Bundesliga is back: Fitness, social distancing and zero fans – what to look out for as German football returns
- As German football makes its comeback this weekend, we explore some of the key things to look out for from the Bundesliga.
Finally, some good news: elite football is back in Europe.
The Bundesliga season resumes this weekend and will be the first of Europe's top-five leagues to bring back the 2019-20 season.
Of course, this will not be football as we know it. Fans will not be able to attend games, while players and officials will have to follow strict guidelines.
There is also added pressure on everyone concerned to make the sure the restart goes to plan: players will be expected to hit the ground running after a two-month pause, ground staff will have to keep surfaces up to scratch as warmer weather sets in, and club admins will be on overdrive to satisfy social media users desperate for a football fix.
So, how will the players respond? What will games be like with thousands of empty seats? How long will Axel Witsel's afro survive the heat and humidity? Here are four key things to look out for...
1. FIGHTING FIT OR FIGHTING THE FLAB?
Bundesliga games have not been held since March 13, meaning two months have passed since players were last in action.
Clubs assigned home workout routines to players and many were able to resume training in small groups at team bases last month, but, as the adage goes, there is no substitute for the real thing.
Top-flight teams will generally spend weeks of pre-season training and friendly matches to get fully fit for the start of a new campaign after an off-season break of a similar length, so expecting players to be firing on all cylinders for the first weekend of the restart might be a stretch, especially after weeks of confinement at home with the biscuit tin in tantalising reach.
Those who have shown the best commitment to keeping up their cardio may well have a crucial advantage in the coming matchdays.
2. IF YOU CELEBRATE AND THERE ARE NO FANS TO SEE IT...
Borussia Monchengladbach have done excellent work in crafting cardboard cut-outs of supporters to flood the stands of Borussia-Park, but the fact remains these are matches that won't feel the same without bums on seats.
The Bundesliga prides itself on the strength of its supporters, from the Yellow Wall at Signal Iduna Park to the esteemed 50+1 rule that ensures fans will always have a say in the running of their clubs, so playing regular matches behind closed doors will feel a truly alien experience.
Of course, such games sometimes provide unique forms of entertainment. No fan noise means you can hear captains issue rallying cries, coaches berating full-backs for their positioning and strikers demanding an early delivery - or moaning when it doesn't arrive.
It will also encourage plenty of oh-so-amusing ear-cupping or shushing to the empty stands when goals are scored - assuming players are still allowed to celebrate in these days of social distancing.
Speaking of which...
The home stands are filling up nicely though! Over 4,500 cut-outs in place and 12,000+ ordered— Gladbach (@borussia_en) May 6, 2020
The website is now live in English too to give our international fans a chance to order their cut-out for €19.00 via bank transfer!
https://t.co/TbCsi5ICk3 #DieFohlen pic.twitter.com/uqoznBnlHP
3. HOW DO YOU MAN-MARK FROM TWO METRES AWAY?
As yet, there are no suggestions of players taking to the pitch in masks, surgical gloves, or full biohazard suits. They'd make headers really difficult.
There will, of course, be stringent health and safety measures put in place for teams travelling to and arriving at venues, while personal hygiene and proper handwashing will be paramount and there is even talk of players washing their own kits.
The fact is, though, that the risk of infection can never be entirely removed from matches, as Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke admitted. Football is a contact sport and any notion of encouraging social distancing on the pitch is farcical - unless you're trying to catch Jadon Sancho.
Still, it is hard to know how players will behave on the pitch in the current climes. Handshakes and high-fives will almost certainly be out, but celebrating goals? Jostling at corners? Spitting?
4. PITCH (IM)PERFECT
Ground staff have been working tirelessly to keep sports facilities up to scratch during the enforced break, but the coming weeks will still represent a big test for Bundesliga pitches.
As we head into the warmer and dryer months in Germany, it remains to be seen how the turf will hold up to a sudden return of stampeding footballers, and how it will last for the final nine matchdays.
The players might be feeling the heat, too. Germany endured its hottest June day on record last year, with 38.6 degrees Celcius recorded in Coschen, a town on the Polish border. Conditions like these would add a new dimension to title-deciders and relegation six-pointers.
If the weather does become a little too intense, water breaks may have to be introduced - assuming, of course, that they abide by hygiene rules.