After more than two months away, the Bundesliga will return to our screens on Saturday (16 May).
All matches will be played behind closed doors or as “geisterspiel”, which translates as “ghost games”.
With the Premier League unlikely to return for some time, football-starved fans will look to feast on what Germany has to offer.
What should we expect? When can we watch games and who can we support? We have answers to all those questions and more as The Focus presents its ultimate Bundesliga preview.
Where were we?
Armchair fans will associate Germany’s top flight with a procession for Bayern Munich. This season has been different, though, as an incredibly tight opening saw only five points separate the top nine teams in November.
Ironically, normal service looked to have resumed just before lock-down as seven-time reigning champions Bayern opened a four-point lead at the top. However, with nine games remaining things are far from over. Only six points separate the top four.
The bottom of the division looks more of a done deal. Bottom side Paderborn sit ten points adrift of safety, while Werder Bremen and Fortuna Dusseldorf are also some way off Mainz in 15th.
However, the Bundesliga’s relegation play-off rule – which sees the third-worst team face the second division’s third-placed side in a two-legged tie – means there’s plenty still to play for. Sides such as Mainz, Augsburg and Hertha Berlin could yet be dragged into the relegation fight.
Here’s a preview of all the Bundesliga teams.
Nickname: Die Roten (The Reds)
What to expect: The influence of Pep Guardiola’s three-year reign is still prominent in the way Bayern like to play football. Under Hansi Flick, though, they have started to add more of the traditional German efficiency and ruthlessness to their game, making them even more formidable.
What they’re playing for: Die Roten are looking to win their eighth Bundesliga trophy in a row. They’ve not had it all their own way this season, though. A slow start under Niko Kovac left them 7th in December. A gradual turnaround in form after the winter break meant they had only just opened clear daylight between them and the chasing pack in the matchweek before lock-down.
The boss: After years as assistant coach to Joachim Low and Niko Kovac, Hansi Flick finally took centre stage in November. After initially taking over as caretaker, he was appointed permanent manager during the lock-down.
One to watch: We could have gone for a less obvious option – Serge Gnabry or Alphonso Davies – but Robert Lewandowski’s numbers this year are too good to ignore. The Polish forward became the first player to score in the Bundesliga’s opening 11 games – breaking Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s record of eight. He already has 25 goals in 25 games so far.
Return: Union Berlin (A), Sunday, 17 May, 17:00 BST
Nickname: Die Schwarz-Gelben (The Black And Yellows)
What to expect: With a team containing Jadon Sancho, Erling Haland, Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt, you’re guaranteed goals. However, Dortmund’s high-octane style is inextricably linked to their close bond with their passionate supporters. With games behind closed doors, it will be interesting to see if they can maintain it without the Yellow Wall behind them.
What they’re playing for: Anything less than the title will be viewed as a failure for Die Schwarz-Gelben. With a four-point gap between Dortmund and top spot, there’s little margin for error. Their ‘home’ game against Bayern will be huge in deciding the title.
The boss: Former Nice and Borussia Monchengladbach boss Lucien Favre has been walking a managerial tightrope for most of this season after failing to capitalise on Bayern’s slow start. However, his decision to switch to a back three in November has heralded an upturn in form that seems to have kept the wolves from the door – for now.
One to watch: England fans will need no introduction to one of the best young talents in world football. Although Erling Haland has been making all the headlines since his January move to the Westfalenstadion, Jadon Sancho, who only turned 20 during lock-down, scored 11 goals in 11 matches before the break.
Return: Schalke (H), Saturday 16 May, 14:30 BST
Nickname: Die Roten Bullen (The Red Bulls)
What to expect: Due to their controversial interpretation of Germany’s 50+1 ownership rules, RB are probably the most unpopular side in the Bundesliga. That doesn’t mean they’re not good to watch, though. Thanks to a phenomenal scouting network, Julian Nagelsmann has one of the best young squads in Europe. Their well-drilled, high-intensity football means they can provide a stern test for any team in Europe.
What they’re playing for: After leading for most of the season, Leipzig remain firmly in the title race. After only two wins in seven leading up to lock-down, though, they’ll hope the break has reinvigorated their quest for an inaugural Bundesliga crown.
The boss: Aged only 32, Julian Nagelsmann is probably the best young coach in Europe. Despite being three years younger than Cristiano Ronaldo, he has already taken Hoffenheim from relegation contenders to the Champions League. That impressive feat saw him get the Leipzig job last summer. He has already racked up a remarkable 58.3% win percentage in his first season at the Red Bull Arena.
