The Bundesliga becomes the first major football league to return to action during the COVID-19 outbreak, but with paper fans and reduced pre-match formalities.
Football is partially coming home!
On Saturday, at 15:30 local time, Germany’s Bundesliga became the world’s first major football league to resume matches during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It's a cautious return to action though. The deafening roars that usually accompany Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland’s goals are being replaced by the eerie silence of an empty stadium.
But while gate revenue will be down, the top league in the country will be watched by an enormous new audience from around the world, who will be tuning into the Bundesliga to satisfy their football craving.
"There will be billions watching us," Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told Bild.
And in some grounds, the vacant seats are being covered with cardboard cutouts, in an attempt to try and replicate some of the vibrant atmosphere German football stadiums are renowned for.
German football authorities sanctioned the return of football in conjunction with strict quarantine measures placed on teams, similar to those implemented in Korea for the delayed start to the new K League season.
For the week leading up to the kick-off, players have been restricted to moving only between their hotels and their training grounds, while they have also been regularly tested for the coronavirus.
A total of 213 people are allowed in each stadium, including all players and team members, stadium staff, officials and media, while less than 100 people are permitted immediately outside the stadium for occupational reasons.
There are no pre-match handshakes, team photos, or mascots in order to keep interaction to a minimum.
All previous results, before the coronavirus stopped play in mid February, will stand. This means Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich re-start the season four points clear at the top of the table with nine games to go.
Bayern’s biggest threats come in the shape of Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, and Borussia Monchengladbach, all of whom are within six points of the leaders, and will be looking to capitalise upon any potential lost momentum during the break.
The final nine rounds of games will run over six weeks with the aim of finishing the season before 30 June.
There will be plenty of Olympians on show including German silver medallists Julian Brandt (Borussia Dortmund), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Sven and Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen), Philipp Max (Augsburg), Lukas Klostermann (Leipzig), and Nils Petersen (Freiburg).
On Sunday, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka will line up for reigning champions Bayern.