Bundesliga Briefing #1: Football forgotten as fears over “ghost games” haunt the Bundesliga

By Louis Ostrowski (@ostrl)

Sub-edited by Riley Taylor

Image credit: Валерий Дед via Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Even by Tuesday morning, it seems that the weekend’s football has already been forgotten about.

All over the world, talk of the coronavirus has taken over the news cycles. Germany is no different, and the effects of the outbreak are beginning to impact football in the country.

As a result, the man making headlines this weekend was not a football player, coach, or official, but the Federal Government’s Health Minister, Jens Spahn. He recommended that large public gatherings be cancelled – including football matches.

So far the DFL (who run the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga) have not taken any real action. They say that this weekend’s round of fixtures will go ahead as usual – but it seems most will take place behind closed doors.

It has already been confirmed that a number of this weekend’s fixtures will be what the Germans call ‘geisterspiele’ – ghost games. Wednesday’s Rhine Derby will be the first such game in Bundesliga history, but Bayern and Dortmund’s Champions League games against Chelsea and PSG will also be empty.

It is a confusing situation that also keeps changing. And it could get worse, with some countries having already suspended their football leagues entirely. Perhaps strangely, it remains business as usual in some parts of the country. Last night, the 2. Bundesliga game between Stuttgart and Arminia Bielefeld attracted a crowd of 54,000. RB Leipzig will host Tottenham in the Champions League tonight with no restrictions on crowd size.

Of course, nobody really benefits from such an outbreak of a possibly deadly virus. But the DFB, German football’s governing body, maybe relieved that the ghost games will save them from the ongoing fan protests.

Ever since the DFB gave Dortmund fans a two-year ban from Hoffenheim games for insulting Hoffenheim owner Dietmar Hopp, fans all over the country have held banners criticising the DFB’s response, as well as insulting Hopp. Hoffenheim have an exemption to the league’s 50+1 rule, a statute that ensures fans keep ownership of their clubs. Their exemption is seen as a threat to German football culture, and the DFB’s response is seen as a threat to the rights of fans – games have been stopped when banners have appeared – even if they do not seem particularly insulting.

The ‘ghost games’ may be seen by some as an attempt to exclude fans, who are already causing the DFB and DFL enough trouble. But the protests are sure to continue if and when fans are allowed back in.

Amidst the coronavirus concerns, the title race continued. Bayern and Dortmund both won, as did fourth-place Leverkusen, who have been on fantastic form since the winter break. Leipzig, though, dropped points with a 0-0 draw against Wolfsburg, but with Timo Werner only on the bench, it would be fair to say that their focus is on the Champions League clash with Tottenham.

The relegation fight also continues. Werder Bremen threw away a two-goal lead against Hertha Berlin, managing a 2-2 draw which leaves them 17th out of 18, while a draw between 15th place Mainz and 16th Fortuna Düsseldorf leaves Fortuna in the relegation playoff spot.

Augsburg, who have just one point from their last five, have appointed ex-Leverkusen boss Heiko Herrlich as their new coach, having sacked Martin Schmidt on Monday despite putting up a decent fight against Bayern Munich.

Perhaps, with all the panic about the coronavirus, they forgot about the actual football.

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