One to watch: If it weren’t for the ridiculous form of Robert Lewandowski, Liverpool target Timo Werner would be a shoe-in for the Bundesliga Golden Boot. The German was managing a goal every 98 minutes before lock-down. In a team packed with young stars, he shines the brightest.
Return: Freiburg (H), Saturday, 16 May, 14:30 BST
Nickname: Die Fohlen (The Foals)
What to expect: Gladbach have struggled to hit the heights of their glory days when they dominated German football in the 1970s. Now, with Marco Rose’s own interpretation of “heavy metal football”, they look well placed to re-establish themselves at the top table of German football. Their fast and direct approach can be devastating.
What they’re playing for: Die Fohlen’s impressive start to the season saw them top the Bundesliga from October to December. While they may have fallen away slightly, the six-point gap to top spot means this is their best chance of claiming a first Meisterschale since 1977.
The boss: Following two impressive seasons at RB Salzburg – including a run to the Europa League semi-finals that saw them beat Borussia Dortmund, Real Sociedad and Lazio – Jurgen Klopp’s prodigy Marco Rose has continued to turn heads. His impressive work at the Borussia-Park saw him linked to the Arsenal job before Mikel Arteta replaced Unai Emery in December.
One to watch: The son of French World Cup winner Lilian, Marcus Thuram has been the stand-out player this season. The 22-year-old likes to drift in from the left with fast and powerful running that suits Rose’s direct tactics perfectly.
Return: Eintrach Frankfurt (A), Saturday, 16 May, 17:30 BST
Nickname: Die Werkself (The Factory 11)
What to expect: If there’s one thing you’re guaranteed with Die Werkself, it’s entertainment. In the month leading to lock-down they were averaging almost three goals a game. When it comes to solid defending and consistency, though, Peter Bosz’s side leaves plenty to be desired.
What they’re playing for: Although Bayer are only eight points off top spot, a title challenge is probably beyond their reach. A Champions League spot is far more attainable, though, and they sit two points behind Borussia Monchengladbach in fourth.
The boss: Peter Bosz was in charge of the Ajax side that reached the 2017 Europa League final. That same summer he was appointed Borussia Dortmund boss but lasted only six months. A year later he was appointed Heiko Herrlich’s successor at the BayArena.
One to watch: In a side blessed with young talent, Kai Havertz stands out. The 20-year-old number 10 has more than 100 Bundesliga appearances under his belt and has managed 35 goals from midfield since the start of last season. Expect to see him linked with every big club in Europe.
Return: Werder Bremen (A), Monday, 18 May, 19:30 BST
Nickname: Die Konigsblauen (The Royal Blues)
What to expect: After last season saw their worst finish this century, Schalke have largely focused on rebuilding. David Wagner has got them playing methodical, possession-based football but, as with so many teams in the Bundesliga, their main problem is consistency.
What they’re playing for: After winning just once since returning from the winter break, Schalke’s hopes of a Champions League place are all but over. Clinging on for a Europa League spot is the best they can hope for.
The boss: David Wagner will be familiar to Premier League fans from his time at Huddersfield, where he performed miracles to keep them up in 2018. He is highly rated in Germany thanks to managing Borussia Dortmund’s reserve side. He was appointed manager at the Veltins-Arena last summer.
One to watch: Goalkeeper Alex Nubel caused controversy in January by announcing he would join Bayern Munich on a free transfer when his contract expired. The decision saw the 23-year-old stripped of the club captaincy. However, with his impressive performances it’s clear to see why many view him as the successor to Manuel Neuer.
Return: Borussia Dortmund, Saturday, 16 May, 14:30 BST
Nickname: Die Wolfe (The Wolves)
What to expect: The club Volkswagen built is slowly returning to its traditional place in the top half of the Bundesliga after surviving relegation play-offs in 2017 and 2018. Oliver Glasner has got his side playing with a back three and has turned them into one of the hardest-working and defensively solid teams in the league.
What they’re playing for: Die Wolfe were unbeaten in the Bundesliga until matchday 12 and looked in with a chance of a Champions League spot. But just two wins between November and February have put that out of reach. A good run of form just before lock-down means they are in with a good shout of a Europa League spot.
The boss: Another coach who made his name in Austria, Oliver Glasner was relatively unknown when he was appointed Wolfsburg coach at the start of the season. He’s a hard worker who admits he only goes home to his flat near the training ground so he can sleep. He expects the same levels of commitment from his players.
