Bundesliga is back: Previously, on the Bundesliga...

3 months ago

Rejoice, for German football is coming back. The Bundesliga is set to resume behind closed doors later this month, with nine rounds to play.

Was that angel song, or simply the voice of chancellor Angela Merkel confirming the Bundesliga is coming back?

Sweet music resonated among German football supporters on Wednesday when the government gave the go-ahead for the league to resume.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to affect Germany, but the conclusion of the title race and the battle to beat the drop will now come as welcome distractions.

Here, we look at the story so far of another soap-opera Bundesliga season.

What is the state of play?

Guess who's top? Naturally, it's Bayern Munich. But rather than the German top flight plodding towards a familiar conclusion, a plotline has run through this campaign with twists few saw coming.

Starting the season with an eighth successive title in their sights, Bayern were flailing by the autumn, sitting fourth in the table after 10 games.

They encountered similar strife in 2018-19 and stuck with coach Niko Kovac, but this time patience ran out. Kovac's exit by mutual agreement in early November avoided the need for a messier divorce and sparked speculation Bayern would be in for a superstar boss, and for a while Arsene Wenger was strongly tipped to come in.

Instead, former Germany assistant boss Hansi Flick picked up the pieces, initially on an interim basis, but Bayern have not looked back and sat four points clear of second-placed Borussia Dortmund when the league went on hold. Flick signed a three-year deal in April.

Dortmund remain in the hunt, not least because Bayern must visit Westphalia and face the Yellow Wall in Der Klassiker before the season ends.

With January arrival Erling Haaland banging in goals at a ridiculous rate since arriving in January from Salzburg, BVB will not be giving up, and nor will third-placed RB Leipzig, a point further back.

Paderborn, top-flight perennials Werder Bremen and Fortuna Dusseldorf were staring the prospect of relegation in the face when the league came to a jarring halt. What difference will the intervening two months have made?

What have been the big controversies?

Hoffenheim owner Dietmar Hopp has been forced to endure a dramatic escalation in hostility towards him from supporters of rival clubs.

Banners bearing insults and threats have been seen on high-profile occasions, with fans expressing outrage towards the Hoffenheim benefactor, who has been allowed to bypass Bundesliga rules that in normal circumstances dictate club members should own majority stakes. As a long-time benefactor of the club, he is entitled to a larger share, his wealth allowing the club to reach the top flight.

Hoffenheim and Bayern left the pitch in a stance against disruptive Bayern fans when the teams met in February. They eventually returned for the closing 11 minutes of the game, with the teams casually passing the ball between themselves as a riposte to the anti-Hopp protests.

Jurgen Klinsmann made a blink-and-you'll-miss-him return to the Bundesliga. The former Bayern and Germany boss was appointed head coach of Hertha Berlin in late November but quit in February after an apparent breakdown in his relationship with the club's board.

Who had momentum before everything stopped?

Bayern's last defeat came against Borussia Monchengladbach on December 7, when Flick was still finding his feet. They have sprinted to the top of the table and looked unstoppable by early March.

Dortmund strung together four straight wins in the Bundesliga before the break, with Haaland and Jadon Sancho such a threat, but a Champions League setback, going out to Paris Saint-Germain, was a heavy blow.

Mainz gathered eight points from five games before the lockdown to give themselves breathing space towards the foot of the table, pulling four points clear of 16th-placed Fortuna.

Which clubs have had it toughest during the COVID-19 months?

Just this week, it was announced there had been 10 positive tests at Bundesliga clubs. The problem, therefore, has not gone away, but officials hope to manage it efficiently.

Salomon Kalou showed he was rather Kalou-less when the Hertha forward posted a video of himself shaking hands with team-mates and interrupting a medical check, defying club instructions.

He was suspended by Hertha for the blunder.

Germany appears to have contained the virus far more effectively than many European countries, which has allowed Merkel to approve the return to action.

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