Bundesliga 2019/20: 5 takeaways from the return of the German top-flight
- The Bundesliga became the first top European league to recommence after the coronavirus halted proceedings in March.
- While many greeted the restart with open arms, some are still skeptical of whether it was the right decision.
There was a heavy sigh of relief among football fans earlier this month, as the Bundesliga bosses and government officials gave the green light to finally restart proceedings.
The German top-flight has always been in the shadow of its English and Spanish counterparts on an international basis. However, its much-anticipated resumption saw an incredible upward spike in viewing figures, with over six million people tuning into Sky Germany’s program on Saturday.
Whilst global numbers will be revealed later this week, it is predicted that a record number of overseas spectators witnessed the Bundesliga in all its glory this weekend.
Match-week 26 of the Bundesliga started off with Borussia Dortmund hammering Schalke in the 180th edition of the hotly-contested Revierderby. Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig were held to a 1-1 draw by a determined Freiburg team at home.
In Saturday’s late kick-off, Borussia Monchengladbach visited a struggling Eintracht Frankfurt, and scored twice within the opening 7 minutes to ensure a 3-1 victory. The Bundesliga's defending champions and leaders Bayern Munich resumed business, with a 2-0 win at Union Berlin on Sunday.
A Kai Havertz-inspired Bayer Leverkusen picked apart a toothless Werder Bremen side on Monday, and wrapped up the first round of Bundesliga fixtures of the coronavirus era.
Football, however, was not the same. Empty stadiums, sanitised footballs, masked officials, distanced benches, and elbow celebrations created an atmosphere of abnormality and eeriness- a visual never witnessed in the sport before.
The return of the beautiful game was indeed a welcome sight for not only German football fanatics, but the rest of the world as well. The Bundesliga became the first top European league to recommence, but doubts still remain as to whether it was the right decision.
In this article, we unfurl this weekend’s Bundesliga action, and analyse the first-ever round of top-flight matches of the post-pandemic era.
#1 A new era of football
The sights of Bundesliga football on Saturday were both comforting and disturbing as our beloved players came out on the pitch to deafening silence around the stadium. The traditional handshakes and tunnel walks were all abandoned, as substitutes sat metres apart and the coaching staff donned their masks.
Football’s return did lit up the eyes of its ardent followers sitting at home in front of their screens. But the circumstances it is being played in has also called for those supporters to question the lawmakers and overseers of the game.
The country of Germany is fast returning to normalcy, and the resumption of football will surely put its most raucous fans into a much-needed frenzy once again. But some are still voicing their opinions against the hierarchy, stating that football is a sport of its people and not a mere a tool for business.
This debate has constantly split pundits, purists, and fans of the game since the halt in March, and remains one of the biggest unanswered questions.
But the Bundesliga’s “safe” return has kick-started a new phase of European football. This will be a period where the sport will be moulded and shaped regularly to meet the demands of the healthcare professionals and medical experts supervising it.
However, as much as we can put up with the modified on-field practices to safeguard players and maintain health standards, the lack of noise around stadiums has single-handedly reduced the essence of the sport.
Former Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach forward Max Kruse pointed out how ‘the weekend’s games were relatively boring without fans’. The 32-year-old also questioned the Bundesliga’s new policies in place, particularly regarding the physical contact between players.
“Substitutes wear face masks and sit two metres apart in the stands, they warm up with a mask, then when they're subbed on, it's no longer infectious? Or do I just not understand?” he said.
For now, the Bundesliga is up and running, and it has given us a bittersweet glimpse as to how post-pandemic football could look like.
#2 Dortmund’s youngsters dazzle
Before the stoppage in March, Borussia Dortmund were proving to be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the Bundesliga. Lucien Favre’s men were firing on all cylinders in the Bundesliga, whilst also showcasing their talents on the bigger stages, with a hard-fought win over Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16.
The Black and Yellows could not get the better of their French opposition in the return leg in Paris, and hence bowed out of the competition. However, they still caught the eye of many across the continent.
Dortmund harbours the likes of Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi, three of the most exciting youngsters in world football. The illustrious trio, alongside promising talents like Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard, and Giovanni Reyna, have once again made them the electrifying Bundesliga side they once were under Jurgen Klopp. They also have the support of the old guard of Marco Reus, Mats Hummels and Lukasz Piszczek.
Saturday's display against Schalke represented just how good Dortmund's squad is. Haaland, to no surprise, opened the scoring after a slick move which involved Brandt and Hazard. The latter was ushered into the starting XI following a knock in training to the 17-year old Reyna, who was set to make his first-ever Bundesliga start.
