German football is back in full swing with another round of fixtures this weekend and other top Leagues’ key figures have been watching as Premier League, Serie A and La Liga all confirmed they will restart the season in June.
Let’s explore whether the Bundesliga is back with a bang or if there have been bumps in the road…
HOW’S THE QUALITY?
To the players, it has felt the same as before — they expect the quality and intensity to improve as the season continues and rhythm returns. The statistics support that largely with tackles, sprints and shots all very similar to football pre-coronavirus.
The most startling stat, though, is the huge drop in home wins, down from 43.3 per cent to 18.5 per cent. Of the 27 games so far, only five have been home wins, with 12 away successes. That points to home teams missing the advantage of having their supporters behind them.
There is also a feeling that referees are being less influenced. Bundesliga chiefs believe normality will return in time regarding home wins.
Another observation is that having no crowd has led to the league’s technically gifted players taking more risks — without crowd pressure, they have been thriving.
Managers have voiced concerns about injuries if players have an inadequate ‘pre-season’. Bundesliga players were thrust straight into action with less than two weeks of full-contact training and no warm-up matches. One study after the f
irst round showed the injury-per-game rate almost trebled from 0.27 per game to 0.88 per game.
Now, Bundesliga chiefs feel things have started to level out, though muscle injuries are still common. The value of the new rule allowing five substitutions — to ease the players’ workload — has been clear since the restart. In the first round of matches, 15 of the 18 teams made four or more subs.
Watching the suited-and-booted Bayern Munich hierarchy celebrating a potentially title-clinching win at rivals Borussia Dortmund this week by bumping elbows was slightly bizarre. So too has been seeing mask-wearing substitutes observing social distancing in the stands only to then get stuck into a full-contact game.
Players’ socially-distant celebrations have been strange, too. Some view those guidelines as over the top, as everyone involved in a match day has tested negative for Covid-19.
But Nico Schaefer, a member of the DFL football commission, explained: ‘The players understand it is a sign for outside (of football) that a player is nothing special. He is doing his work and he shows everybody, “I stick to the rules and everybody outside should stick to the rules, too.”
LACK OF ATMOSPHERE
The atmosphere has been strange, with RB Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi admitting: ‘The emotions of football are missing a bit but we have to somehow generate that within the team.’
Referee Deniz Aytekin revealed his heart-rate was lower than in games with supporters present.
Fans have generally complied with orders not to congregate outside stadiums. TV viewers add crowd noise to coverage and some of the ideas used by the Bundesliga have cropped up in the Premier League discussions.
Broadcasters are also trying to limit shots of empty stands, to reduce the reminders of the strange situation.
The idea of pumping noise into stadiums was quickly dismissed in Bundesliga meetings to avoid making an already artificial scenario ‘more plastic’.
Borussia Monchengladbach have allowed fans to pay for cardboard cut-outs of themselves to be placed in stands to compensate for the lack of crowd, while Cologne invited fans to send in shirts and other memorabilia to be displayed.
Neutral venues were never on the agenda in Germany and Schaefer believes they should not be considered by the Premier League, either. He said: ‘Every English stadium has the infrastructure to make the concept work. Everybody sees it works to do things the same way (as Germany), not in only five or six stadiums.’
THE PLAYERS’ REACTION
The attitude of the players, determined to settle the season the right way, has been key to the Bundesliga’s return. Plus, what was at stake for their clubs and them financially quickly outweighed any concerns.
Former Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou’s brazen flouting of coronavirus guidelines aside, the players have been disciplined and fulfilled their responsibilities to help get football back. Kalou was suspended by his club Hertha Berlin and the rest of the players have behaved well.
They have adapted to the new hygiene rules and restrictions, being tested twice a week — there have been no positive tests since clubs restarted. They all stayed happily in quarantine hotels for a week before their first games.
There was originally resistance to long hotel stays, but the rules have now been relaxed, allowing Bundesliga stars to go between home and training grounds, while limiting non-essential travel.