Football is back! The German Bundesliga restarted on Saturday after a two-month suspension due to the coronavirus outbreak, and other leagues can take a lot of inspiration from it, too. Gab Marcotti reacts to the main talking points in the latest Monday Musings.
Jump to: What Bundesliga’s return felt like | Get used to “new normal” | Haaland, Dortmund keep rolling | La Liga’s new kickoff times | Bayern carefree in title race | Emery on Arsenal exit | Leipzig’s title chase over?
Bundesliga return looks different but feels great
It’s back. Or, rather, some form of it is back.
Maybe you’re old enough to have bought a pirated DVD of a first-run movie from a dubious street vendor. If you are, it’s a little bit like that. Sure, you paid five bucks to watch Titanic on your laptop, except the sound is crappy, there are subtitles filling half the screen and you soon realize the guy who recorded it on his handicam inside the theatre was munching popcorn throughout.
Not quite the same thing, is it? But it’s what we have.
The ambient sound is akin to what you might hear at a sparsely attended swim meet. The players look silly when they elbow bump instead of hug and high-five. The empty stands are jarring, just like they always are when something that’s so important to so many of us is witnessed almost exclusively by people who are paid to be there, and not the other way around. The ubiquitous facemasks — everywhere but on the pitch — are reminders of the horror we are living through.
But if you’re here for the football, as opposed to the neatly-packaged football-related entertainment show the game sometimes impersonates, you’ll be OK with it.
On the pitch, it was interesting to see which players looked match-fit and which did not. Six weeks of training via zoom followed by just a couple weeks of full practice clearly took their toll on some. It was predictable that, Erling Braut Haaland apart (but he’s a freak of nature anyway), bigger, more heavily-muscled players looked more sluggish than smaller, slighter ones, which may explain why we saw some central defenders struggle and why several games were tentative out of the gate.
The fact that there were no fewer than eight muscular injuries in the first eight games probably isn’t coincidental either; it should provide food for thought to the other leagues plotting to come back because, make no mistake about it, they’re watching the Bundesliga.
This is the single biggest competition in team sports that has reopened and it forms the blueprint for La Liga, the Premier League and Serie A. How fans, media and, of course, the virus reacts will help determine whether we’ll get some kind of fix this summer or whether we have to wait until the autumn… or longer.
Get used to soccer’s new normal?
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Writing in El Pais, Jorge Valdano talked about how the game’s conservatism — since the offside law was introduced in 1925, the only significant change was the backpass rule in 1992 — simplicity and stability was at the heart of its popularity. He’s not saying the game hasn’t evolved, just that the evolution has come from the abilities of those on the pitch and on the sidelines. (I’d add in those in the boardroom who’ve marketed it and grown it.)
Most popular team sports, from basketball to rugby to American football, have undergone deeply transformative rule changes — let alone mere cosmetic transformations in how the game is presented — and audiences have, largely, accepted them. Not in football, and perhaps that’s why this weekend was so jarring to some. It’s one thing to accept the odd game behind closed doors. Realising that this is the “new normal” for the foreseeable future is a shock to the system.
You suspect most will get used to it. Some — perhaps diehard fans who see themselves as part of the spectacle as well as, at the opposite end, casual fans who are attracted by the hype and the noise — will not.
Haaland superb as Dortmund keep rolling
Haaland’s scoring rate continues to decline for Borussia Dortmund. Before his return on Saturday, it was one goal every 63 minutes. Now, it’s one every 65 given that he only managed one goal in Saturday’s 4-0 hammering of Schalke.
I’m kidding. Haaland lived up to the hype big time, scoring a peach of a goal to open proceedings and then being involved in the other three as well.
He showcased exactly what he was supposed to showcase for each goal, too. The frenzied yet calculated pressing of Schalke keeper Markus Schubert that led to Dortmund’s second goal. The fearsome way he seemed to pick up speed and power as he drove fearlessly through the middle of the pitch before his high-speed collision with Salif Sane. And, of course, the vision, weight and trickery of a natural assist-man to set up the fourth.
Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and a host of other guests every day as football plots a path through the coronavirus crisis. Stream on ESPN+ (U.S. only).
Haaland gets the headlines (and rightly so) but it’s worth noting how thoroughly dominant Dortmund were despite the absences of Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, Emre Can and Axel Witsel (plus, Giovanni Reyna, who was set for his first career Bundesliga start only to get injured during the warm-up). When you can spot the opposition four starters and still steamroller them (true, Schalke were abysmal and have now gone eight games without a win) it says something about your strength in depth.
A word on Spain’s new kickoff times
La Liga will also look and feel different when it returns, and not just because it will be behind closed doors. As they wait for the final green light — at this stage, it appears to be a formality — league president Javier Tebas revealed what the the schedule will look like, with matches every single day, kicking off at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. local time…
Read more at this link (News Source).