One to watch: In a side that struggles for goals, Wout Weghorst is vital. The Dutchman managed 17 goals last campaign and already has 11 this time out – more than one-third of Die Wolfe’s Bundesliga total. His stature and poaching instincts are reminiscent of his compatriot and former Wolfsburg forward Bas Dost. His technique and power make him a much better player, though.
Return Against: Augsburg (A), Saturday, 16 May, 14:30
Nickname: Breisgau-Brasilianer (The Breisgau Brazilians)
What to expect: Thanks to excellent scouting, Freiburg are a team that consistently punches above their weight in the style stakes. They are regularly tipped for relegation but, since their return to the top flight in 2016, have rarely troubled the bottom three. That’s all the more impressive because they sell their best players almost every summer.
What they’re playing for: Despite modest resources, Freiburg are only outside the Europa League places on goal difference. Qualifying for Europe would represent another remarkable achievement for a side that had a net spend of only £9m this season.
The boss: After eight years in charge, Christian Streich is comfortably the longest-serving manager in the Bundesliga. He’s a cult hero among Freiburg fans but his firebrand personality tends to rub others up the wrong way. Just ask Eintracht Frankfurt’s David Abraham.
One to watch: After finishing top scorer at the 2019 Under-21 Euros, a lot was expected of Luca Waldschmidt this season. On the whole, he has delivered. His dribbling ability and fierce left foot have seen him likened to Lukas Podolski. He is also a gifted passer who has been linked with a move to Chelsea.
Return Against: RB Leipzig (A), Saturday, 16 May, 14:30
Nickname: Die Kraichgauer (From the Kraichgau Region)
What to expect: Before RB Leipzig came along, Hoffenheim were Germany’s most hated team because of their association with software billionaire Dietmar Hopp. Unsavoury scenes off the pitch have been the most interesting thing about Die Kraichgauer this season. They have largely underwhelmed on it.
What they’re playing for: A slow start to the season means a return to Champions League football is impossible. A Europa League place is reachable if they sort out their patchy form. Hoffenheim are only one point behind Wolfsburg in sixth as one of four teams competing for the Bundesliga’s last two European places.
The boss: After serving as assistant to Erik ten Hag during Ajax’s remarkable run to the Champions League semi-finals last season, Alfred Schreuder took over from Julian Nagelsmann this season. Despite being a relative unknown in senior management, he is familiar with Die Kraichgauer after spending three years as assistant.
One to watch: Leicester City flop Andrej Kramaric is Hoffenheim’s main threat. However, defensive midfielder Florian Grillitsch is the real star. The Austrian is fantastic on the ball and has an uncanny knack for intercepting possession.
Return: Hertha Berlin (H), Saturday, 16 May, 14:30
1. FC Koln
Nickname: Die Geißböcke (The Billy Goats)
What to expect: Koln are renowned for bringing a real billy goat on to the pitch before every game. You can expect a high pressing style with a keen focus on creating chances from the flanks. Benno Schmitz and Kingsley Ehizibue are encouraged to bomb on from full-back.
What they’re playing for: Survival was the main objective for Die Geißböcke on their return to the Bundesliga. A tough start put that in jeopardy but, after switching managers from Achim Beierlorzer to Markus Gisdol in November, they sit comfortably in mid-table. A Europa League push might be on the cards as they are only four points off seventh, but they’ll be happy where they are.
The boss: After a poor start to the season, Gisdol became FC Koln’s third manager of 2019. He has a record of keeping clubs in the Bundesliga after saving Hoffenheim and Hamburg from relegation is 2013 and 2017 respectively. His job is to do the same trick at FC Koln.
One to watch: Jonas Hector is the most recognisable name in the squad but Colombian forward Jhon Cordoba has been the main man this season. The 26-year-old managed a goal every 140 minutes before lock-down. Only five players have a better record.
Return Against: Mainz (H), Sunday, 17 May, 14:30
FC Union Berlin
Nickname: Die Eisernen (The Iron Ones)
What to expect: Tales of how fans donated blood to save the club from bankruptcy and their fascinating Cold War back story make Union Berlin’s fairy-tale rise to the Bundesliga a dream for football hipsters. Their close bond with supporters is unique, even for German football. How they will fare without their passionate fanbase behind closed doors remains to be seen.
