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What did we learn from Bundesliga return?

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The Bundesliga restart amid the coronavirus pandemic provided much-needed hope and excitement. That is the main thing we learned on Saturday, even if games in large empty stadiums are eerie affairs, we now have hope.

In Germany games with no fans are called “ghost games” and that seems very accurate right now after Saturday’s six games. But we have hope and we can forget a lot of the abnormalities because top level sport has returned to Europe.

Hope is good. Hope is normal. Right now, hope is something we should all have as we hope for normality again soon. Our weekends can now be planned around watching live sports and life doesn’t get any more normal than that, right?

For the majority of the last two months live sport evaded us. Whistles did not blow. Goals were not scored. Players did not run. But that all happened again and we lost ourselves in watching great plays and moments and it helped us forgot about everything else going on. That is what sports does best. It was just like the old times. Fans in the stands or not, the game itself is still all-consuming once it kicks off.

Saturday’s action proved it can now be done. The Premier League, La Liga and Serie A now know they can have the Bundesliga on speed dial and whenever they’re at a crossroads as they try to restart during coronavirus they can call and say ‘oh, hey, Bundesliga, how did you get this done again?’

Heck, even the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL must have been watching and taking notes on how it all worked as the Bundesliga was the first of Europe’s ‘top five’ to return.

A roadmap has been laid out for everyone else to follow but there will be tougher times ahead for German soccer. It is inevitable that small outbreaks of COVID-19 will crop up and certain games may be suspended. That is where some trepidation lies after this restart. However, there is now hope.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The main reason Germany’s top-flight has returned a month before the rest of Europe is because they (along with South Korea) have managed to control the virus and have shown all nations the way forward through testing and tracing. There is still a long way to go to get to this point in the USA, UK and elsewhere.

Germany and the Bundesliga have shown all nations a way forward for live sports returning and for that we are extremely grateful. Empty stadiums are something we will all have to get used to and this was the first step forward.

Here’s what we learned from a surreal day as the Bundesliga restart took place in empty stadiums amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Crowd noise a problem?

The lack of a crowd with flags and songs and jeers and gasps was without doubt the strangest thing about the restart. Music was played so loud over the PA system before the game and after goals that you struggled to hear the commentators on TV. In the huge empty stadiums, players shouting and the sound of block tackles echoed around.

‘This is weird’ was the first reaction when you watched some of Europe’s top teams in full flow in empty stadiums but as the game wore on, you sort of forgot about it. A bit. It was like soccer stripped back, a training game or a very poorly attended preseason friendly. You could hear the players and coaches clearly and a smattering of applause after each goal or save. The acoustics in the 81,000 capacity Westfalenstadion was perhaps the worst because it is so grand. It is designed to keep the noise in and help create an intense atmosphere. When there are no fans there to create that, it just doesn’t work.

One idea could be playing low-level crowd noise, maybe just for the TV broadcasts, to help the viewer experience but we will get used to watching games with no fans. It will be weird for quite a while, though. Eerie silence after goals is not something that will ever seem normal.

Social-distance celebrations; new rules

The Bundesliga asked players to not hug each other and celebrate goals in groups but some teams sort of forget about it. Hertha Berlin in particular. The Bundesliga have said they will not punish players for failing to social distance properly after a goal but plenty of players did follow the rules.

When Erling Haaland opened the scoring for Dortmund he put on a socially distanced dance to celebrate the goal with his teammates who all stood a good distance away. Freiburg’s players bumped elbows to celebrate a goal. Marcus Thuram took part in air high fives and wanted no part of the celebrations.

Aside from celebrations, it was strange to see players just walking out onto the pitch with no fanfare. Dortmund center back Mats Hummels was just hanging out on his own before the game as Schalke players on the bench arrived with face masks on. There was no official walkout or handshakes as teams came out at different times and then waited for a while before the referees arrived separately.

Ball kids wore masks, balls were sprayed and cleaned and plenty were kept on the side of the pitch as coaches had face masks on and players sat apart on the bench and in nearby seats, as five subs can now be used under new FIFA rules. It was strange but it is the new normal. The fact subs sat apart confused some but studies have shown that players on the pitch only come into close contact with opponents for very limited periods of time, compared to players sat on the bench next to each other for 15-20 minutes at a time. New rules, social-distancing style, were clear for all to see.

Intensity lacking

Part of the new normal was easy to spot on the pitch. There was less tackling, overall, and the high-pressing style of many teams was not quite there. After a two month break from games, what did we expect?

We could probably expect smaller injuries to pop up and USMNT teenager Gio Reyna may have been a victim of that as he was injured in the warm up before what would have been his full Bundesliga debut. Fitness levels of certain teams seemed to be lacking and some teams have trained together individually or in groups longer than others depending where in Germany they are located and due to the local rules. The teams which needed the win more generally delivered.

The joy and relief of sport returning

Overall there was a look of joy and relief on the face of players and coaches, especially those who won. For now, they seem to have navigated the first hurdle safely. Of course, we will only know for sure when the players are tested after these games if it was a success. But the start went smoothly as players were interviewed from a distance by media outlets and the strict protocols in place seemed to be followed by every single person in the stadium.

