By Neil Leverett
- After two-month hiatus, European football begins ‘Project Restart’ across continent, as Bundesliga resumes on Saturday afternoon
- Top two tiers in Germany play catch-up with nine weeks of campaign left
- Revierderby headlines return weekend as title-chasing Borussia Dortmund host Schalke 04 at Signal Iduna Park
BUNDESLIGA – As the German top flight prepares to resume this weekend, Britwatch bring you an extensive guide to the return of the Bundesliga.
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Just eight days on from Chancellor Angela Merkel giving the green light to the resumption of Germany’s Bundesliga, the often indeterminate countdown to the return of European top flight football during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic finally ticks down to zero on Saturday – despite the entire Dynamo Dresden squad being placed into quarantine earlier this week in the second tier.
As the top two tiers resume this weekend – without Dresden – the eyes of world sport will be on the nation more than ever and after one of the German top flight’s most explosive seasons to date, the Bundesliga has the unique opportunity to showcase itself as what is for many the best league on the continent this year.
Not only that, rather more curious eyes will survey how the league operates in geisterspielern (ghost games) and also and what safety measures are utilised to keep players and staff as safe as possible from contracting COVID-19.
All nine games will be live on BT Sport between Saturday afternoon and Monday evening on its’ return weekend, as the UK breaks ground in showing live football on British television on a Saturday afternoon – following the restrictions on 3pm games being lifted last month – whilst the Premier League remains in hiatus until next month at the earliest.
With nine rounds of the campaign left to play, six games open proceedings on Saturday, with another two games on Sunday, as Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen then close out the program on Monday night.
So before you settle back into your favourite sporting armchair once more for a Saturday afternoon, let Britwatch Sports be your guide to the German top flight.
Bayern cling to Meisterschale
The 2019/20 Bundesliga season to date has been one of the most unpredictable in recent memory, but its’ biggest draw has been value for money with no less than 24 games that have ended 3-2, 3-3, 4-3 or 5-3 this term.
Add to that Bayern Munich’s vice-like seven-year grip on the Bundesliga’s Mesiterschale having loosened, events have led to a see-saw title race that while appears to have resumed normal service on paper, the nine games remaining of the campaign – behind closed doors no less – should bring more thrills and spills with it.
After the eventual dismissal of Niko Kovac, Hansi Flick‘s installation into the Bayern hotseat saw Die Roten again climb the standings to the summit with the help of messrs Thomas Muller and North London conqueror Serge Gnabry – before the season went into hiatus due to coronavirus – followed closely once again on their coat-tails by perennial bridesmaids Borussia Dortmund, four points adrift.
Spurred on by the arrival of Erling-Braut Haaland in January, the YellowBlack have nevertheless seen Bayern leapfrog them in the table, but given the unpredictability of a run of games behind closed doors for the remainder of the season, BVB cannot be overlooked – far from it.
Certainly given the fact, that despite having re-established the German pecking order, Bayern in their current incarnation are a shell of their former selves, particularly defensively and are prone to more than the odd calamity, as both Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen have ruthlessly exposed at the Allianz Arena this term.
As pretenders to the throne, the hip new kids RB Leipzig continue to raise the scorn of those outside their own fanbase, but after leading the standings earlier this campaign, Julian Nagelsmann‘s charges remain in the mix to spoil the scheduled top-two party come the end of June – still just five points off the pace.
Though appearing to be out of the reckoning, Borussia Monchengladbach stand only a further point behind Die Roten Bullen in fourth, and themselves occupied the top spot earlier this term.
Revierderby Signals return
The weekend’s season resumption required a fitting set of ingredients to ignite the Bundesliga burners and so obliges with Saturday’s Revierderby, as Dortmund host Schalke at Signal Iduna Park.
As Premier League fans don their scouting caps for potential new signings, the majority of eyes will be on Jadon Sancho, with the England man having flourished during his time in the Ruhr valley.
With another 16 assists to his tally this term, the Kennington revelation has also bagged 14 goals to his name and is already considered a guaranteed return to English shores after departing Manchester City, with Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur all touted for his signature.
For any who have resided under a rock since August, his new partner in attack in Haaland shot to prominence for Red Bull Salzburg in the UEFA Champions League, before Dortmund swooped in the January window to clinch the Norwegian’s signature for the bargain sum of 20m Euros.
Haaland made an immediate impact in Germany scoring a 23-minute hat-trick coming off the bench against Augsburg, and after netting a further two in his following game became the first player in Bundesliga history to score five goals in his first two outings.
As the Yellow Wall welcome Schalke to town this weekend, the visitors find themselves in sixth spot in the table but without a win in seven after the cumulative goals of chief number nine in Benito Raman dried up in recent weeks – before the coronavirus outbreak.
Former Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner has however seen his side climb the table since taking over the reigns of the Gelsenkirchen club 12 months ago, and makes the short 25km trip west, confident of causing an upset against Lucien Favre‘s men, the Swiss steward himself having born the brunt of much criticism at Dortmund this term.
