Bundesliga

Ten things we learned from the Bundesliga's return to action

Players aren't fit, empty stadiums aren't bad, and Bayern got it done

8:00am on Tuesday 19th May 2020
By
Paul Macdonald

European football at the highest level returned in the form of the Bundesliga this weekend, in surreal circumstances.

So what have learned about post-COVID football and where we go from here?

1. NO FANS? IT'S NOT ALL THAT BAD

It takes a little getting used to, that's for sure. And there's no denying that the overall spectacle is given a huge boost by having a full stadium. But at a basic level there was enough going on to enjoy football as it is, at face value.

The players are a little rusty but the standard wasn't bad. The tactics and formations are still worth analysing, players still produce brilliant moments and it's still football without a defined ending - unlike most of the watchalongs we've suffered over the last two months.

2. PLAYERS AREN'T SCARED

There were legitimate concerns that contact between players might be lessened or avoided altogether, with fears of catching COVID-19 from an opponent a clear and present danger.

But from the minute Erling Haaland gave Jean-Clair Todibo a swift shoulder into the ribs in Dortmund's clash with Schalke, it was clear that both sides felt comfortable in this environment and the stipulations and rules that the German authorities had put in place. From that perspective, it was a big win.

3. THE GAMES TEND TO FLOW MORE

It's an extremely small sample size of course, but it was noticeable that fouls, when they do take place, seem to be turned around quicker and the game is returned to action.

The lack of fans clearly does play a role in influencing the referee. Particularly in the Dortmund v Schalke match, there were more moments where players instinctively stopped expected the referee to blow, only for advantage to be played, or for there to be no foul at all. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a regular feature of matches and is matched by the data, when it emerges.

4. NO, THE PLAYERS AREN'T FIT

It's obvious that the players' training regimes have been drastically altered, with them training on their own for much of the time, and with a small period of time where they were able to train together. This is something that they are not used to and, largely, it shows.

This is probably the longest layoff the modern professional will ever face. The ring rustiness around touch and feel is most notably there, and the unfamiliarity with the full thing is still clearly causing everyone to readjust.

But the five substitutions rule, implemented for the first time, will help take some of the pressure off in that regard, and allow players to ease themselves back into the action.

5. Bayern LACKED SHINE, BUT GOT IT DONE

Prior to the lockdown Bayern were unquestionably the in-form team in Europe and were steamrollering everyone in their path. Despite their poor start to the season, one that cost Niko Kovac his job, they have bounced back spectacularly since.

But on their comeback against Union Berlin, they were economical in their victory. It wasn't much of a match - a 4.1 on FC's Match Excitement Index -

but Robert Lewandowski's penalty and Benjamin Pavard's clincher sealed the points.

They didn't need to do much more, but it was a needed win considering Dortmund's display on Saturday.

6. Dortmund ARE AN IMPERFECT, PERFECT TEAM

Dortmund are quite the outfit. Offensively-minded talent is in view in every position and they are probably the easiest team on the eye in world football at the moment.

These thrilling elements were on show even as Jadon Sancho sat on the bench, allowing Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard and Erling Haaland to step and show their talents. Schalke offered minimal resistance, but even in the wide areas they were awesomely attacking, with Achraf Hakimi and Raphael Guerriero (FC Highest-Rated with 9.5) running riot.

This team will not fail because of their attacking prowess. It will be their defensive frailties that let them down and though Schalke never looked like scoring (the xG shows 1.45 - 0.3), there were occasions where a better set of forwards may have. It might not happen this yes, but if Dortmund are able to improve that side of their game and keep this side together, they could become something really special.

7. A WEIRD AFTERNOON FOR WESTON MCKENNIE

Schalke didn't know what to do or where to look on Saturday, as one Dortmund found their rhythm, there was only going to be one winner.

But Weston McKennie's midfield display can very much be commended as his team-mates folded around him. The American's 7.3 rating for the match was easily the highest on his team (and for half of the Dortmund team, too) and he can't be blamed for his side's rotten defending.

He made 14 recoveries in the match, the second-most of any outfield player in the round. He won five of his seven duels, as well as three of his four tackles. No-one made more passes, or completed more passes on his team. It must have been surreal for him to have put in such a strong display that no-one will ever remember.

8. RB Leipzig CAN KISS THE TITLE GOODBYE

With Bayern having a four-point lead going into the round there was no room for slip-ups from any of the challengers, and while Dortmund got the memo, RB Leipzig couldn't do what they needed to.

A robust Freiburg side were able to limit Timo Werner's impact on the match, and though Leipzig really should have won the match - they won the xG battle 1.9 to 0.3, with Ademola Lookman most guilty of a poor miss from between the posts - the overall performance wasn't of their usual vibrancy.

And after just 90 minutes of their return, they can pretty much guarantee that they will not be winning the title. Indeed, if the Champions League takes place next season, and it is far from clear that it will, then they must look over their shoulder at Leverkusen, who have the chance to close the gap at Werder Bremen on Monday.

9. GLADBACH - STILL HUGE FUN

Borussia Monchengladbach remain such a fun proposition and while they may not be as sexy as Dortmund, Bayern or even Leipzig, they are, nevertheless, a superbly gifted side.

Their highly-rated coach, Marco Rose, is slowly making a name for himself and he has also created a potent offensive unit, one that was once again on show in the defeat of Frankfurt on Saturday.

Alassane Plea got the ball rolling in the opening minute and Marcus Thuram put them two up within seven minutes as they burst back from the break in style. But the xG was the most interesting point - 2.8 versus Frankfurt's 0.8. Make no mistake this was a comprehensive, deserved, victory.

10. SOME BULI STATS

- RB Leipzig played an incredible 199 passes into the final third in their 1-1 draw with Freiburg, indicating the flow of momentum in that game.

- They also hit the most shots of the round - 22, with just a single goal to show for it.

- Hoffenheim might still be struggling to come to terms with their 3-0 loss to Hertha Berlin. They racked up 2.8 xG in the match, creating, and missing, four Big Chances along the way, too.

- Raphael Guerreiro's 9.5 rating in Dortmund's battering of Schalke was the highest of the weekend matches.

- The goalkeeper at the other end, Markus Schubert, had the lowest (4.4).

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