Bundesliga Zeitung, by Andy Wales.
I was asked how I felt about the Bundesliga returning on Saturday, and my honest response was that I was torn. On the one hand, it was great to be watching live football again, and in particular Bundesliga football. However, on the other hand, it’s difficult to shake those concerns that it might be too soon.
The positive tests throughout the two Bundesliga divisions, the Salomon Kalou controversy, Birger Verstraete publicly voicing his misgivings, and the entire Dynamo Dresden squad placed in 14-day quarantine — it’s unsurprising that public opinion in Germany has shifted from 40% to 56% against a return of the Bundesliga over the course of a few weeks according to polls conducted by German broadcasting companies.
Fan ultra groups are strongly against the resumption and have been typically creative in voicing their opposition.
They have called for a change in the way football operates financially and that is something that may come out of this crisis. For now, though, there is no denying that money is the driving factor behind the Bundesliga returning so promptly.
The threat of a 13 of the 36 Bundesliga clubs going under this summer has been avoided with broadcasters making their final payments for the season. It’s a financial reality facing many other clubs the world over, and fan groups calling for football to review its practices is a valid one.
The other bone of contention with fans is the Geisterspiele concept. The current Covid-19 situation means that this is inescapable for an undetermined period of time. Another of the unfortunate realities of the ‘new normal’ we are all adjusting to. One thing is for certain though, football is not the same without them.
I understand that this is obvious and has become something of a cliche over the weekend, but remains an undisputed truth. It is particularly apparent in the Bundesliga, where the special atmosphere they create and visual impact they bring adds an extra special ingredient to an already vibrant league.
This was all too clear in the Revierderby. The Westfalenstadion would normally be packed to the rafters with 81,000 fans, bringing the noise and colour to amplify just how much the derby means to each set of supporters.
The only people in the stands were the substitutes, as we got our first eerie experience of an empty stadium under the strict new protocols.
If the atmosphere was reminiscent of a pre-season training match, so was the early tempo.
The same could be said of the first touch and passing for many of the players on show. The understandable rust from two months of no competitive football took the Dortmund players around 20 minutes to shake off. It’s questionable whether the Schalke players shook it off at all.
The home side took a deserved lead just before the half-hour mark and everything about it was sublime; the flick from Julian Brandt, the low cross from Thorgan Hazard, and the finish from Erling Haaland.
Schalke goalkeeper Markus Schubert will have nightmares about the second, conceded just before half-time. Having already struggled with his kicking in this game, his clearance went straight to Mahmoud Dahoud. He found Brandt, who played in Raphael Guerreiro to hammer the ball into the far corner.
Before the enforced suspension of football in March, Schalke were struggling for form and it seemed the extended break did nothing for them. They were unable to muster a response in the second half and it only became a question of how many goals Dortmund would score.
Within minutes of the restart, a sharp breakaway saw Brandt feed Hazard and his first-time shot beat the hapless Schubert.
The scoring was completed by Guerreiro, who got his second and Dortmund’s fourth with a beautiful outside of the boot finish. Lucien Favre will be pleased his team were able to soon pick up where his team had left off before the March suspension, whereas David Wagner will simply be relieved the scoreline wasn’t worse. There may be no danger of relegation for Schalke, but there is a real threat of their season drifting badly because they lack any real goal threat.
It was officially a derby, but it didn’t feel like a derby on the pitch, let alone because of the empty stands.
Elsewhere, Eintracht Frankfurt are another club used to enjoying the vociferous support of a large number of fans. The Frankfurt players appeared to miss the energy of their crowd to feed off after Borussia Mönchengladbach raced into an early two-goal lead.
By the time Andre Siva was able to score for the Eagles, Gladbach had already registered a third to move ahead of RB Leipzig in the table.
Julian Nagelsmann’s side could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Freiburg and dropped to fourth place. They may soon be looking nervously over their shoulder as Bayer Leverkusen play relegation-threatened Werder Bremen in the Monday night game.
At the top, Bayern Munich reestablished their four-point cushion by dispatching Union Berlin 2-0. Union are another team who appeared to miss the dynamic their supporters bring and the raucous atmosphere they generate.
So, we’re back and adjusting to this, hopefully brief, Geisterspiel era. I should be elated, but can’t help this conflict of emotions. I liken it to when we will again be able to visit family or friends and being happy to see them, yet still nervous their health might be affected by it.
It’s certainly not ideal, but it is something that football around the globe will have to become accustomed to for at least the rest of this year. With the eyes of the world watching, the Bundesliga will feel it has taken this important first step reasonably well.