With nearly every major sports league across the world still on hiatus amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Bundesliga resumes this weekend following a two-month absence. Ahead of Saturday's return to the pitch, here's everything you need to know about German soccer's top flight.
The season returns on Saturday, May 16 with a half-dozen matches broadcast by FOX Sports in the United States and Sportsnet in Canada. Both networks will also stream matches online.
|May 16||Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke||9:30 a.m.||FS1 and Sportsnet|
|May 16||RB Leipzig vs. Freiburg||9:30 a.m.||FS2 and SN World|
|May 16||Augsburg vs. Wolfsburg||9:30 a.m.||Fox Soccer Plus and SN1|
|May 16||Hoffenheim vs. Hertha Berlin||9:30 a.m.||Fox Soccer Match Pass and SN World Plus|
|May 16||Fortuna Dusseldorf vs. Paderborn||9:30 a.m.||Fox Soccer Match Pass and SN World Plus|
|May 16||Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Monchengladbach||12:30 p.m.||FS1 and Sportsnet|
|May 17||FC Koln vs. Mainz||9:30 a.m.||FS1 and Sportsnet|
|May 17||Union Berlin vs. Bayern Munich||12:00 p.m.||FS1 and Sportsnet|
|May 18||Werder Bremen vs. Bayer Leverkusen||2:30 p.m.||FS2 and Sportsnet|
Borussia Dortmund's matchup with bitter foes Schalke is the standout fixture, as the clash represents one of the fiercest rivalries in European soccer.
All eyes are on the Bundesliga, which, besides attracting fans desperate for sporting action, will also be a reference point for other major leagues looking to restart play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The German Football League (DFL) has employed a task force to kick-start the resumption of the 2019-20 campaign. Matches will be played at empty stadiums and 25,000 tests will be used to check players, coaches, and first-team staff. Players are tested twice a week and before each match, and all first-team staff for the league's 18 clubs have been isolated as part of seven-day training camps leading up to Saturday's restart.
In the event of a positive coronavirus test for a player or staff member, a 14-day quarantine period will be imposed.
For 16 of the league's 18 sides, there are nine matches left on the docket - Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen each have a match in hand. Plans are to have the domestic campaign completed by the end of July before European competitions resume in August.
When the season is completed, the top four teams qualify for the Champions League, while the fifth- and sixth-place sides book spots in next season's Europa League. A third Europa League berth is allocated to the winner of the German domestic cup, the DFB-Pokal.
The bottom two sides are automatically relegated to the second tier, 2. Bundesliga, while the 16th-place team and the third-place team from the second division play a two-legged playoff at season's end to secure a position in the top flight.
Here's what the Bundesliga table has looked like since the league halted operations on March 13:
Record 29-time champs Bayern Munich have overcome early stumbles to regain top spot, as the Bavarian behemoths seek an unprecedented eighth consecutive top-flight title. Robert Lewandowski leads the league in goals (25), Thiago Alcantara highlights a world-class midfield, and Canadian teen talent Alphonso Davies stars at left-back for one of Europe's best sides.
Blessed with heaps of young talent, Borussia Dortmund feature budding stars like England star Jadon Sancho and Norwegian striker Erling Haaland. The last team not named Bayern Munich to win the league (2011-12), BVB employ tantalizing tactics that should attract neutrals and are backed by fervent support that will be sorely missed at the Signal Iduna Park.
The Bundesliga's most hated side, RB Leipzig are an outsider tethered to a corporate energy drink in a sea of clubs part-owned by supporters. Formed a little more than a decade ago, Leipzig have surged up the German soccer ladder and play host to some of Europe's best young starlets, including highly coveted forward Timo Werner.
Few would have foreseen Borussia Monchengladbach's title charge this season. Managerial newcomer Marco Rose deserves a lot of the praise, as do Marcus Thuram (World Cup winner Lilian's son), Alassane Plea, and Ramy Bensebaini. Five-time league winners Gladbach boast more than a century of tradition in the soccer-mad North Rhine-Westphalia region.
From the same area as Dortmund, Gladbach, and others on this list, Bayer Leverkusen hold a unique place in the country's game. Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby play at breakneck speeds, Kai Havertz is one of Europe's budding stars, and first-choice shot-stopper Lukas Hradecky makes for a great interview and loves beer. What's not to like?
Another submission from North Rhine-Westphalia, Schalke are one of Germany's biggest and best-supported outfits. The club's sporting ethos is intertwined with a community founded on coal-mining roots. In dizzying dribbler Amine Harit and American Weston McKennie, Schalke have two young, alluring stars boosting Die Knappen's hopes for European competition.