Relief is the main feeling emanating from those who watched the Bundesliga action this weekend.

It wasn’t perfect and it was a little weird, especially to start with, but it will become normal. The Bundesliga proved that normality is maybe a little closer than we all thought, as the restart during the coronavirus pandemic also taught us plenty about how sports will look everywhere else for the foreseeable future.

UK government gives PL green light for contact training

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The UK government has given the Premier League and the Championship the green light to resume contact training after publishing stage two of its return to training guidance.

This is a big boost for the Premier League ‘Project Restart’ plans ahead of a pivotal week of meeting and votes about playing the remaining 92 games of the 2019-20 season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Since last week all 20 Premier League clubs have been taking part in small-group training at a social distance as clubs agreed unanimously to return to training as part of stage one of the protocols.

Late Sunday the UK government released guidelines on stage two of training for elite athletes as contact training is now permitted. Per the stage two guidelines, athletes are allowed to ‘opt out’ of training ‘without any resulting discrimination.’

It is not known whether or not players who contract COVID-19 while in stage two of training may have to quarantine for 14 days. That is said to be something which will be discussed in full detail in the coming days in the Premier League meetings, while below is a little more from the UK government explanation on stage two.

  • Stage Two training can be described as the resumption of close contact (interaction within the two metre social distancing boundary) training where pairs, small groups and/or teams will be able to interact in much closer contact (e.g. close quarters coaching, combat sports sparring, teams sports tackling, technical equipment sharing, etc).
  • The progression of training into Stage Two is vital to prepare fully for the return of competitive sporting fixtures in many sports. Close contact training is required to replicate match formations and conditions, so that the sport-specific demands can be placed on the body, mind and senses. Close contact training develops the sport-specific fitness which is an essential element for player safety and a reduced risk of injury during competition.
  • It is anticipated that engaging in this type of training would start with smaller ‘clusters’ of 2-3 athletes and eventually progress to larger groups of 4-12 athletes, and ultimately full team training, without social distancing possible at all times. Under Stage Two conditions, as per Stage One, social distancing will continue to be the expectation at all other times aside from technical training.

Speaking about the stage two guidelines, UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “This new guidance marks the latest phase of a carefully phased return to training process for elite athletes, designed to limit the risk of injury and protect the health and safety of all involved. We are absolutely clear that individual sports must review whether they have the appropriate carefully controlled medical conditions in place before they can proceed, and secure the confidence of athletes, coaches and support staff.

“Given the wide ranging input we have received from medical experts, we believe these pragmatic measures should provide further reassurance that a safe, competitive training environment can be delivered, as we work towards a restart of professional sport behind closed doors when it is safe to do so.”

Premier League clubs, players and managers will meet in the coming days to discuss the protocols in place around a return to contact training and clubs are due to vote on Wednesday whether or not to sanction the move to stage two.

This is a big boost for the Premier League and Championship as both had been waiting to get the green light from the government before their clubs could vote on the plan for a return to contract training.

All 20 Premier League clubs will meet on several video conference calls to discuss the protocols around a return to full-contact training as players, managers and the Premier League will discuss the details with medical experts. Several Premier League stars have revealed their angst about returning to training.

Per the guidelines, moving to stage two provides more risk of COVID-19 infection: “Due to the increased risk of transmission under Stage Two conditions, the COVID-19 officer must have a clear policy for managing a COVID-19 positive individual and abide by Government guidelines and reporting requirements.”

The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus. Two positive COVID-19 tests had arrived after 1,014 players and staff in the Championship were tested.

Premier League players will again be tested on Monday and Tuesday and the results of those tests will be key in seeing how the strict protocols at training grounds are working.

Now that the UK government has given clear guidance to the Premier League about how it can return to contact training, it is now down to clubs, medical experts, players and managers to all agree on the safest path forward.

There is still a long way to go until games return but this is another step on the path towards the 2019-20 season returning.

Transfer news: King to Man United; Tagliafico to Arsenal

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In the latest transfer news Josh King has been linked with a move to Man United this summer as several top clubs are circling, while Ajax and Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico could be heading to Arsenal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have a beauty of a report which states that four of the Premier League’s top six clubs want to sign Bournemouth striker Josh King.

King, 28, was the subject of a late bid form Man United in the January window but the Cherries turned it down as they needed him to help with their relegation battle. Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe admitted it was tough on King and the players also revealed he was it was tough to see the move blocked, as he came through Man United’s youth academy and the Norwegian international is close with Man United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. King has scored 46 goals in 154 Premier League appearances for Bournemouth and has been instrumental since they were promoted to the top-flight in 2015. King loves Man United and this would clearly be a good fit for all concerned.

Per the fresh report, Man United are keen on King because he can play centrally and wide and with Odion Ighalo’s future uncertain amid his loan move from Shanghai Shenhua, Solskjaer wants to add one more striker this summer. King has one year left on his contract and Bournemouth are expected to cash in on him but Chelsea are also said to be interested, as well as two other ‘top six’ clubs.

