For the die-hard football fan, the almost complete shutdown of the game thanks to the coronavirus outbreak has been especially difficult – all the more so given that many will have been either unable to work or doing so from home, with very little live sport on offer as a diversion.
Slowly, however, the game is returning. Among Europe’s elite leagues, Germany led the way with the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 resuming early last month.
Others, such as the Czech Republic, Portugal and South Korea, are also back in action. In Belarus, they never stopped playing but that is a debate for another day.
Soon though, the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A will return, providing that governmental advice does not change in the coming days. But what can we expect once football returns to our screens, our stadiums, and our social media platforms?
The impact of playing behind closed doors
One of the biggest changes will be that games will be played behind closed doors. Analysis has shown that when games are played with no spectators, the home side’s usual advantage is negated.
This has been borne out since resumption in Germany, where in the first five matches since the restart, home wins dropped by 21%, away wins increased by 13% and there was almost one more card shown per game compared to the opening 25 rounds of the season.
Interestingly, there have been fewer tackles and dribbles attempted per game, perhaps due to concerns about contact, but also players not willing to over-commit and risk injury or suspension given how condensed the end of the season has become.
Squad management becomes key
Never before has a side’s squad depth been so crucial, as highlighted in a study conducted by Betway.
With teams having to play at least twice a week to get the season finished, managers will need to rotate their squad to get the freshest, fittest side on the pitch for each game.
Making five substitutions per game will help and that could provide opportunities for players that would normally be kicking their heels on the bench too, however limited.
Naturally, those teams with bigger squads, more team members to manage their players’ workloads and more resources to draw on if required will have an advantage here.
Prepare for anything to happen
Teams will have to be ready for anything, from late withdrawals to fixtures being hastily rearranged, causing even more congestion should there be further positive tests.
They will be hoping to avoid a similar fate to Dynamo Dresden but preparing for it just in case.
The German Bundesliga 2 side will play eight games in June including a sequence of four in nine days after they were forced to self-isolate and restart later than their rivals.
We might also see some interesting innovations in the months to come. Teams have already experimented with ideas such as showing fans watching via video screens on the side of pitches.
FC Seoul’s idea of dressing up sex dolls in team uniform will not catch on while in Denmark, FC Midtjylland have let fans watch via drive-in viewings.
Who knows what else teams will come up with in a bid to make watching football during a pandemic as normal as it possibly can be even though the majority of fans will be happy enough to just be able to cheer their team on again in these extraordinary times.