What to Expect from the Actual Soccer
First and foremost, expect friendly, preseason- style soccer initially. Players will not be in match fitness and may struggle toward the end of games. Expect some players to play like Ballon d’Or candidates because they maintained some of their match fitness over the quarantine better than others (Julian Brandt, Borussia Dortmund, is an example). This was a theme across the Bundesliga in its first weekend back. Slowly, that will subside as teams get used to playing in games again.
Julian Brandt is a playmaker in the air too pic.twitter.com/C344WT61sP— Yu (@YucciMane) June 6, 2020
Secondly, set pieces are going to be crucial. Expect some World Cup or European Championship style goals. Strong build-up leading to goals will come back but expect that teams are not fully prepared to score beautiful team goals. Teams that have been good at set-pieces and headers will be in a prime position to pick up points early in the restart.
Counter-attacking soccer paid dividends in the first games back. What I noticed was that teams that man marked in their press were easily broken through. FC Schalke 04 struggled mightily against Borussia Dortmund because of their man-marking press. The lack of match preparedness meant that when Schalke’s press was broken, Dortmund was able to break forward unimpeded. If a team presses ineffectively and gets countered then expect a dangerous chance on the other side of the field. This was mainly an issue with midfielders being out of match shape.
The Reality of Some Of These Games
I would not expect miraculous in-match comebacks from teams. Generally, if a team has been playing poorly for sixty-five minutes, then expect it to continue. Fortuna Düsseldorf is the only team to make a crazy turnaround since the restart (I am aware of Eintracht Frankfurt against SC Freiburg three to three draw, but Frankfurt should have won that game three to one). The disparity between teams has been apparent and without fans to spur on smaller sides, expect the bigger clubs to control most games. Teams like US Lecce and Hellas Verona FC, most likely, will not put up much of a fight against teams like AS Roma or SSC Napoli. Still, there have been upsets, SV Borussia Mönchengladbach versus Freiburg (0-1) and Bayer Leverkusen versus VFL Wolfsburg (1-4), but mostly there have been dominations or shocking draws (which I guess is an upset, but not as fun).
In the Bundesliga, when good teams score early the games are over pretty quickly. SC Paderborn 07 and Werder Bremen have been lifeless all season and have not changed course since the restart. It has been frustrating for most viewers when teams like FC Union Berlin and Schalke, who were midtable and in a Europa League battle respectively, revert to their true ability and get steamrolled almost every match since the restart (watching Union Berlin is just no fun). Expect overperforming teams without strong underlying statistics to fall apart in a stunning way.
Goaltending has been crucial since the restart. Schalke still loses against Dortmund but probably only by two goals if Markus Schubert plays even decently (Schalke has given up 10 goals on 5.11 xG against, yikes). Yann Sommer and Alexander Schwolow have maintained their scintillating form and have helped their sides maintain or pick up the pace, respectively, in the standings. If any team’s goaltending has been poor before the break, I would not be confident going into the resumption.
Trends Are Continuing
Form prior to the break seems to continue into the restart. FC Bayern München is still scoring goals for fun. Schalke is still crumbling and even more intensely since the pause. Union Berlin seems destined to go down, following their poor form before the pause. Eintracht Frankfurt’s defense decided to let in goals at will, a trend that started just before the break. RB Leipzig is still drawing because they decided that winning the league is not cool. I would expect a similar thing to happen in Italy. FC Internazionale is one of the teams that I do not personally see getting back into form after the break. They lost two massive games in a row before the pause and I would be surprised if they got back into the title race. AC Milan would be in a similar boat, they had lost their last game and had only one win in their previous six matches before the break. If the lessons of the Bundesliga remain true, I would expect both teams to struggle.
In terms of goal scoring, the players who were scoring have continued to score (I am a wordsmith). Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, and Robert Lewandowski have continued their explosive form. Jadon Sancho was slow coming back into form but, in his first start, he burst back into his old ways. Marcus Thuram and Alassane Pléa have continued their dynamism in attack. I would expect players like Ciro Immobile, Cristiano Ronaldo, Josip Iličić, Ante Rebić, and Duván Zapata to maintain the form they had going into the break. It happened in the Bundesliga, I would posit a guess that it happens in Serie A.
Hertha BSC Bucks the Trend
Since the restart, Hertha BSC has played like the fifth-best team in the Bundesliga by Understat’s expected points. Prior to the restart, Hertha’s expected points had them in fourteenth in Germany. Hertha went from a club self-destructing, to a team that seems poised to attack the Europa League places in the Bundesliga. They were the most intense turnaround but I am not sure that other teams will repeat this in other leagues. Watford FC, AC Milan, and SSC Napoli are other European teams that could quickly turn around like Hertha. They have players who are much better than how they have shown this year and could easily revert to their true ability by simply having a break. I would expect that these teams could easily come back revitalized and ready to win games.
Hertha deserves praise for its quick shift. Dodi Lukebakio, Matheus Cunha, Dedryck Boyata, and Maximilian Mittelstädt have all put in strong performances since the restart. Hertha changed their tactics, started players to help organize the press, and altered the focal point of their attack. Lukebakio and Cunha have caught the eye the most and are definitely the players to watch on this team. I am a fan of both and would love to see either wear red and black (Bayer Leverkusen obviously… this is a Bayer Leverkusen website right?).
Why You Should Be Excited
There is a real title race on in Italy. SS Lazio is keeping pace with Juventus FC, and while Inter has fallen off, they are not fully out of the race. Atalanta BC is probably the second-best team in Italy so they still have the ability to play spoiler. The best is yet to come from the Bergamaschi and they are still in the Champions League (unlike Inter) and are still in European competition (unlike Lazio). I think they could easily throw multiple wrenches into the title race (if you can dodge a wrench, you can win the league).
For Milan, it is time to reset after the poor beginning of the year. The rotation of players is key. Bayer Leverkusen has run their fullbacks and Havertz into the ground because Petr Bosz has not properly switched up starters. This has led to a wobble in their form. Stefano Pioli will need to get players back into playing shape. Coaches have not taken advantage of the five subs as I would have. Personally, I would make aggressive changes at halftime if even one player looks tired or if a tactical plan simply is not working. Pioli needs to do this so that the Milan players are in match fitness quickly. Teams have struggled because their backups have not been prepared to play when they are needed. Rotation is key and not one coach has properly used the new substitution rule.
I am excited for Serie A to resume. Hopefully, Milan changes trajectory and gets to a Europa League spot. It is easier to convince players to come to Milan if they have European soccer to look forward to. Milan is currently three points out of the sixth position, and they can win the Coppa Italia. Both work for me. I am not picky, I swear.