This weekend, the German Bundesliga will resume, a very significant step as football leagues and competitions across Europe seek to get going again following the coronavirus outbreak. With La Liga currently hoping to restart in June, everybody connected with Spanish football will be keeping a close eye on just how successfully Germany’s ambitious plan to get the Bundesliga up and running again goes.
What happens in Germany this weekend and over the next couple of weeks will be a big factor in whether or not other countries go ahead with their respective attempts to bring back professional football.
How does the Bundesliga plan compare to La Liga & the Premier League?
Of the big five European nations in terms of football, Germany has been least affected by the COVID-19 outbreak with fewer cases and deaths than the UK, Spain, Italy and France. As a result, German football authorities have been able to go ahead with plans to complete the football season by the end of June, a key target date for all European leagues given this is when most players’ contracts are up.
All but two sides in the German top flight, have nine remaining fixtures to play, the first of which will take place this weekend. The schedule is as follows:
Matchday 26 – 16th-18th May
Matchday 27 – 23rd May
Matchday 28 – 26th May
Matchday 29 – 30th May
Matchday 30 – 6th June
Matchday 31 – 13th June
Matchday 32 – 16th June
Matchday 33 – 20th June
Matchday 34 – 27th June
(Games from matchday 27 onwards may be moved back a day or two for TV purposes)
Matches will all take place behind closed doors but they will not be played at neutral venues as is the current plan in England. The schedule and timing of games is relatively orthodox with all matches taking place at weekends in their usual slots with the exception of two midweek matchdays although more games will be available to view on TV than normal.
Germany has only an 18-team top flight which makes it easier to get the matches played by the end of June without the need for a packed schedule. Spain by contrast is plotting a far more frenetic fixture schedule with at least some league matches taking place every day across a 35 day period according to La Liga president Javier Tebas with 12th June being the earliest possible restart.
What is happening in Germany this Weekend
— BVB Buzz (@BVBBuzz) May 7, 2020
Saturday 16th May
14:30 Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke
14:30 Augsburg vs VfL Wolfsburg
14:30 Fortuna Düsseldorf vs Paderborn
14:30 RB Leipzig vs Freiburg
14:30 Hoffenheim vs Hertha Berlin
17:30 Eintracht Frankfurt vs Borussia Mönchengladbach
Sunday 17th May
14:30 FC Köln vs Mainz
17:00 Union Berlin vs Bayern Munich
Monday 18th May
19:30 Werder Bremen vs Bayer Leverkusen
German and indeed major European football restarts with the big Revierderby between rivals Borussia Dortmund and Schalke. It’s a mouthwatering fixture but of course like all football that gets played over the next few months, it will be a slightly surreal affair with Dortmund’s usual yellow wall missing and the 80,000 capacity Westfalenstadion empty.
There is also a full Bundesliga 2 schedule although significantly Hannover’s game against Dynamo Dresden has been postponed after two Dynamo players tested positive for COVID-19, forcing their whole team into quarantine.
You shouldn’t have any problem finding match previews and predictions elsewhere to help determine what to expect from the Bundesliga action this weekend. We will have match previews for every game again if and when La Liga resumes.
5 Things to look out for
The Bundesliga will be acting as something of a guinea pig for other European leagues. Should there be any major problems or events that lead to the cancellation of a large portion of fixtures, then that may spell the end of the football season not just in Germany but in all of Europe. If the Bundesliga is unable to restart successfully, it would be very hard to see how La Liga’s restart plans could work or indeed how any leagues in other countries where coronavirus outbreaks have been more severe could even contemplate trying to conclude their campaigns, let alone European competitions where international travel is required.
Therefore what happens over the next week or so in Germany is very important. Here are five things to look out for:
1. Fitness Levels
The Bundesliga was suspended on 13th March meaning clubs have now gone over two months without playing a game. While players returned to training across Germany on 6th April and have had time to build up some fitness, inevitably some teams will have managed the situation better than others. Clubs normally play a host of friendlies to regain match sharpness after the usual summer break but this hasn’t been the case. This means teams will all be lacking match fitness and we could see some very tired players in the latter stages of games.
2. Football Behind Closed Doors – How will empty stadiums impact on the action?
At such a high professional level, there has never been a prolonged period where football has been played entirely behind closed doors. Historic results of individual games played with no crowds offer some clues as to the impact but it will be interesting to see whether teams still manage to gain an advantage from the familiarity of playing at their own homes or whether we get a rough 50-50 split in terms of home and away wins.
The reaction of the wider football public to these games will also be very interesting. While in the current climate, many football fans are desperate for any kind of action to watch, will the appeal of watching football played out in empty stadiums quickly start to wear thin? Either way, the argument that fans make football will be severely put to the test over the next few weeks and months.
3. More Positive Tests?
— Reuters (@Reuters) May 10, 2020
We’ve already seen positive tests in Dresden impact on Germany’s restart plan. A major outbreak at one club or numerous positive tests following this round of fixtures, is still the biggest worry for the football authorities and is the biggest threat to plans to conclude the campaign. Should we see several players in Germany test positive, this may also send alarm bells ringing amongst players in other countries, many of whom have already expressed concerns about potentially returning to play when it may not be safe to do so.
In short, football’s big restart plan could become incredibly short-lived if several clubs in Germany report new cases in the early stages of this experiment. While Germany does have some leeway in terms of delaying fixtures or even entire matchdays in the event of a rise in cases, time is not on the side of other countries that are desperate to conclude their seasons without running into the next one.
4. Surprise Results or will the Big Teams dominate?
If nothing else, this could be a real leveller that may give some of the smaller teams a greater chance to pull off upsets. Judging the task of building up fitness again and also finding the right motivation levels to play in empty stadiums may be a challenge for some teams, particularly as we get towards the end of the season where some sides have little left to play for.
The other side of the coin though, is that without their often tight grounds and hostile home support, the smaller teams may find it much more difficult to beat the big sides with those factors removed.
5. TV Figures
Were it not for the potential loss of TV money, it’s doubtful that any of Europe’s major leagues would even be considering restarting. Many of Europe’s smaller leagues where TV revenues are considerably less have already scrapped their seasons, but clubs in the major leagues in England, Spain, Germany and Italy have all budgeted around the substantial TV income they expected to receive. Therefore keeping TV companies happy is paramount in all this. Clubs are hoping to still receive the full amount of money that is written into the many TV deals, even for a considerably changed product that is football behind closed doors.
With hardly any other football on, the Bundesliga could chalk up record-breaking international TV figures this weekend. However the domestic figures may be more interesting and offer some guidelines as to the appetite of regular fans for watching their teams play behind closed doors on TV in such strange times. It may be a few weeks before we get a clearer picture of this.