Lessons for the Premier League from return of German Bundesliga

Home advantage is now GONE, muscle injuries are a problem and bosses really need to watch their words… the lessons the Premier League is learning from the return of Germany’s Bundesliga

  • Three rounds have now been completed since Germany’s Bundesliga returned
  • German top-flight has shown the rest of the world how to play in a pandemic
  • England’s Premier League are drawing up detailed plans to resume next month
  • Evidence from Germany suggests lack of home fans does have an impact 
  • Injuries are far more common, with a 250 per cent spike in problems recorded 
  • Managers and players will have to be careful with referees able to hear more 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Germany’s Bundesliga has shown the rest of world football how to safely get a season back up and running amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

We’ve now seen three completed rounds of fixtures in just 12 days in Germany’s first and second divisions and the games have made for interesting viewing.

Of course it’s rather surreal to watch such high-profile teams and players compete in front of empty stadiums and the whole experience takes a bit of getting used to.

Germany’s Bundesliga is back up and running amid the Covid-19 pandemic, setting an example to the Premier League and elsewhere that football can be played safely

The early evidence suggests the absence of supporters does impact on home advantage

But unfortunately this will be football’s reality for some time and every other league will be looking closely and learning lessons from what’s happening in the Bundesliga.

Among them will be England’s Premier League, which moved a step closer to a resumption in late June after clubs voted unanimously for a return to contact training this week.

Though many hurdles have still to be overcome, Germany has demonstrated that football can return and be played in a safe and secure environment.

But what lessons will the Premier League clubs have learned from watching German football in recent days?

HOME ADVANTAGE IS A THING OF THE PAST

A clear picture is starting to emerge – even from three rounds of matches – that empty stadiums are having an impact on home advantage.

There have been just five home wins from 27 Bundesliga matches since the restart but 12 away victories, suggesting any benefits to playing at home are negated.

This is perhaps unsurprising when you’re playing in front of banks of empty seats rather than having your passionate supporters to roar you on to victory.

49 goals have been scored by away sides in these 27 games as opposed to 35 scored by home teams, suggesting the visitors are more aggressive and adventurous when playing an away fixture.

Indeed, in 19 of the 27 games, the away team has been the one to open the scoring.

Wolfsburg won 4-1 at Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday in yet another away win since the restart

Augsburg won 3-0 at Schalke last weekend in another surprise result recorded on the road

Home disadvantage? 

Bundesliga matches 2019-20 

BEFORE THE SHUTDOWN

Matches 222

Home wins 95 (42.79 %)

Away wins 80 (36.03 %)

Draws 47 (21.17 %)

SINCE THE RESUMPTION

Matches 27

Home wins 5 (18.51 %)

Away wins 12 (44.44 %)

Draws 10 (37.03 %)

Among eye-catching away performances were Wolfsburg’s 4-1 win at Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday night, Augsburg’s 3-0 success at Schalke last weekend and Hertha Berlin winning 3-0 at Hoffenheim on the first weekend back.

In the 222 Bundesliga fixtures that were played before the league was suspended in March and, of course, played in front of crowds, 80 of them resulted in away wins or 36.03 per cent.

95 of them were home wins (42.79 per cent) and 47 ended up as a draw (21.17 per cent).

So the percentage of home wins has dropped sharply from 42.79 to 18.51 without fans in attendance, while the percentage of away wins has risen from 36.03 to 44.44.

Even from the relatively small sample size of 27 games across three matchdays since the Bundesliga’s return, we can surmise that away teams have a higher chance of taking three points when they don’t have to deal with a home crowd.

But there had been instances earlier in the season when home advantage has counted for absolutely nothing. Take matchday six in late September, when eight of the nine games resulted in away wins.

Bayern celebrate Joshua Kimmich’s winning goal in their crucial 1-0 win at Dortmund

And, oddly, the same trend isn’t true in the 2. Bundesliga, where the 23 games played since the resumption have seen nine home wins, 10 draws and only four away wins.

We will never know whether Borussia Dortmund’s famously passionate ‘Yellow Wall’ would have made a difference to their 1-0 loss to Bayern Munich on Tuesday night.

But we could certainly see the same happen in the Premier League, with home teams missing their supporters and away teams profiting.

It certainly won’t have gone unnoticed by the bottom six clubs in England’s top-flight, who have been vocal in their opposition to neutral venues.  

INJURIES ARE MORE LIKELY

A bad night got even worse for Dortmund when star striker Erling Haaland limped off against Bayern with 18 minutes remaining.

He has suffered a knee injury but Dortmund coach Lucien Favre doesn’t believe he will be out for too long.

However, there has been a spike in muscle injuries since the restart, which doesn’t come as a surprise given the tightly-packed fixture schedule and players basically having to go through pre-season training again.

