Bundesliga is back on May 16 from coronavirus shutdown

By Derek Wilson, dpa

The Bundesliga and second division will resume on May 16 and conclude in late June as German football slowly emerges from the shutdown enforced by the coronavirus outbreak.

The German football league (DFL) said Thursday that the reopening fixtures would be round 26, essentially continuing the season from when it was suspended in mid-March.

It will be different. There will be no fans in stadiums and clubs will have to adhere to a hygiene concept which is both strict and lengthy.

“The decision [to return] means economic survival for many clubs,” said DFL chief executive Christian Seifert.

The concept includes regular testing for players, staff and officials while even the matches could look different with potentially five substitutes allowed.

But it will be football and, not only that, it will be the centre of attention as the first major league to return. France has already scrapped its season but England, Spain and Italy will all look on eagerly as they plot their own comebacks.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers gave permission to resume action in the second half of May on Wednesday and the league adjusted the comeback date by a day from May 15 to meet this detail precisely.

There will be no Friday match to start the weekend which instead begins with a showpiece Ruhr derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke. That is alongside five other games including one late kick-off on the Saturday which originally would have been the last of the campaign.

Promoted Union Berlin will host record champions Bayern Munich in one of two Sunday matches and the weekend concludes with Werder Bremen v Bayer Leverkusen on Monday.

Bremen have been given the Monday slot, according to DFL chief executive Christian Seifert, to make up for being the last side permitted to resume training by their local authority.

“Of course we accept the decision … we would, however, have preferred a later start for reasons of competition integrity,” Bremen chief executive Frank Baumann told deichstube.de.

“An earlier start of the league will definitely mean a competitive disadvantage for us as other venues have already been able to train in clearly bigger groups than in Bremen for weeks.”

Bayern lead Dortmund by four points and their showdown in Dortmund has been scheduled for one of two mid-week rounds, May 26/27. The Bundesliga is to end June 27 and the second tier a day later.

Safety as well as sporting considerations have also been voiced.

Leipzig virologist Professor Uwe G Liebert told public broadcaster ARD he “would have wished that you could really have waited another couple of weeks,” and warned players would endanger each other.

It should also be considered “that fans will sit in front of the television and come into direct contact with each other. It is difficult to tell fans they cannot hug and cheer.”

An outstanding fixture previously postponed, Werder Bremen v Eintracht Frankfurt, will take place June 2 or 3.

And Seifert left open whether or not Friday matches would be take place throughout the calendar after Eurosport, who hold the rights for that timeslot, did not make their last broadcast payment to the DFL.

The DFL said Thursday that two more people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the second round of testing before the return to competition, taking the total overall to 12.

Seifert said that even if there were several Covid-19 cases in a team they would be obliged to continue – as long as they had enough players available.

Should further infections be found during testing between games or if clubs do not observe hygiene rules, the concept could fall apart.

“The league is on tight probation,” Bavarian premier Markus Soeder said. “The public will watch closely.”

There will be a relegation/promotion play-off between the 16th-placed Bundesliga team and third in the second division which is to take place after the official June 30 season end.

Seifert said it was not clear whether there would also be play-offs between the second and third division because it was not yet decided if the third tier would complete their season.

The third division, women’s Bundesliga and German Cup held under the authority of the German football federation (DFB) are all still waiting on the green light to proceed.

Seifert, however, expects dates soon for the cup semi-finals to be decided soon despite the presence of fourth-tier amateurs Saarbruecken complicating matters.

Clubs could decide at short-notice to use a planned temporary rule of five substitutions per team in each game, provided this rule gets final approval at the ruling body FIFA.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is expected to approve an according motion which is to ease the strain on players in a tight programme after leagues restart from coronavirus-related suspensions.

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