The Bundesliga is back. Here’s five things to watch.
The NBA and NHL remain dark. Major League Baseball still does not have a firm plan. The Premier League is poised to resume next month.
German soccer is the bellwether, picking up this weekend where it left off March 11 with nine matches in the top-flight Bundesliga and five in the second division, known as 2. Bundesliga. Both circuits are scheduled to finish by the end of June.
“Everyone must be clear: We are playing on probation,” Christian Seifert, chief executive of the German soccer league (DFL), said at a recent news conference. “I expect everyone to live up to their responsibilities.”
Televised globally and facing no soccer competition, the Bundesliga figures to draw millions more viewers than usual, including many in the United States who typically must choose among several leagues.
This weekend, Fox Sports will carry four matches on FS1, two on FS2 and one on Fox Soccer Plus. Spanish-language Univision will show one game on UniMas and three on TUDN, its all-sports channel.
The resumption will provide a final chapter to a taut campaign that began in August — provided the players remain healthy.
Many aspects of league play will remain the same, but others have been adjusted because of the health crisis.
Here are five things to watch for:
Chasing ghosts: With no spectators allowed, Germans are calling these matches “geisterspiele,” or ghost games — fitting descriptions for venues such as Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, which, with a capacity of more than 81,000, is Germany’s largest stadium.
The south end, known as the Yellow Wall, one of the most intimidating mass congregations in sports, will remain silent.
Accounting for players, coaches and other game-day personnel, 213 people will gain entrance into stadiums.
“I know there will be no spectators, but still it’s really exciting to be playing again,” said Giovanni Reyna, a 17-year-old American attacker for Borussia Dortmund. “Everybody’s buzzing.”
Outside, security will ensure fans do not congregate. Soccer’s tribal experience is so ingrained, some fans will undoubtedly succumb to the draw of the stadium and attempt to have their voices heard inside the quiet grounds.
Shaping up: Because of the long pause between matches, the fitness and form of the players have come into question. For much of the break, players exercised on their own.
Early last month, they were allowed to join formal sessions with up to three teammates. Full workouts followed. Unlike preseason, though, no friendlies were allowed.
FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, has provided some relief. Given the layoff and condensed schedules, teams around the world have been granted an additional two substitutes (five overall). To minimize stoppages, all changes must be made in no more than three intervals.
Hardware watch: The race for the trophy is fierce. With nine matches left, Bayern Munich is four points ahead of Dortmund in its quest for an eighth consecutive title. RB Leipzig trails by five points, and Mönchengladbach is six back.
Bayern resumes Sunday at 11th-place Union Berlin, one day after Dortmund hosts sixth-place Schalke in what is known as Revierderby, a rivalry born 95 years ago. Dortmund will host Bayern on May 25.
Teams are also jockeying for slots in the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League; five are in contention for four automatic berths.
Relegation and promotion also will loom large. Fortuna Düsseldorf, Werder Bremen and Paderborn are in danger of falling into 2. Bundesliga next season, while Arminia Bielefeld, Stuttgart and Hamburg are best positioned to ascend.
Reyna — whose father, Claudio, starred in European leagues and with the U.S. national team — is on the fast track with Dortmund. Weston McKennie (Schalke), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Tyler Adams (Leipzig), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) and Alfredo Morales (Düsseldorf) are regulars.
Zack Steffen (Düsseldorf) is recovering from a knee injury. Fabian Johnson (Mönchengladbach) and Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt) have been around a long time, and Ulysses Llanez, 19, last month was called up to Wolfsburg’s first team.
In the second division, Bobby Wood (third-place Hamburg) and Julian Green (fifth-place Greuther Fürth) are the most notable names.
The elephant in the stadium: What if someone contracts the virus?
Players and staff are tested twice per week. Teams have been in isolation at a hotel the past week. When home between matches, everyone has been instructed to interact with family only and not to use public transportation.
If someone experiences symptoms, they must notify the team doctor immediately, begin self-isolation and undergo testing.
A positive test would require quarantine for at least 14 days. Medical staff would begin contact tracing and determine the amount of time others were exposed. If necessary, others would have to enter quarantine.
A negative test would result in three or four days away from the team after symptoms subside.
In clearing the way to restart competition, German soccer authorities created a 50-page manual, detailing everything from distance between substitutes on the bench to testing protocol.
“A positive test won’t be a catastrophe,” Dortmund managing director Carsten Cramer told BBC Sport, “as long as we have the rules and recommendations for how to get along with it.”
9:30 a.m. ET: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke, FS1
9:30: RB Leipzig vs. Freiburg, FS2, TUDN
9:30: Augsburg vs. Wolfsburg, Fox Soccer Plus
12:30 p.m.: Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Mönchengladbach, FS1, TUDN
9:30: Cologne vs. Mainz, FS1
Noon: Union Berlin vs. Bayern Munich, FS1, UniMas, TUDN
2:30: Werder Bremen vs. Bayer Leverkusen, FS2
(All Bundesliga matches are available on Fox Sports Go digital)