5 talking points as the Bundesliga shows football CAN return

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After what has felt like eons, ages and eras, live football (in a decent league!) is finally back – and the Bundesliga did much for the return of the sport over the weekend.

No Liverpool—not yet. But still lots of Liverpool themes when it comes to the Bundesliga: easy soundbites for commentators with the linked players, former clubs and more.

But this was about showing the world and the people who held reservations about sport’s return that, if controlled, planned and performed properly, football can be able to resume.

Goals were scored, points were won, Dortmund and Bayern continued their title fight and no fans were there—and on the whole it was enormously positive in terms of a long-awaited return to action.

Here are five of the positives and main talking points from the return, and how they can apply to the Premier League.

 

Football can return safely

Schalke substitute players sit on the bench during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 in Dortmund (Martin Meissner)

The gameweek hasn’t quite finished, with a Monday night game to come, but there have been no issues arising from the matches taking place so far and all involved seem to have appreciated playing their part once again.

It might be surreal, unusual, less-than-optimal or whatever else, but it is football and it is back.

The Bundesliga showed that with the proper testing and approach, the game can return with—so far—few downsides and little risk.

Testing has taken place, strict health protocols were implemented for journalists, staff and players alike and we also saw sensible approaches from the players themselves, celebrating without too much contact, not getting in each others’ faces too much after contentious moments and so on.

No player should be forced into a return if they don’t feel safe or if they feel they cannot guarantee the safety of their families if they play again.

But the sweeping opposition from individuals against anyone returning should now be silenced, or else shown for the self-serving, obstinate refusal to allow proper plans to be made that it clearly has been until this point.

 

Fans don’t need to feel sidelined

Shirts of fans unable to attend hang over the seats at the match between Cologne and Mainz (Lars Baron/AP)

No supporters in grounds which have been famous for their inclusivity, their atmospheres and their connection with fans—but that doesn’t mean the support becomes irrelevant.

Each club should be allowed to mark and remember those who are usually there with them in their own unique way: Dortmund players, for example, lined up post-match to salute the non-existent Yellow Wall as they usually would do.

Koln fans had shirts and signs draped over their seats to remind the players they were still with them, even if from a little further afield than usual.

And even BT Sport had a big group Zoom video gathering with fans from clubs, watching their games unfold and talking with other supporters as it happened.

TV viewing figures also show that people are delighted to have the game back: 3.7 million people watching games in Germany, plus another 2.5 million following their version of Soccer Saturday.

In the UK, around half a million people watched the Revierderby, peaking at over 650,000.

It was not the biggest television draw of the day by a long shot, but the figures are still well over the norm for a European weekend match and Premier League figures would again soar far higher.

That’s a lot of fans who can, one way or another, still be involved.

 

Football is always a finger-pointing excuse

08 December 2018, Berlin: 08.12.2018, Berlin: Soccer, 1st Bundesliga, 14th matchday, Hertha BSC Berlin - SG Eintracht Frankfurt in the Olympic Stadium. After the end of the game Berlin's goal scorer Marko Grujic runs laughing towards the east bend. Photo: Annegret Hilse/dpa - IMPORTANT NOTE: In accordance with the requirements of the DFL Deutsche Fu?ball Liga or the DFB Deutscher Fu?ball-Bund, it is prohibited to use or have used photographs taken in the stadium and/or the match in the form of sequence images and/or video-like photo sequences.

Some of the sights over the weekend in Germany led to questions, pointless criticism or other irrelevant moans.

Why are the subs social distancing when they are together in the dressing room? Why are the staff wearing face masks but not the managers?

It doesn’t matter.

Part of these can be answered by legislation and government guidelines—managers have dispensation to not wear masks for example, needing to shout at their players and so on—but part can also be answered by common sense.

It’s too easy to point at football and say it does things wrong. Those who don’t know about it, don’t care about it or who revel in causing arguments out of nothing will always look for the most basic excuse to say “football is doing it wrong.”

So the apparent over-protective nature of subs sitting several seats apart only to come on standing next to each other, or whatever else, is twofold: set good examples to those watching on for everyday life, and don’t let the game be an easy target for recriminations and examples of what not to do.

Take our very own Marko Grujic, for example.

Hertha team-mate Dedryck Boyata was accused of breaching protocol by getting up close and personal, photographed with his hands around Grujic’s face and “kissing” him in celebration.

All lies, and obvious ones once you see where it took place in the game: it was a one-second encounter as Boyata whispered set-piece instructions.

Still, you have to do everything you can to minimise that finger-pointing, because headlines demand that someone, somewhere, be the fall-guy.

The Bundesliga got it very right in this regard—though to be fair, all they had to do to be better than South Korea was to not resort to putting sex dolls in the stands instead of fans.

 

Eyes on Reds targets

jadon sancho timo werner

Non-British football for a British audience naturally means the commentators and presenters have to find some sort of crossover.

For BT, that usually calls for employing analysts and pundits who have some link with overseas football: Owen Hargreaves for example, reporting for duty from inside his home via video-link on this occasion.

There are also in-game comments to make, often regarding transfers or linked players with Premier League clubs, of which Liverpool are the most prominent right now.

In that regard, the weekend was a low-key affair, more a reminder that players are not robots and some will take time to rediscover peak fitness, sharpness and form.

Timo Werner was a marginal influence as Leipzig lost ground in the title fight, ending up on the left side of midfield as his team struggled to break down Freiburg.

Jadon Sancho was only sub for Dortmund, who battered local rivals Schalke without his influence, while Kai Havertz won’t play for Bayer Leverkusen until Monday night.

 

Lower expectations, then lower them some more

Dortmund’s Erling Haaland saluted the empty stands after scoring on Saturday (Martin Meissner/PA)

Finally, although there were moments of great play, some fantastic goals and generally a feel-good factor about football’s return, several of the games also displayed evidence of…pre-season-ness, shall we say.

Several teams took their time to get going, not opting for fast starts when they usually would do.

Some players had the touch and control of your average League Two journeyman, a far cry from their elite-level performances of three months ago.

And while the second halves of matches generally stepped it up a notch in terms of tempo of play, with that came a ragged edge for some teams, clearly an indication of less training of late, or perhaps less close-quarters training where organisation is formed.

It will be rather different to usual in terms of performance level and efficiency when the Premier League returns, as the Bundesliga showed.

So don’t expect the Reds and the rest to hit the ground running, all guns blazing and producing performances which will live through song for decades to come.

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