Something called the Bundesliga is back! . . . wait, what's the Bundesliga?
Good news, earth! On Wednesday morning, German chancellor Andrea Merkel gave the green light for the return of the Bundesliga later this month, making it, after the KBO, just the second professional sports league to resume after the world ground to a halt in mid-March. Houston, we have sports! Plural! There’s just one small problem: The only thing most Americans know about the Bundesliga is that it’s really fun to say with a semi-offensive accent. But are we going to let that stand between us and having something (dear God, ANYTHING) to watch other than old Monday Night Football replays? Hell no, we aren’t. So sit down, shut up and get ready to learn, because your temporary new favorite sport will be here in no time.
Help, I’m a citizen of my living room, not the world. What is this Bundesliga you speak of?
It’s the Premier League of Germany . . . not ringing any bells? How about MLS Deutschland . . . still nothing, huh? OK, it’s professional soccer . . . in Germany.
Bundazzzligaaaa. You were right, that is fun to say! So what does it mean?
It literally means “Federal League.” Yes, German can make anything seem badass. Even you, Jeff.
Thanks! How does it work?
We’re going to assume you mean the league, not soccer. We have finite time and resources and are going to operate under the assumption you understand the broad strokes of the most widely played sport on God's beautiful, toxic sludge green earth.
The Bundesliga is comprised of 18 clubs. Each club plays each team twice (home and away) over the course of the season, earning three points for a win, one for a draw, and zero for a loss. Top dog after 34 games walks away with one of Xzibit's hubcaps.
The top four teams in the Bundesliga earn an automatic berth to the Champions League, the fifth and sixth places make Europa League (Champions League’s JV tourney), while the bottom two places are relegated and replaced with the top finishers in the Bundesliga 2, the next tier down. Third from bottom then enters a two-legged playoff with the third place finisher in Bundesliga 2 for the right to stay in the German top flight for another season. If that seems INTENSE, then congrats, you're finally learning to read the room.
OK, give me the “last time on.” Where did this thing leave off two month ago?
The Bundesliga closed up shop after Matchweek 25. Most teams have nine games left to play in their season, with the exception of Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen, who both have 10. The extra game in hand could prove to be vital for Werder Bremen, who currently sit in the last automatic relegation spot, four points back of Fortuna Düsseldorf who, if the season ended today, would get that aforementioned playoff lifeline.
At the top of the table, perennial Goliath Bayern Munich sit four points clear of dreaded rivals Borussia Dortmund on 55 points, with Red Bull Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach both lurking with 50 and 49 points respectively. Unlike most years where Bayern has everything locked up by late March, everything is left to play for, including the lucrative final Champions League spot, with Bayer 04 Leverkusen hovering just two points behind Mönchengladbach. Given the complete momentum reset, inevitable fitness issues and a variety of other focus-related hiccups, this could get very wild. Or not, because, you know, Bayern Munich . . .
I actually don’t
Oh right. Bayern have won the Bundesliga seven straight times, and eight times in their last 10 tries (including a Champions League title in 2012-2013). They are the Manchester United of Germany, only good. That means super rich, super dominant and absolutely ruthless in their dealings with other German clubs, snapping up seemingly every promising young domestic player before anyone else even gets a sniff. They currently have one of the best strikers on earth in Robert Lewandowski leading the line and dependable World Cup-hardened vets like Thomas Mueller and Manuel Neuer all over the pitch, not to mention young burners like David Alaba and Kingsley Coman. They also have former Liverpool superstar Philippe Coutinho, who they signed on loan for virtually nothing from Barcelona and throw into the lineup when they feel like it. The rich get richer, yadda, yadda, yadda. It should be familiar story for American sports fans.
Oh, and this isn’t even a vintage Bayern side.
Borussia Dortmund are the 1B team in Germany, and the far easier side to root for. They have a rabid fanbase typified by their infamous “Yellow Wall” and toppled Bayern in consecutive years under manager Jurgen Klopp before he took his brand of “heavy metal football” to Liverpool (with incredible success.) They have a young, international cast of attackers, led by the rare abroad Englishman in Jadon Sancho, hammer-footed Norwegian wunderkind Erling Haaland, and even a Yank in Giovanni Reyna, the 17-year-old-son of USMNT legend Claudio Reyna who became the youngest goalscorer in DFB Cup history with this wonder goal back in February. Dortmund are fun. Dortmund are yellow.
Finally there’s the upstart RB Leipzig—sister club to the New York Red Bulls—who didn’t even exist until 2009, but propelled by energy drink money and young goal machines like Timo Werner, have torched their way through the German football ranks in recent years. In 2016, they secured promotion to the Bundesliga and finished runner-up in their first season. Imagine the Texans losing the Super Bowl in 2002. That’s how unthinkable that is. Since then they’ve pressed on and become a Champions League regular but have yet to break through with an elusive top-flight trophy. Could this be the year? Monster Energy stockholders certainly hope not.
But what about this coronavirus thing. How is that all going to work?
Well, first of all, games will be played without fans, which is a bummer, because second to college football, no sport relies as heavily on its in-stadium atmosphere as European Soccer, where fan involvement regularly impacts the outcome of matches. The good news, however, is that the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, the only two tiers of German soccer that will be returning, will not have to prescribe to the 14-day quarantine system, as the clubs will have access to regular testing and will definitively know who has what and when. Minister President of Bavaria, Markus Soder, says he knows the decision will be “very controversial,” especially in light of the country’s 6,300 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths, so if you do watch, expect a never ending barrage of rationalization, justification and overall defensiveness. This shouldn’t be anything new to participants in the great and joyous miracle that is American democracy.
Enough politics, politics boy. Tell us where we can watch this thing we will still refuse to call football until we’re six feet beneath the dirt and perhaps, depending on our belief set, long after that.
Fox Sports has the US broadcast rights to the Bundesliga, airing games on FS1 and FS2. Under normal circumstances, any non-Bayern-vs.-other-Champions-League-contender matchup would get bumped to the retina-melting standard-definition dirge that is FS2 in lieu of NASCAR qualifying or something like that. In this case, it’s best to watch via the Fox Sports app, which offers HD for all games regardless of network. Given the world’s current hunger for televised competition of all shapes and sizes, however, it’s possible that even Big Fox gets a game or two. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, you might want to stock up on road flares and smoke bombs . . . and not just because the apocalypse is upon us.