Dortmund Braced For ‘Most Unusual Derby In History’ As Bundesliga Fixtures Return

Dortmund's Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland celebrates after scoring during the German first division Bundesliga football match Werder Bremen vs BVB Borussia Dortmund, in Bremen, northern Germany on February 22, 2020. Patrik Stollarz / AFP
File: Dortmund’s Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland celebrates after scoring during the German first division Bundesliga football match Werder Bremen vs BVB Borussia Dortmund, in Bremen, northern Germany on February 22, 2020. Patrik Stollarz / AFP

 

Borussia Dortmund’s young stars Erling Braut Haaland and Jadon Sancho will be hunting more goals on Saturday in “the most unusual derby in history” against Schalke as the German Bundesliga returns behind locked doors.

Dortmund usually expect 82,000 spectators at Signal Iduna Park for a home derby, but the stadium will be near-empty with only a handful of media and officials admitted.

Even national team coach Joachim Loew will not be allowed in to watch his Germany players live on their return to action.

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“It will be the most unusual derby in history,” former Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl told German daily Welt.

Normally, a home derby against Schalke comes alive “through the fans, from their emotions, from the enthusiasm in the stadium,” Kehl added.

Dortmund are looking to close the four-point gap behind leaders Bayern Munich, who visit Union Berlin on Sunday.

However, Dortmund’s iconic south stand, dubbed “The Yellow Wall” and normally packed with 25,000 passionate fans will – like the rest of the stadium – stand empty.

“The players will miss the chance for extra motivation by the fans and the atmosphere,” admitted Kehl.

While league action in England, Spain and Italy is still at least a month away, the German Football League (DFL) has drawn up detailed hygiene guidelines to restart.

The Bundesliga is set to become the first top European league to return during the pandemic, which has so far claimed around 7,700 lives in Germany.

At games around the country, substitutes will wear masks, goal celebrations will be replaced by elbow taps while handshakes and hugs before kick-off are a no-go.

“A lot of things will start from scratch on Saturday,” Dortmund winger Julian Brandt told Sky.

“There will be no real advantages and disadvantages to playing home or away.

“In the end, it depends on who best accepts this situation and can best deal with it.”

The pressure is on Haaland, 19, and Sancho, 20, to continue their goal-rich partnership, despite the empty terraces, and steer injury-depleted Dortmund to victory.

Midfield enforcers Emre Can and Axel Witsel are out with muscle strains, while playmaker Marco Reus is recovering from a groin problem.

Haaland was in stunning form when the league was suspended in mid-March with nine goals in eight Bundesliga appearances since joining from Salzburg.

Sancho also terrorised defences with 14 goals and 16 assists in 23 league games.

At third-placed RB Leipzig, Germany striker Timo Werner is aiming to move closer to his goal target for the season against Freiburg on Saturday.

“Not many players my age have scored 20 goals in a season once and I’ve done it twice,” said the 24-year-old Werner who has netted 21 times this term. “I’d like to score 30 in a season.”

Julian Nagelsmann’s Leipzig trail leaders Bayern by five points following draws against Leverkusen and Wolfsburg before matches were halted due to the virus outbreak.

One to watch: Robert Lewandowski

The league’s top scorer is back from injury and looking to add to his 25 goals this season on Sunday against Union in Berlin.

With nine games left, the 31-year-old Poland international is set to beat his previous best haul of 30 league goals, achieved in both 2015/16 and 2016/17.

It will also be worth watching Bayern’s Canadian teen Alphonso Davies, 19, who has extended his contract until 2025 after several impressive displays at left-back.

Key stats
39 – the goals Lewandowski has scored in 33 matches in all competitions this season.

40 – the record number of league goals scored for Bayern by West Germany legend Gerd Mueller in 1971/72.

40 – the goals Haaland has scored this season in 33 games for Dortmund and former club Salzburg, including 10 in the Champions League.

Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated)

Saturday

Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04

RB Leipzig v Freiburg

Hoffenheim v Hertha Berlin

Fortuna Dusseldorf v Paderborn

Augsburg v VfL Wolfsburg

Eintracht Frankfurt v Bor. Moenchengladbach (1630)

Sunday

Cologne v Mainz

FC Union Berlin v Bayern Munich (1600)

Monday

Werder Bremen v Bayer Leverkusen (1830)

AFP

German Chancellor Merkel Gives Go-Ahead For Bundesliga To Restart May 15

Bayern munich
Bundesliga team FC Bayern Munich, at the team training ground in Munich, southern Germany, on April 6, 2020. Bayern Munich’s players resume training sessions in small groups amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Christof STACHE / AFP

 

The Bundesliga will resume on May 15, the German league confirmed Wednesday, after Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders gave the green light to restart behind closed doors following weeks of shutdown imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The German Football League (DFL) confirmed the restart date to AFP subsidiary SID on Wednesday night.

“After weighing up all the arguments, the DFL Executive Committee decided today… to resume play in the Bundesliga and 2nd Bundesliga from 15 May 2020,” the DFL said in a statement to magazine Kicker.

Germany’s top-flight will become the first of Europe’s major leagues to return to the field.

