The eyes of the sports world will be fixed on Germany this weekend, as the Bundesliga returns from its pandemic-enforced lockdown. Germany is the first country in Europe to restart its league, making the Bundesliga a test case for how other leagues move forward.
The season will be resumed behind closed doors, but with the game taking place at the clubs’ grounds rather than neutral venues, with a familiar name leading the title race.
Eight in a row for Bayern?
Bayern Munich have dominated the Bundesliga in recent years with the title often secured before Easter. This season however has proven to be different, as Bayern struggled early with a side in transition and the conservative tactics of Nico Kovac. A 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt back in November proved the last straw for Bayern, who dismissed Kovac and promoted Hans-Dieter Flick.
Since his appointment, Flick has ignited Bayern with 10 wins in their last 11 league matches; establishing a four-point lead at the top. The key to the turnaround has been Thomas Muller, who’s rolled back the years with 16 assists. In addition, Robert Lewandowski has plundered a league-high 25 goals.
Borussia Dortmund were much fancied at the start of the season, but suffered an erratic start. They pulled off the coupe of the January transfer window by signing Erling Braut Haaland. Despite being eliminated from the Champions League, the team sits in second, with Haaland and Jadon Sancho in majestic form. The visit of Bayern on May 27th looks increasingly like the title decider.
RB Leipzig are a point further back after leading the pack going into the winter break, powered by the goals of Timo Werner. Too many draws have cost Leipzig, who have only lost three times this season.
Borussia Monchengladbach were the early season pace setters, but they’ve struggled to keep pace with the big three. Still, securing fourth place and a return to the Champions League would make this a successful season for one of Germany’s grand old clubs. Bayer Leverkusen are two points behind in fifth and hold a sizable ten-point lead over sixth-placed Schalke.
Bremen in Trouble
Further down the table, Jurgen Klinsmann’s return to club management proved short-lived at Hertha Berlin. Meanwhile, four-time Champions Werder Bremen are facing relegation battle after a calamitous season.
Bremen were eight last season and haven’t suffered a season outside the topflight since 1981. However, things are looking ominous with coach Florian Kohfeldt under pressure after a run of nine losses from the last ten matches. Their attacking style has lead to Bremen leaking far too many goals; exemplified in their last game by giving up a two-goal lead to draw with Hertha.
In attack, they’ve struggled to cope without the departed Max Kruse. Also in deep trouble are bottom of the table Paderborn and 16th-placed Fortuna Düsseldorf, who clash this Saturday in a relegation six-pointer.
Famous Names in Promotion Mix
Bundesliga II will also resume this weekend, with Bielefeld at the top of the table with a commanding six-point lead. Veteran striker Fabian Klos has formed an impressive goal scoring partnership with Andreas Voglsammer, and with nine games to go, automatic promotion is within Bielefeld’s reach.
The fight for the second automatic promotion spot is lead by two famous names from the Bundesliga’s past. Five-time Champions VfB Stuttgart won the inaugural reunified Bundesliga title of 1992. However, the club have struggled in recent years between the top two divisions. For example, a 1-1 draw with Bielefeld just before the lockdown was damaging to their title hopes. However, with just one defeat in their last ten matches, they remain in the automatic promotion spots.
A point further back in third place sit Hamburg. As one of Europe’s powerhouses during the late 70’s and early 80’s, SV are enduring a second season in Bundesliga II, but sit in the playoff place. Left back Tim Leibold and midfielder Sonny Kittel are enjoying fine seasons, giving hope of a return to the top division.
The Test Case
The return of football in Germany will have consequences far beyond the destination of the Bundesliga title. With life in lockdown across the world, football has been shelved and how Germany copes with the return of its league will be a test case for others to decide how to finish their respective seasons.
The return of the Bundesliga is testament to Germany’s successful Coronavirus testing strategy and ability to keep the mortality rate of the disease to a far lower level than those experienced in most western nations. In short, if Germany makes a success of the return without causing a spike in Covid-19 cases, there’s hope for other leagues to complete their seasons.
Even if the Bundesliga return works, there are still a lot of obstacles to football returning on a wider scale; particularly with different nations in different states of lockdown and Coronavirus testing proving less plentiful in other countries. UEFA have requested their members outline their plans for the season’s conclusion by May 28th. Here is a rundown of where other major leagues currently stand:
Ajax finished in first place, but will not be made champions while promotion and relegation were abandoned. However, seedings for European places will be awarded on final league standings, with Ajax and AZ Alkmaar getting Champions League berths.
The current position of the Dutch government suggests no football will be played in Holland until a vaccine is discovered, casting doubt over next season being played.
The French government have banned organized sports until at least September. Consequently, the LFP ended the season, using a points per game system to determine the final table. PSG, who held a 12-point lead, have been declared Ligue 1 Champions with Marseille and Rennes gaining Champions League places. Amiens and Toulouse have been relegated from Lique 1 and will be replaced next season by Lens and Lorient.
The Pro League could return, but the league’s Board of Directors have already recommended ending the season, in which case Club Brugge will likely be declared Champions.
The Premier League is hoping to return in June. However, with the United Kingdom suffering the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in Europe, any return would likely be held at neutral venues; resulting in a split among clubs over a resumption of the season.
Further down the pyramid, the EFL Championship could resume if adequate coronavirus testing can be implemented. However, Leagues One and Two are unlikely to complete their seasons on economic grounds.
A controversial vote last month empowered the SPFL to end the Premiership season should a restart not prove possible. That would make Celtic presumptive Champions with Hearts relegated to the Championship.
The SPFL vote ended the season in the Championship, League One and League Two, despite a bitter legal dispute. Consequently, Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers have been named Champions of each of their respective divisions with Partick Thistle and Stranraer suffering relegation.
The Portuguese government have ruled the Primeira Liga can resume on May 30th, with ten rounds of matches to be completed. However, the second tier Segunda Division has been curtailed with Nacional declared Champions and promoted alongside runners up Farense. At the other end of the Segunda, Piedada and Casa Pia have been relegated.
Serie A players are back in training, but only on an individual basis. The hope is that team training can continue later this month with games resuming in mid-June with the season ending August 1st. The clubs have consistently stated their “unanimous will” to complete the season, however, the Italian government needs to green light a possible return.
La Liga clubs are returning to training, but in a stepped program. While the league is planning to complete the season, there isn’t a return date in place. The final decision rests with Health Minister Salvador Illa, who has previously stated he doesn’t expect football to return before summer.