Football makes a welcome return in Germany, but road to normality remains long

Borussia Dortmund's Erling Braut Haaland celebrates scoring their first goal as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). (Reuters)
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Updated 16 May 2020

Football makes a welcome return in Germany, but road to normality remains long

  • Borussia Dortmund beat Schalke 4-0 at a silent Signal Iduna Park

DUBAI: Football is back. But not as we know it.

Signal Iduna Park, usually heaving with 80,000 fans on match day, was empty. The Yellow Wall, where Borussia Dortmund’s most colorful supporters stand, was missing the black and yellow scarfs and banners. And there was no pre-match rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

In the age of coronavirus, the “Revierderby” against Schalke, one of Germany’s most passionate fixtures, was played behind closed doors for the first time ever.

In any event, Dortmund did not miss the support, going on to claim an easy 4-0 win over their fierce rivals.

But this, and five other matches taking place across Germany, held significance far beyond mere results. This was a test.

The resumption of football in Germany was more about whether football can get back to any sense of normality in the coming months, and crucially, with no health risks to anyone involved. The jury will be out over long term consequences, but as a first step back this will be a case of so far, so good.

Though competitive football has been taking place around the world, as in South Korea’s K-League, this was the first of Europe’s big leagues to return to action. The Premier League, La Liga and Series A, in particular, would certainly be on the look out for any pointers here.

Among fans on social media there were excitement and skepticism in equal measure.

“Football without supporters is nothing,” as the famous slogan goes, was a common refrain.

Outwardly, the action itself on the pitch seemed to be a case of business as usual. There were no obvious signs of nerves regarding safety issues, with both teams, as expected, not backing out of any physical challenges. There was, not surprisingly, an element of inevitable ring-rustiness.

“This is not football,” one fan, Nick Collins, tweeted. On the lack of fans, @NinaKauser posted: “Must be weird playing a rival team without fans.”

There were plenty of jokes too.

“VAR. It could start an argument in an empty stadium,” Scraggy_74 tweeted.

Even Kylian Mbappe was sat in front of his television following the action.

Once the cobwebs were cast aside, it was Dortmund who were the more dominant team in the opening stages, though Schalke’s Daniel Caligiuri almost gave the visitors the lead on 25 minutes but was denied by Roman Burki in goal.

Minutes later, Erling Braut Haaland, the revelation of this interrupted season, got on the end of a Thorgan Hazard cross to give the home team a deserved lead. The dancing celebration was social distanced and funny, though somewhat out of place considering the physical interactions on display.

The play was often scrappy, and a poor clearance by Schalke’s goalkeeper was ruthlessly punished by Dortmund, with Raphael Guerreiro doubling the lead just before half-time.

Even with 45 minutes left to play, the game looked up for Schalke.

Certainly when you factor in the tiredness expected to creep into the latter stages of the match after such a long lay-off, a dramatic comeback looked unlikely.

Any doubt was removed three minutes after the restart when Hazard finished clinically after being played through by Haaland; 3-0, game over.

When Guerreiro made it 4-0 with a deft finish with the outside of the left boot, again after being set up by the irrepressible Haaland, Schalke looked ready to head home with almost half an hour left.

The scoreline did raise the emory of a famous derby from November 2017, when after racing into a four-goal lead after only 25 minutes, Dortmund were astonishingly held to a draw thanks to four goals by Schalke in the last half an hour.

Here there was more chance of four more Dortmund goals than of a miracle comeback. But having guaranteed the three points, Dortmund eased off.

At full time, having reduced Bayern Munich’s lead at the top of the table to a point, the Dortmund players, tongue in cheek, applauded the empty Yellow Wall as is customary.

“The team have been working hard, so I’m not surprised (at the result),” man of the match Haaland said. “Of course, normally there are 80,000 here … but we were never afraid of anything, and you saw today we had full control. A good start.”

Understated, and in the circumstances, wise words. 

Organizers of the Bundesliga, Premier League and others, not to mention the players and fans, will all be cautiously optimistic too. Football is back, but the road to normality remains a very long one.

Liverpool face Chelsea test as Manchester clubs enter fray

Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah looked in fine form as he scored a hat trick in their match against Leeds on the opening weekend. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 September 2020

Liverpool face Chelsea test as Manchester clubs enter fray

  • Pep Guardiola has shored up his defense by signing Netherlands international Nathan Ake

LONDON: Liverpool face an early test of their Premier League title defense against Chelsea on Sunday as Manchester City and Manchester United launch their quest to be champions.

Arsenal, Everton and Leicester hope to build on encouraging opening wins while Jose Mourinho needs a morale-boosting victory for Tottenham.
AFP Sport looks at some of the main talking points ahead of the action.
Chelsea’s meeting with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday has added edge after a feisty exchange between the managers over transfer spending.
The London club finished 33 points behind the champions last season but have splashed out around £200 million ($259 million) on new players.
By contrast, Liverpool have been relatively quiet, adding just Greece left-back Kostas Tsimikas so far, with Spain midfielder Thiago Alcantara likely to follow.
Jurgen Klopp pointedly said Liverpool could not spend in the same way as clubs owned by “countries” and “oligarchs” such as City and Chelsea during the coronavirus pandemic.
But Frank Lampard, who also became embroiled in a spat with Liverpool’s bench in July, pointed out the Anfield side had spent big in previous seasons as they built their title-winning side.
Liverpool will be keen to cut out the defensive errors they committed in a 4-3 win against newly promoted Leeds, but Mohamed Salah looked in fine early season form as he scored a hat trick on the opening weekend.
Chelsea were also unconvincing winners against Brighton in their opening match, but Timo Werner, who chose to join the Blues despite interest from Liverpool, did impress in winning a penalty against the Seagulls.
Manchester City are the bookmakers’ favorites to land a third Premier League trophy in four seasons but face a tough opener against Wolves.
City boss Pep Guardiola has shored up his defense by signing Netherlands international Nathan Ake and has added to his rich attacking options, landing Ferran Torres from Valencia.
City scored 102 goals last season as they finished second, but lost nine matches as they surrendered their crown to Liverpool.
Both Manchester clubs are starting a week later than other sides due to their European commitments last season.
Guardiola will be painfully aware that his team must be more consistent this campaign and he cannot afford to let Klopp’s men open up an early lead.
But he will feel nervous as he travels to face Wolves, who beat City twice last season, after a disrupted pre-season.
City duo Aymeric Laporte and Riyad Mahrez tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month, while Phil Foden was sent home by England after breaking coronavirus protocols while on international duty.
The challenge facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of a match against Crystal Palace is how to improve on last season’s third-place finish.
Midfielder Bruno Fernandes was the catalyst as United put together a long unbeaten run, with a front three of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood providing the firepower.
But United have been relatively quiet in the transfer window, so far adding just midfielder Donny van de Beek from Ajax, despite persistent speculation linking them with Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.
“When we signed Bruno Fernandes, we knew we needed that kind of player — now we’ve signed Donny and he’s a type of player I felt we needed in the squad,” said Solskjaer.
Arsenal are buoyant after launching their season with a 3-0 win at newly promoted Fulham and tying down captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for three more years.
Mikel Arteta’s men, who host West Ham on Saturday, finished down in eighth place last season but ended their campaign on a high, winning the FA Cup for a record 14th time.
They followed that up by beating Liverpool on penalties in the season-opening Community Shield before the announcement on Aubameyang this week that fans had craved.
“I want to become an Arsenal legend just like Thierry (Henry), Wrighty (Ian Wright), (Tony) Adams and (Dennis) Bergkamp,” he said.