Erling Haaland watches the end of Tuesday’s game from the sidelines after a knee injury

In the first two rounds of games back, the injury rate of 0.27 per game more than tripled to 0.88 per game, or a rise approaching 250 per cent, according to Australia-based sports scientist Dr Joel Mason. 

The surge in intensity from having to maintain fitness at home to playing three matches in under a fortnight after about a month on the training field has inevitably taken a toll on players.

We’re likely to see a similar situation in the Premier League if it restarts, with players needing treatment for short-term muscle injuries, meaning they might miss a game or two, and suffering cramp late in games at least until they regain full match fitness.

The Bundesliga’s fixture schedule will see most teams play six more times in a little under a month, with the final day scheduled for June 27.

Jeffrey Bruma of Mainz goes down with an injury during their draw at Union Berlin 

Monchengladbach’s Breel Embolo is forced off injured during their game with Leverkusen 

Only one more midweek round is scheduled – on June 16/17 – and so the workload for clubs that regularly play in European competition isn’t much different to normal.

The semi-finals of the German Cup, which see Bayern Munich play Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen play third division Saarbrucken, are pencilled in for June 9/10 with the final on July 4.

So some schedules will be more intense than others but it seems the huge gap caused by football’s shutdown has led to more injury problems as players get back up to speed.

ARE MATCHES ANY SLOWER?

Given the players didn’t play any games for two months, you’d expect the pace of games to be slower, at least to start with.

But a statistical study of the first weekend back compared to the final weekend pre-lockdown showed players were running just as far and producing just as many sprints.

It was the number of tackles and the number of dribbles that had fallen, but the work rate and effort put in had barely changed.

Anecdotally, some games have been disappointing, languid affairs.

Tuesday’s game between Werder Bremen and Borussia Monchengladbach didn’t get going

Borussia Dortmund took ages to get going against Wolfsburg last Saturday and were well below their best, but ultimately won 2-0. The game between Werder Bremen and Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday was a bore goalless draw.

But others have been excellent. Dortmund vs Bayern was played for the most part at full throttle, with a snap to tackles, but that shouldn’t be surprising given what was at stake.

The 3-3 draw between Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg and the 2-2 between RB Leipzig and Hertha Berlin proved highly entertaining in midweek.

But you’d expect this variation in entertainment even under normal circumstances. 

The match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg was entertaining with six goals shared

If the Premier League makes its return in late June, the players will have been back in training roughly the same amount of time as their German counterparts were.

So hopefully they will have enough match fitness to produce entertaining and competitive contests though things like the higher temperatures of summer are unknown variables.

ARE WE SEEING MORE SUBS?

FIFA changed the rules to allow teams an extra two substitutions to cover for injuries and cramp suffered by the players.

89 per cent of Bundesliga teams used more than three substitutions on the first weekend and most managers will continue to take advantage of the rule change.

Some possibly were late taking advantage. For example, Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann used only three of his permitted five subs in their first game back against Freiburg and dropped two vital points in a 1-1 draw that dented their title hopes.

Bayern Munich bring on one of their five permitted substitutes during Saturday’s match

Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig dropped two crucial points in their game against Freiburg

In Leipzig’s two subsequent games, Nagelsmann has used five and four subs respectively.

Given the physical pressures of playing so many games in such a tight window, we can expect to see managers being more strategic in their use of substitutions.

For example, if a team takes a 2-0 lead, there will be a greater temptation to withdraw key players for the next match, which might only be three days ahead.

But managers must weight up whether such a scenario may lead to the opposition scoring and getting back into the contest.

PLAYERS AND MANAGERS BITING THEIR TONGUES

One problem with empty stadiums is that the lack of atmosphere leads to shouts from players and managers being picked up by the microphones.

It also means referees and their assistants have more chance of hearing words of dissent shouted either in their direction or at the opposition.

Bayern manager Hansi Flick was given a telling off by referee Tobias Stieler in the second-half at Dortmund on Tuesday after saying something out of turn.

Bayern manager Hansi Flick is spoken to be referee Tobias Stieler after a comment out of turn

The more vocal Premier League managers will be taking note. Not only could their – potentially sweary – remarks be picked up by live television, but the referee is more likely to hear them too.

Overall, however, the number of yellow cards brandished by referees hasn’t changed, suggesting they weren’t ever influenced by the crowd.

There were 24 booking over the first weekend and 25 over the second. The average from the five weekends before the lockdown was 24.

Dominick Drexler of Cologne is shown the red card by referee Felix Brych on Wednesday

The number of red cards appears to be on the rise, however. There weren’t any in the first weekend back, but then two last weekend and four in the midweek games.

There had only been two dismissals in total in the four matchdays prior to March’s shutdown.




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