After not playing since early March, European football makes its return through the German Bundesliga on Saturday.
The soccer community around the world will be focused on the German league to see how it plays out as other leagues are still working to arrange the completion of their seasons.
All teams’ form and momentum have been nullified by the two-month break, and, on top of that, all games will be played behind closed doors in empty stadiums.
With nine game-weeks left to play, the German first division returns to seek out title and relegation races as well as European competition placement slots, all still left to play for.
Gameweek 26 brings intense rivalry games, relegation battles and season-defining games for all 18 teams involved.
Here is a preview of some of the weekends’ games of high interest:
Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04
Second-place Borussia Dortmund is set to face off against sixth-place Schalke 04 in a Riverderby that could tip the balance of the title race and the European placement spots for the top six teams.
Currently sitting four points behind league leaders Bayern Munich, Dortmund will seek all three points on offer at the empty Signal Iduna Park come Saturday.
Dortmund will likely see a rotated midfield with Belgian-International, Axel Witsel, and former Juventus and Liverpool German, Emre Can, both miss out with muscle complications that forced them to leave the team’s quarantine for treatment.
Marco Reus also looks to be out due to a thigh problem, however while big names will be missing from Lucien Favre’s team sheet, rising stars Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland likely will be causing grief to the Shalke defense.
After escaping relegation last season, David Wagner’s Schalke will fight tooth and nail for any points to help in a tight Europa League finishing position race. While the fifth-place spot is 10 points away, the difference between finishing sixth and ninth is only two points.
Schalke is able to field a fully fit starting 11 against their Ruhr rivals, however it’s unknown how the two-month break will fare for the two sides.
After a close 0-0 last October, it’s to be expected there will be another tight game but derbys are never easy to predict.
Prediction: Without the crowd and all form tossed out the window, both sides will struggle to find a foot in the game, however the creativity between the youngsters that lead the Dortmund frontline will be the difference on the day.
Haaland will capitalize on Schalke’s defensive cobb webs early, and another goal past the 80-minute mark will secure a tough fought victory for Dortmund
2-0 to Dortmund.
Union Berlin vs. Bayern Munich
It’s to be expected that if there’s a title race in the Bundesliga, Bayern is usually somewhere in the picture.
League leaders and defending champions Bayern Munich faceoff against 11th-place Bundesliga-newcomers Union Berlin at the An der Alten Försterei on Sunday.
While Bayern should be able to pick apart the mid-table side, it’s best they not get too complacent.
Although they’re missing their top goal scorer in Sebastian Andersson, Union probably didn’t see this as a game that would offer them too much offense anyways. It will surely be a defensive test for the Berlin side as they seek to maintain their comfortable position away from any relegation battles.
Union currently sits eight points away from the relegation playoff spot, however it will be integral they gain some momentum in the last nine games that remain. A solid performance against Bayern could offer just the momentum they need.
Bayern found it no easy task to grab a 2-1 win against Union at the Allianz last October, however with the lack of home crowd it shouldn’t be difficult to find themselves the winners again this weekend.
Bayern will miss their little magician Phillipe Coutinho, who is out on ankle injury, but when you have the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry on the field, creativity will be in no shortcoming for the league leaders.
Prediction: Knowing their top goalscorer is out, Berlin will set up even more defensive than usual, but in a game where they’re expected to lose it could motivate them to try and capitalize on inevitable mistakes as Bayern dusts themselves off. Once Bayern finds a foothold though it will be easy to slice through the mid-table side
Polter will send a wake-up call to Bayern late in the first half but the champions will find their footing and rollover Union with three goals in the second half, two of which scored by Lewandowski furthering his grasp in the golden boot race.
1-3 to Bayern.
Fortuna Düsseldorf vs. Paderborn
The two sides are not household names in the slightest, however both have a lot to fight for in their last nine games to hopefully lift them out of the relegation zone and into safety.
This bottom of the table clash could be the nail in the coffin for Paderborn, or potentially give them the lift they need to see themselves out from last place and into safety or at least the relegation playoff position.
The point difference between the two sides is six points, but with 27 points still to win or lose, anything could happen.
The pressure is on Paderborn’s shoulders to grab the win at the Merkur Spielarena. A win on Saturday would not only mean three points gained for themselves but also three points taken away from their other relegation contenders.
When the sides last met, Paderborn was able to secure a 2-0 victory over Düsseldorf at home but the question that remains is if they can repeat that performance in an empty stadium away from their home spectators.
Prediction: Paderborn has it all to play for here, and it’s up to them to prove that they have what it takes to stay in the first division. A nine-point deficit at this point of the season would be very difficult to overturn and if they rise to the occasion the momentum will rule in their favor.
Düsseldorf’s stronger defense will resist any momentum from Paderborn in the first half, but once the sides return Paderborn will find a way through with their extra man in the midfield and flip the game.
0-2 to Paderborn.