Bournemouth rejected a $25 million offer for King in January but they would snap anybody’s hand off for that this summer given the financial situation due to the coronavirus pandemic and the fact King will have just one year left on his current deal. Bournemouth have already been burned by not extending Ryan Fraser’s contract and he is set to be out of contract on July 1.

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Heading from Manchester to London, Arsenal are said to be interested in Ajax and Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico.

The Gunners continue to be linked with plenty of defenders and even though it is believed Mikel Arteta will not have a big transfer budget in the upcoming transfer windows, Tagliafico for $25 million is a steal.

According to the Sun, Arsenal want the 27-year-old as Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar recently said that Tagliafico, Andre Onana and Donny van de Beek are free to leave this summer if their transfer value is met. Tagliafico is said to be keen on a fresh challenge and wants a move to the Premier League.

Do Arsenal need a left back? Teenage star Bukayo Saka has been splendid out of position at left back this season but both he and Arsenal are keen to move him back into his natural position as a left winger, while young Scottish left back Kieran Tierney has struggled with injuries throughout his debut campaign in the Premier League.

Tagliafico can also play as a left-sided center back and with the Gunners experimenting at times with a 3-4-3 formation, he would give them flexibility and defensive options. It is clear Arsenal need to improve defensively and Tagliafico is a very solid left back who is good on the ball and is also a goal threat at the other end of the pitch.

Cologne deny Fortuna with amazing late comeback (video)

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Relegation-threatened Fortuna Dusseldorf thought they had secured a massive win away at FC Cologne in the Rhine Derby on Sunday as Kenan Karaman and Erik Thommy struck in each half to put them 2-0 up, but the hosts struck twice late on to grab a dramatic 2-2 draw.

Anthony Modeste and Jhon Corodba were the heroes for Cologne, who blew a 2-0 lead last week to draw 2-2 at home with Mainz but this time out they were on the other end of a comeback.

It didn’t look like being Cologne’s day for vast swathes of the game as at 1-0 to Fortuna, Florian Kastenmeier saved Mark Uth’s penalty kick in what looked like a key moment for Uwe Rosler’s Fortuna who are embroiled in the Bundesliga relegation battle.

The draw sees Fortuna move onto 24 points as they sit in 16th place, which is the relegation playoff spot. After a big win for 17th place Werder Bremen this weekend, plus heavy defeats for Mainz, Augsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt above them, the Bundesliga relegation battle has become extremely intriguing. A note for USMNT fans: midfielder Alfredo Morales put in a tireless 90 minute shift in central midfield.

Cologne sit 10th on 34 points and are in the hunt for Europa League qualification.

Fortuna went ahead early on as Karaman found some space in the box and his shot deflected in as the away side led at the break.

Cologne were handed the perfect opportunity to get back into the game in the second half as Uth first hit the post, then was denied by Kastenmeier before he was scythed down in the box as a penalty kick was awarded.

Uth, who scored a penalty kick last week, appeared to take the ball off Cordoba and Kastenmeier produced a fine save down low as Fortuna celebrated wildly once the ball was cleared.

Buoyed by that penalty save, Fortuna went up the other end moments later and doubled their lead as the ball found Thommy at the back post and he curled a sumptuous effort into the far corner.

Fortuna believed they were home and dry.

With 88 minutes on the clock, the Cologne comeback began as Modeste headed home superbly to make it 2-1 and give his side hope of grabbing a point.


In the 91st minute the equalizer arrived in similar fashion.

Fortuna ran out of steam and another cross from the right found Cordoba who nodded home to snatch a point for the hosts.

The draw felt like a win for Cologne and it was a sickening blow for a Fortuna side who badly need all three points in their battle against the drop.

Crucial week ahead for the Premier League

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The upcoming week is a huge one for the Premier League as a key vote and serious talks are set to take place with regards to restarting the 2019-20 season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

All 20 clubs will meet on several video conference calls to discuss the protocols around a return to full-contact training, subject to government approval, as players, managers and the Premier League will discuss the details with medical experts. The UK government have yet to release details about stage two of a return to training for professional athletes and several Premier League stars have revealed their angst about returning to training.

Clubs will then vote on a return to full-contact training on Wednesday and depending on the outcome of that vote, that will shape further talks. If full-contact training is given the thumbs up, it is expected that on Thursday clubs will then discuss the plan to either restart the season in mid-June or curtailment plans which would see the table potentially decided on a points-per-game basis.

The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus.

Players will again be tested on Monday and Tuesday and the results of those tests will be key in seeing how the strict protocols at training grounds are working.

All 20 clubs unanimously voted in favor of a return to small-group training and they are all said to be in favor of a return to action, although some have publicly aired reservations.

The next few days seem pivotal as to whether or not the final 92 games of the Premier League season will be played and all eyes will be on the vote on Wednesday, if the UK government can provide details on the new protocols.

With the Bundesliga off and running, La Liga set for a June 8 restart and Serie A planning for a mid-June restart, the Premier League are correctly being cautious when it comes to a restart. Sooner or later they need to vote on a path forward and this week will be crucial.