Birthed from a town sustained by Volkswagen and a thriving auto industry, 2008-09 Bundesliga winners Wolfsburg are led by the goal-scoring exploits of towering Dutch striker Wout Weghorst and a stingy defense that has conceded the joint-second-fewest goals in the league (30). However, Wolfsburg lack the same spirited local support that many German sides revel in.
Freiburg's initial plans to avoid relegation have shifted into European ambitions. Not bad for a club with modest resources and a tiny stadium. What the five-time winners of the second tier lack in top-flight honors, they make up for in enterprise. With eight goals this season, Nils Petersen passed current Germany international manager Joachim Low for the club's all-time scoring mark.
A longtime lower-league afterthought boosted by the financial backing of software mogul Dietmar Hopp, Hoffenheim were first promoted to the Bundesliga in 2008. Like Leipzig, Hoffenheim are labeled a plastic club, and Hopp has been the focal point of several protests from supporters of other sides. Nevertheless, Hoffenheim sit just two points adrift of a European spot.
Germany's fourth-best supported club, FC Koln endured a rocky return to the Bundesliga this season with nine defeats in the opening 12 matches before a stellar run since December altered their path. Veteran displays from Jonas Hector and Timo Horn have been paired with a breakthrough from Sebastiaan Bornauw to good effect. Also, a derby at the RheinEnergieSTADION is a must.
Capital-city side Union Berlin are in their first campaign in the top flight, and the club has a lasting history that includes a spell on the Eastern Bloc side during the Cold War. Their supporters are animated and creative, and a shrewd offseason recruitment that brought in experienced players like Neven Subotic has made survival a reality. For more, this is a must-watch.
It should come as little surprise that Eintracht Frankfurt are mired in mid-table mediocrity after the summer sale of three players who accounted for 41 of the club's 60 Bundesliga goals a year ago. Winger Filip Kostic has been a bright spot for the cup finalists. In terms of aesthetics, the formidable club crest is a reference to the one-headed imperial eagle of the 13th century.
Backed by recent investment, Hertha Berlin are on the ascendancy and spent big in the January transfer window on the likes of Krzysztof Piatek and Matheus Cunha. Hertha may be from the capital, but the club has a pittance of followers compared to most German sides; people from across the country live in Berlin, and they tend to support their hometown clubs.
Augsburg are familiar with relegation battles, though the Bavarian minnows are on course for a 10th straight season in the top flight after having spent their entire history in the lower leagues. Augsburg have the second-worst away form - though, in terms of positives, Florian Niederlechner's 11 goals are nearly a third of the team's total haul. Also, their home kits are slick.
Thanks to Swedish attacker Robin Quaison's dozen Bundesliga goals, Mainz are narrowly above the relegation zone despite conceding the third-most tallies. Mainz is one of Germany's foremost carnival cities, and after every home goal, the "Narrhallamarsch" tune is played on the loudspeakers. That makes for a good time, even if the soccer isn't always as festive.
Fortuna Dusseldorf's 25th season in the Bundesliga has not been their best, and after easily surviving the drop a year ago, second-season syndrome has sunk in. That'll happen when you win just four matches ahead of the winter break. Matters have improved under veteran manager Uwe Rosler, with just one defeat in six matches since the former Manchester City star's appointment.
Most sides struggling to survive relegation have little top-flight history, but four-time Bundesliga champs Werder Bremen are an exception. Conceding the most goals (55) hasn't helped, nor has scoring the joint-fewest times (27). After each home goal, The Proclaimers' smash hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" is played, which could soon symbolize Bremen's distance from the top.
For a club that has either been promoted or relegated in each of the last six seasons, Paderborn's yo-yo status and position propping up the Bundesliga table is hardly a shock. A return to the second tier beckons for the North-Rhine Westphalian side, which has suffered defeat in 17 of 25 league outings this season. Auf wiedersehen, Paderborn.
There are plenty of reasons to tune in for the resumption of Bundesliga play, and the litany of emerging talent cutting its teeth in the top flight of German soccer is one of them.
From a North American perspective, none of Europe's top five leagues features the same caliber of players from the United States and Canada as the Bundesliga.
Canadian teen Davies is developing into a cornerstone at Bayern and American midfielder McKennie is doing the same at Schalke, as is 17-year-old U.S. youth international Giovanni Reyna with Dortmund. Add in names like Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Tyler Adams (Leipzig), and John Brooks (Wolfsburg), and it's apparent that Bundesliga continues to furnish career opportunities for players from abroad, which should curry favor with North American fans.