German Bundesliga is back: What do you need to know?

Robert Lewandowski, Jadon Sancho, Julian Nagelsmann and cardboard cuouts of Borussia Monchengladbach fans – just four of the things to watch out for in the Bundesliga

The German Bundesliga becomes the world’s first major football league to get back under way during the coronavirus pandemic this Saturday.

While countries like Belarus and Nicaragua have never stopped and others like South Korea and the Faroe Islands have recently restarted, the eyes of the world will be on Germany this weekend to watch elite teams in action for the first time in over two months.

As well as regular Bundesliga fans, there will be plenty of new watchers with the Premier League not commencing for another few weeks at least.

So what do Bundesliga rookies need to know? We’re sure even German football fans will need a reminder since it has been so long.

Empty grounds

Borussia Monchengladbach are filling their stands with cardboard cutouts of fans

One of the joys of watching German football is the excellent fans’ culture. The Bundesliga has the highest average attendance of any football league in the world.

But the stadiums will be completely empty for the rest of the season, although there will still be home and away teams with no neutral venues.

Borussia Monchengladbach are going to have cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands, with supporters of any team able to have one of themselves for a €19 (£16.60) fee.

Every Bundesliga team has been in quarantine, just going from a hotel to their training ground for the week leading up to these games, and players will be regularly tested for coronavirus.

There will be a total of 213 people allowed in the stadium – 98 around the pitch (including players, coaches, ball boys and photographers) and another 115 in the stands (including officials and media). There will be less than 100 other people allowed just outside the stadium for occupational reasons.

On the pitch, handshakes are banned, there will be no team photos and there will be no child mascots.

Clubs will decide on Thursday – two days before the season restarts – whether to allow five substitutions per team in each game as permitted by the International Football Association Board.

The final nine rounds of games will run over six weeks with the aim of finishing the season before 30 June.

The title race

The top four places earn a Champions League spot, with fifth and sixth going into the Europa League

Bayern Munich are four points clear at the top with nine games to go as they look to win the Bundesliga for an eighth consecutive season.

Back-to-back defeats in late November/early December left Bayern in seventh, seven points off top – but 10 wins and a draw in their past 11 league games under manager Hansi Flick have seen them soar to the top.

But could this two-month break disrupt their momentum?

Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach are all within six points of the champions.

Data company Gracenote give Bayern an 84% chance of winning the league, with Dortmund – who face rivals Schalke on Saturday – on 8% and Leipzig on 7%.

Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann – one of the world’s most promising young managers – hopes his side can use that break to their advantage and treat the final nine games like a standalone tournament.

“The whole situation is like before a tournament. We all had a short break, then a relaxed phase and now an intense preparation,” he told magazine Kicker.

“We’re going to try to win this nine-game tournament – with the theoretical possibility of finishing first.”

Bayer Leverkusen, one point behind the top four, are the only other team with a realistic chance of a Champions League place.

Schalke, Wolfsburg, Freiburg, Hoffenheim and Cologne are all in the race for Europa League spots.

Relegation battle

The bottom two sides get relegated while the team which finishes 16th face the team which finishes third in Bundesliga 2 in a play-off

Werder Bremen have spent a record 56 seasons in the Bundesliga but their status is under major threat as they sit in the relegation zone, four points behind the promotion-relegation play-off spot and eight points off safety – although they do have a game in hand.

With 11 defeats in their past 14 games, they will hope this break will give them an opportunity to reset and start again.

With one point in their past six games, and six points below that play-off spot, Paderborn will need a remarkable turnaround to stay up.

Fortuna Dusseldorf are in that play-off spot – four points away from the teams either side of them. Mainz, Augsburg, Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt are all within six points of them so cannot feel safe yet.

Gracenote give Paderborn a 97% chance of automatic relegation, with Werder at 49% and Dusseldorf on 40%.

Union Berlin are arguably the only team in the Bundesliga with nothing on the line – sitting more than six points away from relegation and European places.

The British players

Jadon Sancho turned 20 during the break from football

Jadon Sancho is one of seven British footballers in the Bundesliga, although some of those are unlikely to feature.

Borussia Dortmund and England winger Sancho, 20, is one of the league’s best players – of any age.

He is the top-scoring teenager in the history of the Bundesliga with 27 goals in his teens, all coming since April 2018.

With 14 goals and 15 assists in the Bundesliga this season, only two players have had a direct role in more goals in Europe’s top five leagues this season. Lazio striker Ciro Immobile has 27 goals and seven assists and Barcelona legend Lionel Messi has scored 19 goals and set up 12 more.

In this season and last season combined, only Messi, PSG forward Kylian Mbappe and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski have had more goals and assists combined than Sancho’s 55 in the league.

Leipzig and Schalke have over half the British Bundesliga contingent between them, including two senior Wales internationals.

Wales international Ethan Ampadu, 19, can play in defence or midfield. He has failed to start a single domestic match during his season-long loan spell at Leipzig from Chelsea, although impressed in their ‘recent’ Champions League win at Tottenham Hotspur.

England Under-21 forward Ademola Lookman has also struggled for minutes since his £22.5m switch from Everton to Leipzig, with two starts and six substitute appearances.

Schalke have Everton right-back Jonjoe Kenny, 23, on a season-long loan. The England U21 international has been their first choice, featuring in 23 of their 25 league games – scoring once.

The Royal Blues also have Wales winger Rabbi Matondo. The 19-year-old, a 2019 signing from Manchester City, has only played sporadically, with eight league starts and another four substitute appearances.

Former West Ham and England Under-20 defender or midfielder Reece Oxford, 21, has not played for Augsburg since November, having made eight appearances before then.

Paderborn and Borussia Monchengladbach both have English 21-year-old attacking midfielders waiting to make their debuts.

Antony Evans joined Paderborn in January, while Keanan Bennetts left Tottenham Hotspur for Gladbach in 2018.

The chance to watch some of the world’s best stars

The Bundesliga has an array of world-class talent, with a lot of exciting young players on show.

The top scorer in the league is the world’s best number nine – Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich and Poland forward has scored a remarkable 39 goals in 33 appearances for his club this season.

Bayern’s team is full of other household names but one player to keep an eye on is 19-year-old Canada left-back Alphonso Davies, who was in sensational form before the break.

BBC Sport profiles Norwegian striking sensation Erling Braut Haaland

Lewandowski’s minutes-per-goal ratio in the Bundesliga (82) pales in comparison to Erling Braut Haaland of Borussia Dortmund (57).

Haaland, 19, has scored nine goals in five Bundesliga starts and three substitute appearances since his January move from Red Bull Salzburg.

The second top scorer in the Bundesliga, RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner, has been continually linked to Liverpool – and has done nothing to dampen that speculation.

Kai Havertz of Bayer Leverkusen is another who is being linked to England’s top clubs. The 20-year-old Germany attacking midfielder has scored 30 Bundesliga goals in his career so far.

Alphonso Davies: The Bayern teenager who was a refugee

Follow live text commentary of the Bundesliga on the BBC Sport website this Saturday and Sunday.

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