The German Bundesliga becomes the world’s first major football league to get back under way during the coronavirus pandemic this Saturday.
While countries like Belarus and Nicaragua have never stopped and others like South Korea and the Faroe Islands have recently restarted, the eyes of the world will be on Germany this weekend to watch elite teams in action for the first time in over two months.
As well as regular Bundesliga fans, there will be plenty of new watchers with the Premier League not commencing for another few weeks at least.
So what do Bundesliga rookies need to know? We’re sure even German football fans will need a reminder since it has been so long.
One of the joys of watching German football is the excellent fans’ culture. The Bundesliga has the highest average attendance of any football league in the world.
But the stadiums will be completely empty for the rest of the season, although there will still be home and away teams with no neutral venues.
Borussia Monchengladbach are going to have cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands, with supporters of any team able to have one of themselves for a €19 (£16.60) fee.
Every Bundesliga team has been in quarantine, just going from a hotel to their training ground for the week leading up to these games, and players will be regularly tested for coronavirus.
There will be a total of 213 people allowed in the stadium – 98 around the pitch (including players, coaches, ball boys and photographers) and another 115 in the stands (including officials and media). There will be less than 100 other people allowed just outside the stadium for occupational reasons.
On the pitch, handshakes are banned, there will be no team photos and there will be no child mascots.
Clubs will decide on Thursday – two days before the season restarts – whether to allow five substitutions per team in each game as permitted by the International Football Association Board.
The final nine rounds of games will run over six weeks with the aim of finishing the season before 30 June.
The Title Race
Bayern Munich are four points clear at the top with nine games to go as they look to win the Bundesliga for an eighth consecutive season.
Back-to-back defeats in late November/early December left Bayern in seventh, seven points off top – but 10 wins and a draw in their past 11 league games under manager Hansi Flick have seen them soar to the top.
But could this two-month break disrupt their momentum?
Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach are all within six points of the champions.
Data company Gracenote give Bayern an 84% chance of winning the league, with Dortmund – who face rivals Schalke on Saturday – on 8% and Leipzig on 7%.
Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann – one of the world’s most promising young managers – hopes his side can use that break to their advantage and treat the final nine games like a standalone tournament.
“The whole situation is like before a tournament. We all had a short break, then a relaxed phase and now an intense preparation,” he told magazine Kicker.
“We’re going to try to win this nine-game tournament – with the theoretical possibility of finishing first.”
Bayer Leverkusen, one point behind the top four, are the only other team with a realistic chance of a Champions League place.
Schalke, Wolfsburg, Freiburg, Hoffenheim and Cologne are all in the race for Europa League spots.
Werder Bremen have spent a record 56 seasons in the Bundesliga but their status is under major threat as they sit in the relegation zone, four points behind the promotion-relegation play-off spot and eight points off safety – although they do have a game in hand.
With 11 defeats in their past 14 games, they will hope this break will give them an opportunity to reset and start again.
With one point in their past six games, and six points below that play-off spot, Paderborn will need a remarkable turnaround to stay up.
Fortuna Dusseldorf are in that play-off spot – four points away from the teams either side of them. Mainz, Augsburg, Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt are all within six points of them so cannot feel safe yet.
Gracenote give Paderborn a 97% chance of automatic relegation, with Werder at 49% and Dusseldorf on 40%.
Union Berlin are arguably the only team in the Bundesliga with nothing on the line – sitting more than six points away from relegation and European places.
Credit : Emlyn Begley BBC Sport