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Following three weeks of freak scorelines and frantic loan deals, the Bundesliga season pauses for an international break. DW takes stock of how the league has fared in unprecedented circumstances.
On Sunday evening, this writer was enjoying a rare weekend day off and was only half paying attention to the footage of Bayern Munich vs. Hertha Berlin on the television.
Catching several goals in quick succession out the corner of my eye, I presumed they were highlights which I would catch up on at a later point, only for a live notification to inform me of a full-time score moments later: Bayern 4-3 Hertha.
They weren't highlights; it was live.
The Berliners haven’t won in Munich in almost 40 years but they came agonizingly close to a famous point in a game which saw seven goals scored in just 53 minutes, and six in one half.
One week earlier, Bayern had conceded four in Hoffenheim, crashing to their heaviest Bundesliga defeat since the 5-1 humbling by Eintracht Frankfurt under former coach Niko Kovac in November. Since then, they had conceded a grand total of just 16 Bundesliga goals under Hansi Flick. Seven in two league games is more than in their previous 12 combined.
And Bayern weren’t alone in their sudden defensive lapses. In England on the same afternoon, Manchester United and Liverpool also made back pages around the world after shipping six and seven respectively, as the exhausting effects of the coronavirus pandemic on professional football became clearer than ever.
Bayern players and staff all insisted that fatigue was not a factor in the defeat to Hoffenheim, despite having only had 25 days off between the Champions League final against Paris Saint-German and the Bundesliga opener against Schalke the week before. Take into account their two Super Cup appearances for UEFA and the DFL and Bayern are already five games into a season which could total 57 in the space of 253 days.
Yet while the players may not necessarily feel physically tired during games – certainly not Robert Lewandowski, who has already notched up five goals this season, four on Sunday – Bayern's defensive shape does suggest a degree of mental fatigue.
Key to Bayern's success under Flick has been the discipline and intensity of their pressing, a complex undertaking at this level which requires high levels of concentration to determine exactly when and where to collectively put the opposition under pressure, while guarding against the counter-attack.
But Hoffenheim exposed the champions' high and ill-disciplined defensive line on several occasions. So to did Hertha striker Dodi Lukebakio on Sunday with the game still goalless, although it was slack marking from crosses which ultimately led to two of Hertha’s goals, further evidence of a slight dip in concentration.
Bayern have used the transfer window to bolster a comparatively thin squad ahead of the grueling weeks and months to come, but even they have had to do business different in a transfer market which bears little resemblance to previous years.
For only the third time since 1992, Bundesliga clubs have actually made a combined net profit on their summer transfer dealings, recording a total €1.7m plus compared to last season’s €228.3m minus (figures according to Transfermarkt).
Chelsea’s acquisition of Timo Werner (€53m from RB Leipzig) and Kai Havertz (€80m from Bayer Leverkusen) brought in the biggest fees for Bundesliga clubs but, with sides suffering financially as a result of the pandemic, the money has not been reinvested. Leroy Sané arrived at Bayern Munich for €45m, not an extravagant fee by their standards and one which was offset by the departure of Thiago Alcantara (€22m to Liverpool) anyway.
Elsewhere, not even those Bundesliga clubs with unique financial backing were especially free-spending. Hertha Berlin, who had a greater outlay than any other club in Europe last January thanks to investor Lars Windhorst’s millions, did sign striker Jhon Cordoba from Cologne for €15m, but Ondrej Duda went the other way for €7m.
Otherwise, the market has been dominated by an abundance of loan moves, with Bundesliga sides completing ten such deals in the final eight hours of the transfer window alone. Douglas Costa’s return to Bayern (from Juventus) attracted most attention, but it’s Hoffenheim’s business which stands out, as they recruited English starlet Ryan Sessegnon from Tottenham Hotspur and secured the services of Sebastian Rudy for another year from Schalke.
With Schalke still paying Rudy’s wages, the German international has even accepted a 50% wage cut to enable the loan back to his former club, which reveals a lot about the Royal Blues' dire financial situation.
An honorable mention should also go to Augsburg, who snapped up goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz (from Union Berlin), midfielder Tobias Strobl (from Borussia Mönchengladbach) and forward Daniel Caligiuri (from Schalke) early on in the window – all for free.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has also put the brakes on moves which appeared inevitable back in January. Cash-strapped Werder Bremen had been planning on receiving up to €35m for Milot Rashica, with RB Leipzig the early favorites for the Kosovan winger’s signature and Premier League side Aston Villa also expressing interest. In the end, a last-minute loan move to Bayer Leverkusen broke down due to disagreements over an option to buy.
More madness to come
With three matchdays played and the transfer window now closed, the coronavirus pandemic has already had a noticeable effect on Bundesliga clubs, how they play and how they do business.
As German football continues to negotiate a calendar which is more tightly packed than ever before, and as clubs continue to lose match day revenue due to the absence of supporters, it seems likely that we will be seeing more freak score lines and results – with goals scored by players on loan deals.
Better keep paying attention.