The German midfielder turned provider for the second goal with a lovely cushioned ball to Raphael Guerreiro who smashed it past the keeper. Hazard finished off the third with another brilliant effort, before the Portuguese high-flying left-back added his second with an audacious shot from the outside of his boot.
It was a sensational display from Favre’s boys, each of whom have been touted to earn big money moves to Europe’s most elite clubs in the coming future. There’s no doubt that these talented youngsters will transform into the crème-de-la-crème of football one day.
But for now, their exciting brand of football is the Bundesliga’s best bet to end Bayern Munich’s domination.
#3 Lewandowski restarts Bayern’s Bundesliga title-hunt
Speaking of the Bavarians, Bundesliga top-scorer Robert Lewandowski spearheaded Bayern into the lead with a well-taken penalty when they returned to action away to Union Berlin.
Hansi Flick’s side dominated the game, but showed obvious signs of rustiness in front of goal, with Benjamin Pavard’s crucial header in the second half confirming all three points. The visitors were without star men Philippe Coutinho and Niklas Sule ahead of Sunday’s trip, and will hope they have a full contingent in the coming weeks, with games arriving thick and fast.
Bayern are four points ahead of Dortmund in the Bundesliga standings, and are currently in pursuit of their eighth straight Bundesliga title. The German giants had a tough start to the campaign under Niko Kovac, but they have returned to their supreme best under Flick’s tutelage.
With the Bundesliga very much in their sights, Bayern Munich were touted for even bigger glory this season after they thumped Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League excursion. However, with Europe’s most prestigious club competition still cast under coronavirus’ dark cloud, Bayern will hope to at least reclaim their domestic throne.
With their experience and efficiency, one would not bet against them lifting the Bundesliga title at the end of June, but they will still have to be at their steamrolling-best in what is a tight affair in the Bundesliga this season. We will discuss this further in the next section.
#4 Tight at the top of the Bundesliga table
With the Bundesliga almost always being a one-sided affair in the past decade or so, not many are surprised with Bayern’s dominance at the top once again this season.
However, they surprisingly have some company this time around. Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen are all within touching distance of their Bavarian rivals.
The top five are separated by a meagre eight points in a fascinating Bundesliga title race. An even more fascinating Champions League qualification race is in store for us for the rest of the season.
Many would be right in thinking that the teams beneath Bayern obviously cannot match their resources or firepower. But the underdogs’ promising performances throughout the season have shown that they can give the leaders a run for their money.
Dortmund’s fantastic win over Schalke was nothing but a statement to the rest of the league that they mean business in this final phase of the season. Gladbach’s impressive win at Frankfurt helped them leapfrog Leipzig, who stuttered at home to Freiberg, to the third spot.
Another eye-catching display was produced by Bayer Leverkusen, who were rampant against Werder Bremen, but they still have a long way to go to be called title rivals.
We will have to wait and see whether Dortmund’s young guns, Nagelsmann’s tactical maestros, or Marco Rose’s resurgent Monchengladbach have it in them to usurp the kings of Germany to the Bundesliga crown. For now, we should revel in what is proving to be one of the tightest Bundesliga title races in recent history.
#5 Will others follow the Bundesliga blueprint?
With the Bundesliga’s commencement, football fans around the world have only one question on their lips. When will the rest of Europe return to action? We have already seen players return to their clubs for mandatory testing and coronavirus check-ups, but the restart of the Spanish, English, and the Italian top-flights is still very much in the works.
We are reading new reports each day about how different national football agencies and organisations are coming up with new plans and policies to help football survive in this unprecedented health crisis. Sanitised pitches, CGI crowds, artificial atmosphere and shorter halves could all help benefit the players and enhance the viewing experience of the millions sitting at home, but at what cost?
Watford’s Troy Deeney, among other Premier League stars, have expressed their concern when it comes to group training and Project Restart as the United Kingdom continues its battle with the pandemic.
LaLiga president Javier Tebas and the Royal Spanish Football Federation are determined to get Spanish football back on its feet despite the ongoing backlash by the fans. Tebas publicly congratulated the Bundesliga for their efforts over the weekend, and claimed that they should follow the steps taken by their German colleagues.
There is no question that each league is holding meetings and forums each day to determine how the necessary health and social distancing protocols can be applied, keeping in mind the spirit and integrity of the game.
The management will surely not risk the lives of people in the name of sport, but it is seeming extremely likely that the other top European leagues will also resume somewhere in the middle of June.
Football is back for now in the form of the German Bundesliga, and only time will tell whether it was for the best.