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Will COVID-19 stop the Bundesliga again?

January 4, 2022

Bayern Munich have reported several new cases of COVID-19 among key players, and the champions are far from alone. With players returning from winter breaks around the world, can the Bundesliga return as planned?

Joshua Kimmich wears a face mask
Joshua Kimmich has missed several games after contracting COVID-19Image: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

As Bundesliga players, coaches and staff have started to return to training after more than two weeks' winter break, so reports of coronavirus cases have started to mount up among the clubs.

League leaders and champions Bayern Munich are set to re-raise the curtain on Germany's top division against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Friday, but have reported that at least nine players have tested positive for COVID-19 this week alone, including Leroy Sane, Manuel Neuer, Dayot Upamecano, Alphonso Davies and Kingsley Coman. Accordingly, there are rumors that the game may not go ahead. Indeed, Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl said on Wednesday that "Bayern want to cancel the game, but ultimately the DFL (German Football League) will decide."

Stuttgart, Hertha Berlin, RB Leipzig, Gladbach and Borussia Dortmund are among a number of teams who also be missing key figures for the coming weekend as the increased case numbers (30,000 new COVID-19 cases, 1,091 new hospitalizations and 356 new associated deaths on January 4) and traveling start to bite.

But while spectators, even those vaccinated and with negative tests, remain shut out, the show looks to be going on in the league that returned to action first in the initial wave of the pandemic.

How few is too few?

So far, only one game in German's top two divisions, both run by the DFL has been called off due to the coronavirus this season, St. Pauli vs. Sandhausen in the 2. Bundesliga in November. "The match is being postponed because SV Sandhausen does not have the minimum number of available players required by the DFL regulations," said the organization at the time.

The hygiene regulations of the league are laid out in full on the DFL website and clubs can apply for postponement if they have less than 15 players, including one goalkeeper. The DFL have so far failed to respond to a DW query about whether Bayern, or any other clubs, have applied for a postponement. 

"We are of course preparing for it as normal. Nevertheless, both Bayern and us have several absences," said Gladbach coach Adi Hütter on Wednesday.

Given that Joshua Kimmich has been suffering the effects of COVID-19, Leon Goretzka is among a handful of injury doubts and Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting and Bouna Sarr are at the Africa Cup of Nations, even one of the Bundesliga's deepest squads is feeling the strain. Bayern had 10 outfield players and two keepers at team training on Wednesday.

Postponements inevitable?

Similar outbreaks have been seen regularly in England's Premier League over the winter, leading to 17 postponements, fixture pileups, an uneven league table and accusations of clubs using the regulations to their advantage. But, unlike in Germany, stadiums remain at full capacity.

While the Bundesliga may be remaining tight-lipped for now, Wolfsburg sporting director Jörg Schmadtke told the football portal Sportbuzzer that postponements are a distinct possibility. "I have fears, although not for the upcoming weekend. But I believe corona will play a role in the match calendar," he said.

Schmadtke was speaking earlier in the week, before the number of Bayern players who'd contracted the virus was announced. The transmissibility of the omicron variant forced the Premier League in to hasty action and the possibility remains that the Bundesliga may have to follow suit.

Edited by: Michael da Silva