“Matches will be allowed under the approved rules,” said Merkel at a press conference in Berlin.

Germany’s top politicians approved a plan for the Bundesliga to resume in stadiums without spectators and with players regularly tested.

Permission was granted on condition that strict guidelines are followed — with a hygiene officer appointed to each team — to prevent contagion of the virus.

Bayern Munich and Germany captain Manuel Neuer said the players now had an “enormous responsibility” to be role models and follow the hygiene guidelines.

Representatives from the 36 clubs in the country’s top two divisions will finalise details in a videoconference on Thursday.

– ‘Wonderful signal’ –

“Today’s decision is good news for the Bundesliga,” said the league’s CEO Christian Seifert.

“It’s a great responsibility for the clubs to implement the medical and organisational guidelines in a disciplined manner.”

Bayern Munich, seeking their eighth consecutive Geman title, were four points clear at the top of the table when play was halted in mid-March.

“It’s a good feeling. We are now looking forward to being able to resume playing,” said Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, adding the decision was “an important and wonderful signal for the Bundesliga”.

His opposite number at Borussia Dortmund — the club second in the table behind Bayern — also welcomed the news.

“We are very pleased that people in Germany have behaved so magnificently that the spread of the pandemic has at least been contained,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.

“Only because the population has been incredibly disciplined can we now gradually move on to another form of normality.”

Germany has about 165,000 coronavirus cases and 7,000 deaths, meaning it has so far prevented its hospitals becoming as overburdened as other European countries.

Economic reasons are also driving the decision to allow football to resume.

With 13 of the 36 teams in Germany’s top two divisions reportedly on the brink of bankruptcy, the league desperately needs to claim around 300 million euros ($325 million) from TV contracts if the season is completed.

The league has long urged restarting play, which it says is vital for a sector that employs 56,000 people in Germany.

Teams returned to training on April 6 although sessions have followed stringent social distancing rules.

– 10 cases of coronavirus –

The league says its intensive testing plan allows matches to be relaunched with low risk to health.

So far, clubs in the top two divisions have returned 10 positive results for coronavirus from 1,724 tests since training resumed.

Three are from the Cologne club and two from Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Health Minister Jens Spahn has argued that the testing regime “makes sense and can serve as an example for other forms of professional sport,” although he warned “it has to be lived up to”.

The league and politicians reacted with consternation when Hertha Berlin player Salomon Kalou filmed himself shaking hands with teammates this week, flaunting the social distancing rules that clubs have put in place.

“The video has done the German league and professional football a disservice,” Anja Stahmann, who chairs Germany’s regional sports ministers, told RBB radio on Wednesday.

Hertha have suspended Kalou, and the 34-year-old former Chelsea player has apologised.

– Different approaches –

Leagues across Europe are taking different approaches to the unprecedented crisis.

The French league announced last week it will not resume the season, with Paris Saint-Germain awarded the top-flight title.

The Netherlands abandoned its season a week earlier.

The English Premier League, Europe’s richest league, aims to restart in June, but differences have emerged over plans to use neutral stadiums.

Players in Italy’s Serie A returned to training this week and in Spain, Barcelona say players underwent coronavirus tests on Wednesday as La Liga clubs began restricted training ahead of a proposed resumption of the season next month.

The Serbian, Croatian and Turkish leagues have also announced plans for matches to restart.

COVID-19: Bayern Munich Restart Training, Bar Hugs, Challenges

bayern munich
Bundesliga team FC Bayern Munich, at the team training ground in Munich, southern Germany, on April 6, 2020. Bayern Munich’s players resume training sessions in small groups amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Christof STACHE / AFP

 

Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich resumed training Monday for the first time since the German league was suspended due to coronavirus but the players were put through their paces in small groups and maintained social distancing measures.

Keeping at least 1.5 metres from each other, players including captain Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller trained together for the first time since the Bundesliga was halted on March 13.

“It was a very unusual feeling to hold a training session in small groups, but it was also nice to see the boys in person again,” said Neuer after Bayern had previously held training sessions online.

After arriving at staggered times to limit contact — with no greeting hugs or handshakes — the 21-man squad was split into five groups, each containing a maximum of five players.

When they changed, the players were kept four metres apart in the changing rooms at the club’s state-of-the-art training complex in southern Germany.

On the pitch, Bayern’s stars were careful to keep their distance from each other and there were no challenges or tackles.

Once training was over, the players left to shower at home, where they ate food provided by the club in lunch boxes.

Bayern asked fans to stay away from the Saebener Strasse complex, where hundreds of supporters usually turn up to see their heroes.

Other clubs also cautiously resumed training Monday, after the league’s ban on doing so until April 5 passed, amid hopes the league will resume in early May.

Bayern are four points clear in the Bundesliga table.

At the training ground of their closest rivals Borussia Dortmund, the players also did not shower or eat on site after a session that focused on running and shooting.

The only clubs in Germany’s top flight not planning group training this week are Freiburg, whose players continue to work individually, and Werder Bremen, where the city’s senate still prevents training in groups.

So far, more than 1,434 people have died in Germany from coronavirus.

AFP