The German Bundesliga will be the first of Europe’s top five football leagues to resume during the coronavirus pandemic after the German government approved a return to action beginning May 16.
The decision from the government came May 6, and though the Deutsche Fußball Liga’s, or DFL’s, originally planned start date of May 9 was postponed, the top two tiers of German soccer were given the green light to resume operations the week after.
Germany’s coordinated national response has been cited as reason for the return of soccer. The DFL administered 1,695 tests before teams resumed training, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attributed the rapid restart to her nation’s robust and regular testing.
Precautions will still be in place. Fans will not be allowed in stadiums, nor will they be allowed to congregate outside, as reported by Sky Sports. Players will also be tested before each game they play, a minimum of once a week.
The DFL’s plan to bring soccer back to the country hit its first speed bump when two players from Bundesliga second division side Dynamo Dresden tested positive and forced the entire team into quarantine. The DFL remains undeterred, however, planning to play all other possible games while giving Dresden the required 14-day quarantine period.
“Two Dynamo Dresden games can’t be played. We have to see how we deal with that. We are not changing our aim and we are not changing our plans. The aim remains to finish the season,” said Bundesliga Chief Executive Christian Seifert in a statement to public television station Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen.
Should no further disturbances occur, the Bundesliga will resume with a narrow title race in the cards. Bayern Munich has the inside track to its eighth straight league title and is led by the incomparable striker Robert Lewandowski, who leads all Bundesliga players with 25 goals in 23 games. The Polish international is being teed up by a resurgent Thomas Müller, who has tallied 16 assists and six goals this campaign.
But the Bavarian giants, sitting pretty at 55 points, have a real title scrap on their hands. Just 4 points away is Borussia Dortmund, which stands at second place after rattling off four straight wins, its longest winning streak of the season, before the coronavirus-induced stoppage. Dortmund is led by wonderkids Jadon Sancho, who’s notched 14 goals and 15 assists, and Erling Haaland, who has nine goals in only five starts.
Those two clubs will meet May 25 in what could be a decisive clash, but the Bundesliga is far from a two-horse race. Bayern and Dortmund are trailed by RB Leipzig (50 points), Borussia Mönchengladbach (49 points) and Bayer Leverkusen (47 points). Just 8 points separate the top five clubs, making the Bundesliga race the closest among Europe’s top five leagues.
On the other end of the table, Werder Bremen and SC Paderborn are currently slated for relegation, as both trail Fortuna Düsseldorf, which occupies 16th place and the relegation playoff spot, by more than a game. Paderborn will have an opportunity to close that gap, however, when it meets Düsseldorf for its first game after the restart May 16.
Who will replace the relegated remains a hot topic of debate as well. Arminia Bielefeld leads the second-tier 2. Bundesliga by 6 points, but Stuttgart, Hamburger SV and FC Heidenheim are not far behind. The rest of the German second division is more fluid, however — only 8 points separate fifth-place Greuther Fürth from 15th-place Bochum, creating the possibility of drama in the promotion or relegation battles should a particular club experience a spell of fine form or poor play.
The German top flight is not the first soccer league to resume — the South Korean K-League followed the Korea Baseball Organization and began to play in front of empty stadiums May 8. The Belarusian Premier League has played through the pandemic.
Like those leagues, the Bundesliga will have a restart welcomed by fans around the planet. Europe’s other soccer leagues, and sports associations across the globe, will look on with curiosity and anticipation. It is a reminder that with a rigorous and adequate response from a federal government, recovery is more than possible. But while a return to normalcy is prized by many, only time will tell the viability of this restart and the precautions being taken.