After two long months in quarantine, top-flight professional European football made its return through the German Bundesliga this weekend.
Players returned to their fanless stadiums in an odd but welcome homecoming for the sport, giving hope for fans of Spanish La Liga and English Premier League as they eagerly await for their leagues to resume play.
While certainly very different, the behind-closed-doors matches offer a new, if not refreshing, take on the sport as a whole. The common phrase “football without fans is nothing” has been put well to the test, but has certainly been proved myth-busted.
Former Bundesliga player, manager and current Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, in a recent interview on BBC’s Football Focus, added some perspective to the situation of football without fans saying, “We all started playing football without supporters and we loved this game not because of the atmosphere in a stadium.”
After the weekend’s games, there is definitely a fresh outlook to be had on the communication necessary from players and coaching staff when playing at such a high level — an attribute of the game not often picked up over the sound of the crowds.
As players marched out from different dressing rooms from different sides of the pitch, subs no longer sat on the bench but separated six feet apart on the sidelines donning masks, ball boys and girls ferociously wiped down game balls with isopropyl alcohol, and players celebrated at a distance after a goal was scored. Once you got past all that, football returned to normalcy — of which the world lacks a bit of in these times.
Though the fans were thoroughly missed, the game was missed much more and it’s nice to have its return.
That all being said, here’s a recap of some of the weekend’s Bundesliga highlights:
(4-0) Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04
This was one of the weekend’s games that sorely lacked an atmosphere. Called “the mother of all derbies,” the Riverderby lived up to the hype with some fantastic goals. While they were surely celebrated safely in the homes of everyone in the Dortmund region, the atmosphere in the empty stadium lacked the usual insanity that 80,000 fans bring to a cross-river rivalry.
While the atmosphere was understandably lacking, the football was not. The first goal came from an intricate flick on by Dortmund’s Julian Brandt, sending Thorgan Hazard through with enough space to place an inch-perfect curled pass onto a stampeding Erling Haaland’s foot.
After two months away, having almost no training, and having not played any friendlies as warm-ups, the play from Dortmund came across as though they had never had a break at all.
It was hard to tell through the entirety of the game whether Schalke was having a bad game and suffering in form from a long-term break, or if Dortmund was simply just better. Decidedly the latter.
Schalke’s offense was held at arms-length on the day. While they managed three shots on goal to Dortmund’s four, they were nowhere near as incisive as Dortmund’s.
Left wing-back Raphaël Guerreiro’s brace, and stunning left-footed shot with the outside of his boot, capped the game for the black and yellow and sent Schalke back to Gelsenkirchen bruised until the next Riverderby.
(0-2) Union Berlin vs. Bayern Munich
Bayern got off easy here. This was another one of those games that could’ve been much different with a home atmosphere.
Union put on a performance against the league leaders and defending champions and the game was tighter than the scoreline suggests.
Bayern was held off until late in the first half when Union’s Neven Subotic went to clear the ball from the box and instead brought Leon Goretzka to the ground, resulting in a penalty kick Robert Lewandowski was never going to miss — bringing him to 40 goals on the season in all competitions.
Union sorely missed their top goalscorer, Sebastian Andersson who, while coming on in the 70th minute, was sidelined due to a lack in match fitness as he recovers from injury.
Chances from the mid-table side were flashed either wide or straight into the arms of Manuel Neuer, however they held Bayern to a 1-0 lead into the 80th minute.
Perhaps a home crowd could’ve given Union the momentum to fight back into a scrappy draw, but Bayern’s insistence was relentless. Eventually, a corner kick found the head of Frenchman Benjamin Pavard which sealed the game and restored a four-point gap on the top of the table for Bayern Munich as they seek their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title.
Other results from the weekend:
(1-1) Red Bull Leipzig vs. SC Freiburg
(0-3) TSG 1899 Hoffenheim vs. Hertha Berlin
(0-0) Fortuna Düsseldorf vs. SC Paderborn 07
(1-2) Augsberg vs. Wolfsberg
(1-3) Frankfurt vs. M’gladbach
(2-2) Köln vs. Mainz
Bremen vs. Leverkusen is scheduled for today at 11:30 a.m.