Well for those that haven’t fallen in love with the Belarusian Vysshaya Liga we can finally say that some sort of ‘football is back’ thanks to those pesky Germans and Die Bundesliga.
I had not felt so much joy and anticipation on a Saturday in weeks… Firstly, the successful application to finally end the 3pm Saturday football blackout in the UK is one largely over-due… We can finally watch football at the time it should be played and hopefully this might also put an end to those miserable Monday night matches and annoying games played at lunchtime on Saturdays when fans (remember them) need to set off at 4am just to get to grounds in time. Secondly football, yes football was finally back on the TV.
I sat down at 2pm half an hour before kick-off with a cup of tea watching a show on BT Sports about how bloody great Jadon Sancho is… Remarkable really, a boy aged 20 has already achieved so much… The next Ross Barkley? The next Jack Wilshere? The next Franny Jeffers? He’s another level completely to those once touted as wonderkids and we hardly ever speak of him on these shores. Our negligence to anything outside the Premier League perhaps skewing our viewing of a player that could be the best in the world by the time Messi and Ronaldo retire? Not today though, full viewing of Sancho and no excuses… Except he’s on the bench.
The start of BT Sports Bundesliga show with my favourite football presenter of all time (bar Des Lynam) James Richardson sitting at least 2 metres away from some journalist I’ve forgotten the name of and the new ‘football normal’ of Owen Hargreaves streaming live from his living room was enough to whet my appetite further… Cameras panned in to the famous Westfalenstadion empty, ahead of the Revierderby as the players of both Borussia Dortmund and Schalke stretched off, boots, shinnys, socks, shorts, shirts, masks and all.
The most intriguing thing I thought would be the lack of fans? But I was wrong, it was instead the fact that ‘everyone’ not playing bar the two Coaches would wear masks. What makes them so special I asked myself? I imagine the future editions of EA Sports FIFA franchise to look very-exciting with all 50,000 players on its database (bar the legends of yesteryear perhaps) show piecing a mouth and nose cover as football evolves to new normal.
The substitutes are no longer in dugouts… Instead sitting at least three seats apart in the first couple of rows in the sparse stand…. Very odd… Did they not get changed together in a rather small dressing room? Or even travel together on a cramped bus? I’m starting to feel is this bollocks perhaps all for show?
One thing I do like about football in empty stadiums is the thud of the ball you can hear more clearly and those squeals and squawks of the players… My Germans not great but when English football returns, I’m guessing the Sky cameras might need to tone this down as they’ll be all sorts of legal issues on he said, she said situations in the back pages of rags like the Sun?
But regardless of the weird serenity of football off the pitch, on it, it seemed to be business as usual, if a little less hysterical than usual, it felt teams played at their own paces some would sit off, others press hard, players may have even tried a few things they wouldn’t usually, not scared to ‘take a chance’ knowing they won’t be yelled out from 50,000 supporters if they did? But generally the cream would as always rise to the top.
Dortmund were brilliant against Schalke who’s plan A under David Wagner and usual circumstances might have been to silence the Westfalenstadion wall? Instead Schalke came and ‘tried’ to play a bit without fear of being ‘away day villain’… Picked off on the break with incredible ferocity. BvB were prolific and productive, creative and imaginative, the full backs inexhaustible in getting forward, the midfielders ingenious in possession, Haaland up top a battering ram sometimes awkward but with genuine ability to finish off chances, a deadly assassin of the highest quality, it’s crazy to think he’s only 19.
The Norwegian’s first goal was one carved out the Dortmund way, Coach Lucien Favre will be more than ‘happy’ with that… The celebration telling and one that which perhaps will stand iconic as football changes for ever, not perhaps for better.
Spanish full back Guerreiro was brilliant. He scored two goals with Julian Brandt seemingly instrumental in everything Dortmund did. Thorgan Hazard killed off Schalke’s mini revival after the break and every bit of stuffing the team in blue had. It was Dortmund’s day, a banana skin that was potentially slippy, one easily hurdled and out of the way.
In the other games Bayern had a routine win over plucky (they’ll hate that word) Union Berlin and look favourite to be strong enough to see Dortmund off ahead of yet another title inspired by the goals of Lewandowski.
I watched Borussia Monchengladbach pick off Eintracht Frankfurt with lethal finishing just 37 seconds in from Allasane Plea, a player I very much rate highly… Whilst on Sunday Cologne threw away a two goal lead against Mainz after a fantastic equaliser from Pierre Kunde Malong dancing through a defence as empty as the Stadium the game was played in. The goal of the weekend however from Brazilian Cunha as Hertha beat Hoffenheim 3-0… The shock of the weekend perhaps at Leipzig as the Red Bulls were held 1-1 thanks to a last-minute Freiburg leveller.
Football, news, action, something at least to report…
Strange things to start accepting like five subs being used in batches per team of three… It seems VAR works much better without fans, perhaps less reason to speed it up, no abusive supporters to get anxious and mount pressure on the Referees decision? I cast my mind to the future and a Steven Spielberg sci-fi styled soccer documentary… Footballers wearing masks, sitting in empty stadiums with ‘safe’ distance between each other, video technology deciding on every vital occurrence, players celebrating without touching… If you asked me about that even a year ago I would be telling you that ‘it’s not the game for me‘, one that I would never watch and one that I wouldn’t care to enjoy… But that is the new normal, that is football today, it’s strange how things happen, weird how they evolve, it may not be for the purists, but then I very much doubt the modern world is either.