Is there any scenario that makes it acceptable to want your own team to lose?
In many respects, to pomp for the opposition goes against some of the game’s core mantras: Uniting behind a cause, backing 11 men who represent the supporters through thick and thin, no matter what. But what if a win for your team directly facilitates the ascent of a fierce and often bitter rival? Is it acceptable then?
The game has been littered with these instances, and supporters have responded in different ways. The most recent example being when a Liverpool side floundering in mid-table could have handed Manchester United the title with a victory over Chelsea at Anfield.
The majority backed their side regardless, but some were happy to see their team lose (as illustrated here), just this one time, to stop their bitter rivals sampling success. But it shone through that even though they had nothing to play for, the majority found it too unnatural a notion to go against their team.
As it happens, this intriguing scenario occurs again this weekend, with Liverpool supporters looking at things from an entirely different perspective this time around. They’ll be looking to grasp their opportunity should their title rivals slip up against local rivals.
Elsewhere, we’ve got the Italian Cup Final to sample, a vital clash in the Bundesliga and one of the most iconic derby matches in European football.
All kickoffs are in Eastern Time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy your football!
Hamburg SV vs. Bayern Munich
Saturday, 9:30AM ET, GolTV
Just two games to go in the Bundesliga, and Hamburg are still deep in the mire. They currently occupy one of the relegation playoff spots, just a point ahead of FC Nurnberg who are in 17th place. They desperately need the points to keep clear of one those automatic relegation places, but face a daunting task as they welcome Bayern Munich to the Imtech Arena.
But is this clash quite as daunting a task as it may have been earlier in the season. Bayern legend Franz Beckenbauer certainly doesn’t think so, claiming earlier in the week that Hamburg should have enough to beat this Bayern side in their current form. Those quotes of course, coming after Pep Guardiola’s team were knocked out of the Champions League by a rampant Real Madrid.
In some respects, this could be the perfect game for Hamburg. Whilst they are certainly in dire need of the points, they’re not expected to get anything from this clash. But the significance of the game and the visit of the champions will definitely help crank up the atmosphere in the stadium, making for a fervent, raucous background.
It’d take an incredible finale if Hamburg were to haul themselves out of the relegation playoff spot, but a positive result in this game would give them a great chance of certain relegation.
Everton vs. Manchester City
Saturday, 12:30PM ET, NBC Sports Live Extra, CNBC
Manuel Pellegrini’s team face the toughest game of their remaining three fixtures as they face Everton at Goodison Park. The Toffees still have an outside chance of securing Champions League football for next season, but three wins for City in their final three games would see them crowned as champions.
Goodison Park has been something of an unhappy hunting ground for City down the years though, having lost at Everton on their last four visits. But after being handed a championship lifeline by Chelsea and their win at Anfield last weekend, you imagine they’ll harbour an unwavering focus heading into this one.
Everton have had a wonderful first season under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez, but they’ve looked a little leggy in recent weeks. They’ll be keen to finish the season strongly in front of their own supporters and can not only secure Europa League football for next season with a win, but put the pressure back on Arsenal ahead of their clash with West Brom on Sunday.
The curious narrative is that any kind of positive result for Everton would hand their great rivals Liverpool the initiative in the title race. But there’ll be no danger of the Toffees rolling over here, with plenty at stake for Martinez’s men.
I’ll be at this one. Look out for my column on Tuesday giving you an insight into what promises to be a strange atmosphere at Goodison Park this weekend.
Fiorentina vs. Napoli
The Coppa Italia final will be played out between Fiorentina and Napoli, in what looks set to be a very entertaining clash at the Stadio Olimpico.
Rafa Benitez will be looked to cap his first season with Napoli with a trophy. The Spaniard has overseen a steady season with the Neapolitans, one that has promised plenty in spells but has seen them fall short in both Europe and the race for the Serie A title. It’s by no means a disaster following a summer of seismic change at the club, but it’d help end the season on a high.
And they might fancy their chances against a Fiorentina team that will be fielding an XI far from their best. The scintillating Juan Cuadrado will miss out due to a suspension, whilst Mario Gomez, Gonzalo Rodriguez and Neto all remain doubtful. Giuseppe Rossi could feature though, and his return from injury would be a massive boost for La Viola.
Gonzalo Higuain picked up a knock last time out for Napoli, although he is expected to be fit for the showpiece. Napoli will be hoping to pick up their second Coppa in three years, whilst Fiorentina will be chasing their first piece of silverware in 13 years.
Milan vs. Internazionale
Sunday, 2:45PM ET, beIN SPORTS Play
The Milan derby is a fixture that used to hold unparalleled significance in the race for the Italian title. For a significant portion of the last decade, Milan was the hub of Italian football. Inter and AC would be battling it out atop of Serie A and at the top table of European football.
Unfortunately, neither side is challenging on either the domestic or European front this season, and with both sides absent from the aforementioned Coppa Italia, their status in amongst the also-rans of the Italian top division is all but confirmed.
Nonetheless, when these two clash horns, there’s still a lingering sense of mystique. The passion remains prominent from both sets of supporters and that transcends into a thoroughly entertaining spectacle on the pitch.
And there’s still something riding on this game. Despite their atrocious form throughout the course of the campaign, they still have a chance of making the Europa League, but a win here over their great rivals is an absolute must. They are still in tenth place, but trail sixth place Torino by just one point. Inter are certain to finish in fifth.
Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool
Monday, 3:00PM ET, NBCSN
If Everton can do them a big favour on Saturday, then there could be something of a role reversal between this season’s primary title challengers. City went into their game at Selhurst Park on the back of Liverpool dropping points last weekend, and the Reds could be faced with the same task should things go their way.
For the first time in their remarkable late-season run, Brendan Rodgers’ team showed a little naivety in their title challenge. They were frustrated from start to finish by Chelsea last weakened, trying to rush their build-up and force their passing. Jose Mourinho did a number on them, and it’ll be intriguing to see how this young side respond.
Especially when you consider the momentum that this team had built up prior to that game. The 11 wins in a row was a remarkable achievement, but to quote their captain Steven Gerrard, now they need to “go again”.
But it’ll be tough against a Crystal Palace team who will pose the Reds a host of similar problems. Tony Pulis’ team won’t allow any space between the lines, they won’t be drawn out from their cohesive defensive shape and they’ll do their utmost to hit Liverpool on the counter-attack.
Potentially, this could be Liverpool’s most defining game of the entire season.