s simply a case of win or bust for this Barcelona side. Real Madrid don’t play in La Liga this weekend, and three points for Barcelona would see them overhaul Los Blancos and move into second place. Lose here and it’s difficult to see Martino taking his seat in the Camp Nou dugout for next season.