BERLIN, Germany, May 17 – Bayern Munich maintained their four-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga as Germany gave fans across the world their first taste of elite football for two months amid empty stands and stringent hygiene guidelines designed to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
AFP looks at the five things we learned from one of oddest weekends in the game’s history.
A vision of the future?
The Bundesliga has a head start of at least a month on the other major leagues aiming to restart this summer, and some of strange scenes seen in Germany will become the new normal should football return to England, Italy and Spain.
La Liga and Serie A are aiming for mid-June as a potential start date for their suspended seasons, and fans in both countries may have to get used to silent, empty stadiums, socially-distanced goal celebrations, footballers in face masks and the spectre of players catching COVID-19.
Italy’s clubs for example are debating a medical protocol that currently rules that if a player tests positive for the virus he and anyone who has come into close contact with him must be quarantined for two weeks, in contrast to Germany where only the player is isolated.
How Bundesliga teams fare under their hygiene regulations could provide the model for the coming months.
Bayern show no ring-rustiness
Heading into his team’s tough trip to giant-killers Union Berlin, Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick wondered whether his team would be able to last a full 90 minutes after only being given the go-ahead to resume full team training last week.
However a dominant display in the German capital, against a team that had already beaten two different league leaders at home this season, showed why they are the strongly-tipped to win their eighth straight league title.
Bayern had two thirds of possession at the Alten Foesterei stadium, and once Robert Lewandowski slotted home his 26th league goal of the season from the penalty spot five minutes before the break, the result was never in doubt as the champions went on to claim a 2-0 win.
Haaland talks on the pitch
In the aftermath of Dortmund’s 4-0 thumping of Ruhr rivals Schalke, teen striking sensation Erling Braut Haaland was a young man of few words with the awaiting media desperate for something from the 19-year-old goal machine.
However, according to AFP subsidiary SID, Haaland mumbled a total of eight English words to reporters, including “Why not?” and “Yes”.
It didn’t really matter, as Haaland had done his talking on the pitch, picking up where he left off before the world went into virus lockdown.
The Norwegian, who turns 20 this summer, swept home the opener, the league’s first goal of its restart, before laying on the first of Raphael Guerreiro’s brace, showing once again that he is Europe’s player to watch.
He has 41 goals this season in all competitions and 13 for Dortmund in just 12 games since joining in January from Red Bull Salzburg.
All eyes on Germany
Specialist website DWDL.de reported on Sunday that over six million people in Germany watched the first top-tier matches in two months, with 3.68 million tuning into broadcaster Sky Germany’s subscription channels on Saturday.
A further 2.45 million tuned into the ‘Konferenz’ — a simultaneous live broadcast of the five afternoon games — on free-to-air Sports News Channel.
Sky Germany had a market share of 27.4 percent on their pay-to-view channels and 18.2 percent on their free channel.
The German Football League (DFL) told AFP that matches were televised by more than 70 broadcasters worldwide, all on previously-agreed deals.
British newspaper the Daily Mail reports that UK viewers were left frustrated as the BT Sport application showing the matches buckled under the weight of demand from fans.
Fans protest ‘ghost games’
Germany has one of the world’s most vibrant football fan cultures, with raucous fans packing stadiums where entrance fees are priced at a fraction of what Premier League fans have to shell out.
And while millions tuned in to watch some live football, a significant portion of match-going supporters are livid at the idea of games going ahead without the noisy backdrop provided by German fans.
On Saturday Augsburg fans left a banner inside their team’s ground which read “Football gives life — your business is sick”.
St Pauli, meanwhile, on Sunday published a picture on Twitter of a banner that read: “Football lives through its fans! Without you, it’s all nothing!”