The return of the Bundesliga a couple of weeks ago finally provided something we all needed in these hard and unprecedented times - a distraction. The rest of Europe's top leagues, with the exception of Ligue 1, are looking up to the German model with great hope and anticipation to see how they can also return to action.
The risks are still there, of course. But the fact that there has been no major spread of COVID-19 among players and staff in the Bundesliga since its return is very reassuring for other leagues who are yearning a potential return.
Since its restart after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bundesliga has attracted a lot of attention. It is the only major football league that is active at the moment, and it is one of the most entertaining leagues in Europe.
For context, Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke 04 was watched by over 1 billion people which is a strong indicator of how much football fans missed live sports. Since then, four full fixtures have been completed. This is reason enough to take a look back and draw five major conclusions from the restart of the Bundesliga in the post COVID-19 world.
Five talking points from the return of the Bundesliga:
#5: An exemplary application of safety rules
When it was first announced that the Bundesliga would to action, the primary question was about the implementation of safety measures and social distancing regulations in an environment where contact is inevitable.
It turned out that they were really well-enforced and applied. Tests are carried out on players, staff, referees, journalists and everyone involved in every match before and after games.
Match formalities like handshakes etc. were barred and substitutes were separated by at least six feet in the stands. Match balls are sanitised and no ball boys were allowed. Players immediately wore masks upon leaving the pitch. Furthermore, celebrations featured limited personal contact. In this regard, though, Hertha Berlin's experience in their first Bundesliga match back suggests that maybe there is room for improvement even with the level of professionalism in place in Germany.
The accuracy and proficiency with which social distancing rules were seamlessly put into practice encourages the other leagues to implement the Bundesliga model in terms of resuming their leagues post the COVID-19 outbreak.
Even match interviews and press conference were treated with the same routine. If anything, football feels much safer at the moment than anything else when put in a regulatory frame that cares about the health of human beings. This German model could be a blueprint for the rest of Europe and even UEFA to follow , presuming Champions League football would return as rumoured in August.
#4: No crowd equates to no atmosphere
Borussia Mönchengladbach using pictures of their own fans to have some sort of crowd presence was a lovely commendable gesture.,
But without fans, the atmosphere in the Bundesliga was completely sucked out of arenas across the board. This could be the status quo for at least the rest of the calendar year (bar a second wave of COVID-19 that could see us back to square one).
However, it still felt very strange to see the Röhr Derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 played to a deadly silence. Or for that matter the Der Klassiker being played out under artificial crowd noises was disappointing, particularly when wide shots of an empty Signal Iduna Park were revealed.
Football is meant to be a sport for the fans to express their emotions that range from elation to disappointment. Seeing the likes of Allianz Arena, Borussia Park, and most importantly the stadium with the best atmosphere in Europe, Signal Iduna Park, being empty hurt.
We will get to the quality of the Bundesliga matches later. But when you saw a goal like the one that Josua Kimmich scored against Dortmund in front of what normally is the "Yellow Wall" that is the most vibrant section of the stadium, the absence of sad or grumpy looks on the faces of about 30000 passionate fans felt very strange.
Obviously, health is above everything else. On any day, we will take a healthy Bundesliga with no fans over a crowded and very risky one. However, as passionate football fans, we would really hope that the Bundesliga crowd is able to get back to fill those amazing stadiums in Germany, ir for that matter all across Europe as soon as things return to something that resembles normalcy.
#3: A Farmers' League? Not quite.
The main argument against the Bundesliga, for those who do not follow it closely, is that it is not entertaining since Bayern Munich can still win even on their worst day (more on that later).
The reality is that the Bundesliga is a very entertaining league even without considering Bayern Munich in it. Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen and Freiburg are among the most entertaining Bundesliga teams to watch in Germany and Europe on a near weekly basis. This is without considering the likes of Jaden Sancho, Kai Havertz, Milot Raciska and Timo Werner who are some of the hottest commodities in world football right now and boast of the best player stats across the top leagues in Europe.
The quality of Bundesliga matches spoke for itself as well. Only three games out of 36 played so far ended goalless, while 114 goals were scored across four matchdays. Some matches were among the best you could have watched all season. Goals and chances were aplenty as well as a variety of technical styles and tactical approaches that made for a tasty watch.