What they’re playing for: In their first ever Bundesliga season, survival is the primary objective. After a highly respectable start, Union Berlin sit eight points clear of the relegation play-off spot and look well placed to achieve that. Finishing above local rivals Hertha would make a dream season even sweeter.
The boss: Swiss coach Urs Fischer made his name with FC Zurich and FC Thun in his native country before winning back to back Super League titles with Basel. He is immensely popular after taking Union up to the Bundesliga via the play-offs last season. Fischer sets his sides up to be organised and tough to break down while maintaining an effective threat on the counter attack.
One to watch: Due to limited resources, Die Eisernen aren’t a side packed with stars. Instead, their collective spirit has won over many neutrals this season. That said, top scorer Sebastian Andersen’s 11 goals have been vital.
Return: Bayern Munich (H), Sunday, 17 May, 17:00
Nickname: Die Adler (The Eagles)
What to expect: After losing the entire front three – Sebastien Haller, Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic – who got them to the Europa League semi-finals last season, Die Adler aren’t as terrifying a prospect. Adi Hutter sets up his side to press with intensity and counter attack with efficiency.
What they’re playing for: Not much. After impressing last season, Frankfurt have underwhelmed this time. They sit six points above the relegation play-off spot and, while they’re definitely too good to go down, they’ll be wary of sleepwalking into a relegation battle.
The boss: Yet another coach who spent his formulaic years in the Austrian and Swiss leagues, Adi Hutter is one of the highest-rated coaches in German football. He won the VDV award for coach of the year last season.
One to watch: The Bundesliga has established itself as a breeding ground for some of France’s most promising young centre backs. Evan N’Dicka is the latest. Despite being only 19, the under-21 international established himself as a key part of Hutter’s defence last season and was linked with a move to Arsenal in the summer.
Return: Borussia Monchengladbach (H), Saturday, 16 May, 17:30
Nickname: Die Alte Dame (The Old Lady)
What To expect: After the controversial investment of multimillionaire Lars Windhorst, Hertha are a work in progress. The strange decision to appoint Jurgen Klinsmann before firing him ten weeks later means we are none the wiser as to how they will play. They have a talented squad but whether Bruno Labbadia can realise its potential remains to be seen.
What they’re playing for: After spending most of the season in and around the relegation zone, Hertha have established a healthy six-point gap to the relegation play-off spot. Survival remains the priority for Die Alte Dame. Windhorst’s dream of creating a football powerhouse in the German capital will have to wait until next season.
The boss: Hertha are in the curious position of having appointed a manager during lock-down. Bruno Labbadia will be a familiar name to Bundesliga fans after recent spells at Wolfsburg, Hamburg and Stuttgart.
One to watch: Krzysztof Piątek was the most high-profile arrival after Hertha’s €76m blowout in January. However, young winger Javairo Dilrosun has got people talking. The former Manchester City academy player enjoyed a scintillating start to life in the German capital but a series of hamstring injuries have curtailed his progress. The pacy Dutchman will hope to turn that around.
Return Against: Hoffenheim (A), Saturday, 16 May, 14:30
Nickname: Die Fuggerstadter (Related to the Fugger Family)
What to expect: In a league full of bright new approaches, Augsburg carry the candle for football’s traditionalists. Their direct approach under Martin Schmidt wasn’t always pretty to watch. They’ll hope new manager Heiko Herrlich can bring a bit more style to a side packed with substance.
What they’re playing for: An alarming run of one win in nine matches before lock-down means Augsburg are in serious danger of being dragged into a relegation scrap. They sit five points clear of the relegation play-off spot but will hope to secure a tenth straight season in the top flight.
The boss: A Champions League winner in his playing days, Herrlich’s playing career was cruelly cut short in 2004 by a brain tumour. He has gone on to establish himself as a respected coach. He was appointed only one week before lock-down and has yet to take charge of his new side.
One to watch: Striker Florian Niederlechner was still playing amateur football in his early twenties. After working his way up the leagues, he has established himself as a key player for Augsburg this season. His involvement in half of Die Fuggerstadter’s goals this season shows how important the 29-year-old is.
Return Against: Wolfsburg (H), Saturday, 16 May, 14:30
FSV Mainz 05
Nickname: Die Nullfunfer (The 05ers)
What to expect: Mainz have been surviving in the Bundesliga for some time. They still carry the trademarks of the Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel eras with high-intensity play. They look to get Robin Quaison on the ball as much as possible and use overlapping full-backs Aaron Martin and Daniel Brosinski to create overloads in wide areas.
