Approximately 70 days since the last whistle blew, the Bundesliga roared back into life on Saturday as German football was allowed to restart in earnest after its coronavirus pandemic-enforced hiatus.
Perhaps “roared” isn’t the right word, as all matches were played behind closed doors in the interest of public safety — leading to odd, eerie atmospheres around the league. On the field, there were fireworks as Erling Haaland scored in a 4-0 win after two months of no games. Outside the stadium there was near silence. Passersby occasionally asked whether a game was actually going on. Police relaxed as it became clear that fans wouldn’t gather outside — a concern for authorities ahead of the game — and potentially spread the virus.
It is really very calm in the city and regarding the virus dangers I can only praise the Dortmunders and the fans,” police spokesman Oliver Peiler said. The song “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a favorite of Dortmund fans as well as Liverpool supporters, echoed around the stadium ahead of kickoff. It was so quiet that the starting whistle could be heard outside — unthinkable at a regular game.
The arena has an 81,000 capacity but league rules permit just 213 people, including players, to be inside for the game, none of them supporters. Players tried to keep contact to a minimum, even during celebrations and the traditional salute to the — now empty — stands at the final whistle.
Germany’s Bundesliga has nine matchdays left in its season, and its governing body is adamant on squeezing it all in before June 30. So for those who may not like soccer (or never have given it a chance) but still plan to wake up early and tune in because they’re feigning to watch real competition, the Bundesliga offers perhaps one of the best products of soccer there is. There’s a reason people are loyal to German manufacturing for appliances and cars, but that quality spreads to the pitch, as well. The typical American complaints about soccer are that it’s boring and the players are crybabies who spend too much time trying to get penalty calls. But guess what, desperate times call for desperate measures and some of those haters will be tuning in. And they might be pleasantly surprised by the German league. Of the five top major European soccer leagues the Bundesliga offers the most goals scored, most shots on goals and assists, the lowest average possession time, lowest save percentage and second-fewest yellow cards. So before you read more about the state of the league, let’s first teach you how to pronounce it: Boon-das-lee-ga.
Every little thing about what Germany has done should be watched very closely by U.S. sports,” Grant Wahl, a leading soccer journalist and author of “Masters of Modern Soccer,” told CBS News’ Roxana Saberi. Many Bundesliga teams resumed training in April after regular games were sidelined in March over COVID-19 and players were sent into quarantine. One team, Dynamo Dresden, has already had to delay its start after two players tested positive for the virus and forced the entire team into a 14-day lockdown.
One of the most powerful politicians in Germany has warned that the Bundesliga is danger of being called off following several highly publicised violations of the league’s medical policy ahead of Saturday’s restart of the season, which will come without spectators in the stadiums.
The Bundesliga’s return from the shutdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic has been anticipated by sports fans around the globe. However, some influential voices have questioned the comeback of football in the country.
“If health experts have made those suggestions, if the league with great expense and smart ideas has worked on concepts, you have to stick those rules,” Bavarian minister president Markus Soder told Bild on Friday. “And if you do not stick to those rules, you might get the red card. It’s like that in football as well as in real life.” Soder’s comments came after Augsburg coach Heiko Herrlich told a virtual news conference on Thursday that he broke a mandatory seven-day training camp quarantine for players and staff before the league resumes to shop for toothpaste and skin cream at a nearby supermarket. He later ruled himself out of Saturday’s game versus Wolfsburg. It would have been his first in charge of the club.
While opinion is still divided about the rights and wrongs of top-tier soccer returning while no vaccine is yet available for the killer virus, from a sporting perspective the Bundesliga title race could still turn into a classic. Dortmund are in second place with nine games remaining, four points behind leaders Bayern Munich who are seeking an eighth successive crown. RB Leipzig are a further point in arrears.
Bayern travel to Union Berlin on Sunday with the hosts likely to be without coach Urs Fischer, who on Wednesday left the team’s mandatory seven-day isolation camp ahead of the season restart. Leipzig host Freiburg while Borussia Moenchengladbach, still in the hunt a further point behind in fourth place, travel to Eintracht Frankfurt.
How to watch on TV
Saturday’s broadcast schedule:
- Borussia Dortmund v. FC Schalke 04, 9:30 a.m. ET (FS1)
- RB Leipzig v. SC Freiburg, 9:30 a.m. ET (FS2)
- Eintracht Frankfurt v. Borussia Mönchengladbach, 12:30 p.m. ET (FS1)
Sunday’s broadcast schedule
- FC Koln v. FSV Mainz 05, 9:30 a.m. ET (FS1)
- FC Union Berlin v. Bayern Munich, noon ET (FS1)
Monday’s broadcast schedule
- Werder Bremen v. Bayer Leverkusen, 2:30 p.m. ET (FS2)
This is the final season for the Bundesliga’s current TV rights deal with Fox Sports. The league moves to ESPN+ for the 2020-21 season.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed almost everything about soccer in Germany, except Bayern Munich’s chances of winning. The seven-time defending champions are still the team to beat.