The outgoing nature of the Bundesliga is very reflective of the German national team as well. The likes of Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner smash opponents' nets like it's nobody's business. Moreover Bundesliga teams tend to be less occupied with tightening spaces in the back.
The Bundesliga is a very entertaining and thrilling league with loads of sides that you can watch, enjoy and even support.
#2: Where is the chasing pack?
On the subject of the other Bundesliga clubs (behind Bayern Munich of course), it seems that the title looks likely to stay in Bavaria for at least another year.
In December last year (the more simpler times), Leipzig were top of the table and were tipped to be the one club that could destroy Bayern's iron fist on the Bundesliga title. Borussia Monchengladbach were in a way better position than they could have dreamt of, with two points separating them from Julian Nagelsmann's side.
Borussia Dortmund were still in the conversation to win it. But all the while, Bayern Munich were rebuilding themselves after Niko Kovac's departure in late October following a 5-1 drubbing against Eintracht Frankfurt. Schalke 04 and Bayern Leverkusen were also in the top half of the table and were very much in the chasing pack as a potential last-minute thriller of a Bundesliga season looked to be in the offing.
Fast forward to May 2020. Bayern Munich have all but already settled the Bundesliga title for yet another season. Leipzig have been underwhelming, which is in stark contrast with their form before the forced COVID-19 break. Monchengladbach and (to a lesser degree) Dortmund have also been pale shadows of their pre-COVID-19 selves.
Leverkusen are going to be satisfied with any European spot that comes their way for next season. With four losses on the bounce, Schalke 04 have been completely overwhelming since the Bundesliga restart.
In another world, if the Bundesliga season were only four matches long, Schalke's rotten form would have granted them a first-class ticket to relegation land. They have been the only team to gather no points from four games since the restart of the Bundesliga.Schalke's horrible defensive record reads 10 goals conceded against one single goal scored during this period.
It might sound contradictory to the previous point, but it's important to note here that the sudden downturn in fortunes of some teams is attributable to the absence of football action for many weeks. This has caused a massive gap between them and Bayern Munich in the pecking order.
Speaking of Bayern Munich...
#1: It has been just another season for Bayern Munich
The scene in the image above would likely be the way things turn out by the end of the Bundesliga season. As has already been said, Bayern Munich have pretty much wrapped up the Bundesliga league. The Bavarian club are well on their way to a double, and perhaps a treble if the UEFA Champions League resumes this season.
Bayern Munich picked up almost exactly where they left off. Hansi Flick has proved his tactical nous by bringing the aura back to a side that seemed to have lost it in 2013 when they last hugged European glory.
The Bavarian club have got the job done since the restart of the Bundesliga. At times they seemed to have stomped out their opponents (Frankfurt and Fortuna Dusseldorf). At other times Bayern Munich have played smart football (against Union Berlin and particularly in Der Klassiker).
The Munich team now has a very defined style and a stable 4-2-3-1 formation. It has helped rejuvenate a number of players, notably a 30-year old Thomas Muller who seems to be enjoying a second coming despite no callup to the national team in sight
Josua Kimmich is experiencing some new-found excitment in midfield pairings, be it alongside Thiago Alcantara or Leon Goretzka who made an incredible physical transformation during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Robert Lewandowski seemed to be as lethal as ever. But the MVP award in Bayern Munich this season should probably go to the one and only Alphonso Davies. The Canadian youngster has sprinted his way (literally) into the hearts and minds of football fans. Davies continues to astonish fans with his technical prowess, incredible speed (33 km/per hour) and tactical astuteness. It guarantees David Alaba a prominent place as center-back till Niklas Sule returns, or if Davies picks up an injury.
To sum up, Bayern have turned their 'beast mode' on. They have ramped up their pace towards what eventually looks like a record-extending eighth consecutive Bundesliga title. We wouldn't want Bayern Munich to collapse or vanish from the title scene altogether but we would hope that a new 'Deutsche Meister' emerges after years of the Bavarian club's stranglehold on the domestic scene.
Overall, the Bundesliga's return provided both a welcome distraction in these hard times and an opportunity for this underrated league to receive its rightful share of media love and attention. Hopefully next season, with crowds back and normal life resuming, we get to see a new name on the Bundesliga trophy.Published 03 Jun 2020, 05:04 IST