What they’re playing for: For the past few seasons Mainz have generally floated above the relegation zone. This year is no different. Their form has been patchy but one defeat in five before lock-down has allowed them to open a four-point gap over the relegation play-off spot. That puts them in a good position to survive once more.
The boss: After parting company with Sandro Schwarz in November, Mainz appointed Achim Beierlorzer. Many doubts were cast over the decision as the 52-year-old had been sacked by Koln only weeks before. He hasn’t done a lot to prove the naysayers wrong.
One to watch: Only Robert Lewandowski, Timo Werner and Jadon Sancho have managed more Bundesliga goals than Quaison this season. Capable of playing anywhere along the front three, the Swede’s pacy dribbling and movement have caused problems for defences. Without him, Mainz would be in big trouble.
Return Against: Koln (A), Sunday, 17 May, 14:30
Nickname: Die Flingeraner (Relating to a district in Dusseldorf)
What to expect: Fortuna Dusseldorf found a way to survive in the Bundesliga last season. That was largely thanks to loan signings from larger clubs and the diamond eye of chief scout Lutz Pfannenstiel. In the absence of star names, they play an attack-minded 3-5-2 that focuses on teamwork and a German high press.
What they’re playing for: In January they were rock bottom and looked doomed. A change in management has heralded an upturn in form, however, and they have lost only once in Uwe Rosler’s eight games in charge. They occupy the relegation play-off place but will hope to catch Mainz, who are four points ahead of them.
The boss: Uwe Rosler is a name well known to most fans of English football after his playing days with Manchester City, Southampton and West Brom. He has also coached Brentford, Wigan and Leeds. The East German international was given his first job in his home country in January after he replaced Friedhelm Funkel.
One to watch: After spending a season on loan from Burnley, Rouwen Hennings joined Fortuna permanently in 2017. He has been a key player since. Without his 11 goals this season, Fortuna would be dead and buried. The 32-year-old has hit a dry patch of late, failing to score since the winter break. He’ll hope to turn that around.
Return Against: Paderborn (H), Saturday, 16 May, 14:30
Nickname: Die Werderaner (The River Islanders)
What to expect: Werder Bremen can’t defend, they have conceded 55 goals in 24 games – the most in the Bundesliga. They’re renowned for their high-intensity attack, which was a key reason why they almost qualified for the Europa League last season. The problem is, the attack doesn’t seem to be working this campaign either. They have the joint lowest goals total (27) in the division.
What they’re playing for: With only two wins in their last 14 matches, Werder look doomed to relegation. Amazingly, though, they remain only four points off the relegation play-off spot with a game in hand. A couple of wins could hand them an unlikely ‘get out of jail free’ card.
The boss: When asked about his footballing philosophy, Florian Kohfeldt said: “We attack first and figure out the defence from there.” The 37-year-old continued Werder’s tradition of promoting reserve team coaches into senior management when he took over the first team in 2017. After two decent seasons the pressure is now firmly on the German, who some argue should have been sacked already.
One to watch: With striker Max Kruse departing, Milot Rashica has taken on the mantle of Die Werderaner’s main man. Only Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Sadio Mane had better goals per minute ratios of non-number nines in Europe’s top five leagues last year.
Return Against: Bayer Leverkusen (H), Monday, 18 May, 19:30
What to expect: Paderborn’s roller-coaster ride through the German football pyramid has been remarkable. In October 2014 they topped the Bundesliga before three consecutive relegations. They were only saved from dropping into the German fourth tier by the fact 1860 Munich couldn’t afford their license to stay in the division. They have now gained back-to-back promotions to return to the top flight. It’s fair to say their fans have enjoyed the ride.
What they’re playing for: Ten points adrift of automatic safety and six points off the relegation play-off spot, Paderborn look doomed for what will technically be their fourth relegation in six seasons. A six-pointer against Fortuna Dusseldorf should more or less decide their fate.
The boss: Steffen Baumgart oversaw the remarkable back-to-back promotions. The 48 year-old had spent his entire managerial career in and around the German fourth tier before taking over at the Benteler Arena in 2017.
One to watch: There are no obvious stars in this unspectacular side but striker Denis Srbeny is the closest. Since arriving from Norwich in January, the 26-year-old has scored four goals in eight matches. His form may keep him in the Bundesliga next season, even if it’s not enough to save Paderborn.
Return: Fortuna Dusseldorf (A), Saturday, 16 May, 14:30
All matches will be shown on BT Sport.
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