20 May 2020 – It has finally happened. As the world watched on, and with a strict set of hygiene rules in place, the German Bundesliga became the first major European league to get back under way. And while plenty of aspects were different from before, it would be no exaggeration to call it an historic matchday – not least due to a change in the rules.
FIFA.com looks at 10 things that we noticed over the weekend.
1. Same same but different
Of course it was totally different – but once we got into it, it was much like it always had been. Erling Haaland – who else?– scored the first goal after the re-start, and the image of the celebrations, with the Borussia Dortmund players maintaining their distance from one another in front of empty rows of seats in their imposing stadium, could well become iconic.
2. Eyes of the world on the sport
The Bundesliga has always attracted interest from abroad, but never to the extent that it enjoyed last weekend. Zlatan Ibrahimovic featured it on his Instagram story (“They said they would do it and they did. Thank you.”), while Kylian Mbappe posted on Twitter that he had enjoyed the Ruhr derby. Plenty of broadcasters set new viewing records.
While most people would surely prefer the stadiums to be packed to the rafters, the atmosphere in the empty arenas did create a few talking points. It was easy to hear what the coaches were shouting out (with a number of them saying beforehand that they would have to be a little more circumspect as everyone would be able to share in the message that they were trying to get across), and the same went for what the players were saying to one another, giving us an insight that we had never before been privy to.
4. Unique images
From interviews carried out from a distance to substitutes warming up with masks, sitting metres apart from one another or even, as was the case in Leipzig, using an airport gangway to get into the stands, not to mention the creative ways of filling the empty rows of seats, there were plenty of unusual images on display.
5. Substitution revolution
A short time ago, The International Football Association Board (IFAB) adopted a change in the laws to allow five substitutes to be used, with the Bundesliga taking on board this modification. On the first matchday after the restart, eight teams made use of the full five. Schalke were the first, with Timo Becker coming on in the 87th minute as his team’s fifth substitute, while Hertha Berlin, Paderborn, Borussia Monchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt, Koln, Mainz and Union Berlin all went on to follow suit.
6. Top-notch football
Getting back to league action after such a long break and with no friendlies beforehand was unusual to say the least. And to begin with a number of matches, it was clear that the two teams were feeling each other out, but by the end, there was plenty of high-quality football on display despite the lack of atmosphere. The BVB – Schalke derby, Freiburg’s clever tactics in Leipzig, Gladbach’s lightning start in Frankfurt and the ding-dong battle between Koln and Mainz were just some of the stand-outs of the weekend.
7. Fans not forgotten
The fans may have been physically absent, but as they watched on via their TV screens, they were very much a presence in the minds of the players. BVB celebrated their derby victory in front of the South Stand which is usually home to the “Yellow Wall”, while Gladbach’s Marcus Thuram stayed true to his tradition of celebrating with the corner flag.
8. What they said
“It was the kind of atmosphere you get when the veterans play at seven in the evening under floodlights.”
Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller
“We made a damn good job of it, and by we, I mean Koln and Mainz. We served up a really good football match.”
Mainz coach Achim Beierlorzer
“Obviously matches without fans seem to go by a little more slowly, so the wait for the final whistle felt a bit longer than normal.”
Bayern Munchen goalkeeper Manuel Neuer
“Come on, it’s not a friendly!”
Heard from one of the Frankfurt staff after his team went 2-0 down to Gladbach in the seventh minute
“4-0 against Schalke – I’ll take that.”
BVB coach Lucien Favre
“Football is football and you just go out and try to enjoy it.”
BVB midfielder Julian Brandt
“We discussed it beforehand and we knew that it was the same kind of game that we used to play as kids, no more, no less. No fans, just go out there and have fun.”
BVB goalkeeper Roman Burki
Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, matches behind closed doors were known in Germany by the rather romantic name of Geisterspiele or “ghost matches”. At Frankfurt, they decided that this was a good excuse to play the “Ghostbusters” theme before their match with Borussia Monchengladbach. The visitors proved that they weren’t afraid of no ghosts, however, finding the back of the net twice in the first seven minutes.
10. What the world’s press had to say
“We were expecting you! The Bundesliga steps up onto the world footballing stage.”
Gazzetta dello Sport (Italy)
“Many were looking forward to this as much as if it was the beginning of the World Cup. Germany has ushered in the test phase for football around the world.”
“Europe watches on as Germany’s Bundesliga becomes the first major league to restart its season in the coronavirus era. There is a long way to go to complete any season in Europe but after Germany took the first step, it feels a lot more possible than it did at the start of the day.”
Daily Mail, (UK)
“With choreographed moves, face masks and empty stadiums, Germany found a way to start the Bundesliga up again in a meaningful way.”
De Telegraaf (Netherlands)
“Football is back, in its new form. And despite a lot of unusual impressions, it was still the same football as before.”
“The Bundesliga’s games no doubt boosted morale among those watching on television around the world who craved action in a top league. Indeed, the Bundesliga is the first major European soccer division to return to action, perhaps providing a template in some ways for how American sports leagues can proceed.”