Hitmen on show
As has been the case for three of the past four seasons, Robert Lewandowski once more leads the narrative for the season thus far and with 25 goals already stands to win the Bundesliga Golden Boot for the third year running, and could break his record of 30 league goals four terms ago – together with that of Gerd Muller’s tally of 40 in a single campaign in the 1970s.
But the lethal Polish striker has not been alone at the top of the goal charts this year. Timo Werner has already equalled his 21 goals total during the 2015/16 season in his first year at Leipzig and before his relative drought in mid-season, netted 15 league goals in his opening 14 games.
Whilst respective Leipzig and Bayern talismen sit well ahead in the reckoning for the annual Kicker award, Sancho has almost as many goals as assists this term, and he together with new strike partner Haaland will carry a large threat for the remainder of the season for Dortmund.
Away from the upper echelons of the table Florian Niederlechner and Robin Quaison have also pricked the ears of many a league scout this season.
Whilst the former has had somewhat of a breakout campaign with 11 goals to his name for Augsburg already and is the only out-and-out striker this term to have reached nine assists – prompting the German forward’s consideration for an international call-up – Quaison has already broken into the Swedish national picture.
Having notched one more than Niederlechner this term, the 26-year-old from Stockholm has found his place in a wider area for Mainz after being shifted from a striking role also, and has latterly been the form man away from home before the season’s break, netting hat-tricks at both Hertha Berlin and Werder Bremen. As Mainz travel to Koln on Sunday – Quaison will be keen on adding to his tally of eight on the road so far.
On the subject of FC Koln, Jhon Cordoba has been one of the Bundesliga’s unsung heroes in attack for the bi-annual yoyo-ing Westphalia outfit. Returning again to the top flight this term, the Colombian has found his niche as his side’s bullish, savvy and clinical front man Koln have craved in the top flight.
After a decidedly shaky period up to late 2019, Koln have been invigorated since mid-December winning eight games in eleven, with Cordoba averaging a goal for every game won in that time-frame.
Other names to keep an eye on include Hertha’s nomadic Krzysztof Piatek as the enigmatic Pole seeks a consistent and happy hunting ground away from Milan in the German capital on-loan, whilst much-improved former Leicester City number nine Andrei Kramaric has already shown to Hoffenheim fans that when fit, is a threat to any defence in the league.
Ones to watch
Away from the usual suspects, the German top flight has seen the attentions turn toward a number of players – contributing to the league’s arguable status as the best package in Europe right now.
Both the top two boast some of the most exciting prospects outside of the their talismanic circles. Left-back Alphonso Davies has already began to pull up trees with his electric pace in the wide areas and the Canadian is now assumed as David Alaba‘s replacement in that role, with the versatile Austrian now himself reverting to centre-half.
BVB too also retain their own swashbuckling full in back Achraf Hakimi. The marauding former Real Madrid defender has ten assists this season, and in forming a potent bond with Sancho on the right wing, the Moroccan has been on the score-sheet also this campaign.
In the case of Leipzig, Werner is undoubtedly the goal-getter, however the German hitman has been well flanked by Marcel Sabitzer and Christopher Nkunku offensively, with the latter making a mockery of former club Paris Saint-Germain in opting to let the Frenchman go. Austrian Sabitzer in turn has been compared to the likes of Christian Eriksen, such is his creativity in the final third and eye for goal.
Elsewhere, Kai Havertz continues to set footballing pulses race for club and country, and having now grabbed penalty duties for Bayer Leverkusen, the German starlet has matured into a number ten with all the attributes.
Compatriot Suat Serdar has shunted Schalke back up the table after a worrying start to the campaign, and as the latest in a line of Germanic players from Turkish descent in the Bundesliga, the 23-year-old has already caught the eye of Jogi Lowe for Die Mannschaft. Serdar could provide their Revierderby opponents Dortmund with food for thought on Germany’s resumption weekend.
At the bottom end of the standings, this season’s newly promoted Paderborn look set for an immediate return to Bundesliga Zwei, resuming six points from the annual relagation play-offs and a further four from outright safety.
Joining them in the bottom three reside Werder Bremen and Fortuna Dusseldorf, with former Brentford, Leeds United and Wigan manager Uwe Rosler tasked with keeping the latter in the top tier for a third successive campaign come next year.
Bremen meanwhile – unthinkably – are threatened with a drop out of the Bundesliga for the first time in forty years, a far cry from Die Werderaner’s 2004 league crown. Boss Florian Kohfeldt has his work cut out.
There then follows a five-way scrap to steer clear of the drop zone. Mainz may be able to navigate choppy waters with their goal threat, whilst Union Berlin have enjoyed a decent start to the calendar year but welcome Bayern on Sunday.
Hertha, Augsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt however, look to be in a decidedly sticky situation with just a point separating all three teams in 12th, 13th and 14th respectively. It’s all set to be a riveting final six weeks of the season.
The Bundesliga resumes on Saturday as Borussia Dortmund host Schalke 04, kick-off 14:30 UK time.
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