DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) – There is a new statistic that is catching the attention of Bundesliga fans. There are no goals, distance traveled or accuracy of the steps, but the rate of coronavirus infection.
The return of the fans to the German football league last week came with a problem. If there are too many infections in the host city, a circuit breaker rule comes into play and fans are again banned. This is wreaking havoc for the clubs.
Schalke fans are unsure whether they will see their first home game of the season on Saturday against Werder Bremen. Otherwise the club could have welcomed up to 12,000 fans, but the contagion rate remains above switch level despite a slight drop on Thursday.
Last week, high infection rates prevented Bayern Munich from hosting fans against Schalke in the season opener after the mayor said he was sending the wrong message.
Less than 24 hours before Cologne hosted Hoffenheim in front of fans, the switch went off there too. An hour away, Borussia Dortmund welcomed 9,300 fans for their 3-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach.
The magic number is 35 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven-day period. Any higher level and matches should be held without fans. Schalke’s hometown, Gelsenkirchen, was at 39.1 Wednesday and 37.6 Thursday according to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center.
The breaker rule was an added compromise during tense discussions among state politicians last week, just before the championship season started. Otherwise, fans can attend up to 20% of the stadium’s capacity, although some local officials have set their own lower limits.
Besides Schalke, all other Bundesliga games this weekend should have at least a few home fans. This includes Arminia Bielefeld’s first home game in the top division since 2009 against Cologne and Borussia Dortmund’s visit to Augsburg, both on Saturday, and Hoffenheim hosting Bayern on Sunday.
Uncertainty about the fans is another factor that puts Schalke under pressure in a disastrous 2020 for the club. One of the Champions League round of 16 in March 2019, Schalke have not won a league match since January and were beaten 8-0 by Bayern last week. He has only scored nine Bundesliga goals all year.
The pressure is mounting on Schalke manager David Wagner, who is on the third longest winless streak (17) of any Bundesliga manager, according to championship statistics. Jochen Schneider, the club’s sporting director, said he expects more from the coaching staff ahead of the Bremen game.
“I expect a marked increase in performance and that is reflected in the result,” Schneider said on Saturday.
Schalke have more to lose than most if the fans cannot return. The coronavirus wiped out match day revenues and helped unmask the club’s fragile financial situation, prompting warnings that Schalke could face insolvency if they didn’t act. Schalke have cut spending this season and sold American midfielder Weston McKennie to Juventus.
This is followed by years of the club spending beyond their means on a bet that they could regularly qualify for the Champions League and the resulting televised revenue, something Schalke have only managed once since 2015. The cuts likely they will mean that Schalke are no longer able to fight for any European qualification, club management is allowed.
Saturday’s match against Bremen is a match between two former title challengers, now both in crisis. Bremen avoided relegation just last season with a playoff win over second-tier Heidenheim and lost 4-1 to Hertha Berlin in 2020-21.
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