Erling Haaland carried on where he left off before the coronavirus suspension as the teenager kicked off Borussia Dortmund’s thumping victory against rivals Schalke 04 in an entertaining, if surreal, return to Bundesliga action.
Rigorous hygiene protocols and regular testing in a country that has handled the Covid-19 pandemic better than some others meant the German top-flight became the first major league to return to action.
All eyes were on the Bundesliga on Saturday and the strangest Revierderby in history was the highlight, with January signing Haaland’s 10th league goal setting Dortmund on course for a 4-0 win against Schalke in front of empty stands.
Raphael Guerreiro’s brace and Thorgan Hazard’s strike sealed the thumping win against David Wagner’s men in this ‘geisterspiel’ – ghost game – at the mammoth Signal Iduna Park.
Millions of extra viewers joined players and stakeholders from leagues across the world in tuning into the resumption of action on what was supposed to be the final weekend of the Bundesliga season.
Title-chasing Dortmund certainly gave the neutrals something to enjoy against Schalke and 19-year-old Haaland – snapped up under the nose of Manchester United – ended a lovely team move with a fitting finish in the 29th minute.
Lucien Favre’s men continued to deal with the peculiarities and pressure far better than the visitors, whose goalkeeper Markus Schubert’s poor clearance on the stroke of half-time was punished by Guerreiro.
Hazard, who only started after Gio Reyna got injured in the warm-up, added a third before Guerreiro netted his second after linking up with Haaland as the Bundesliga made a strange but seemingly successful return to action.
The shouts of staff and players echoing around gargantuan empty stadiums will never get normal, nor will the surreal sight of players emerging from team coaches in facemasks and substitutes being separated on the touchline.
England international Jadon Sancho had to make do with a spot on one of those socially distanced seats on Saturday, meaning Schalke’s Jonjoe Kenny, on loan from Everton, was the only British starter in Dortmund.
The England Under-21 international was subject of handball appeals from Haaland early on, but the video assistant referee waved play on after checking for a penalty.
Schalke were on the backfoot from near enough the start and Dortmund went ahead in the 29th minute after Roman Burki stopped Daniel Caligiuri opening the deadlock against the run of play.
Julian Brandt beautifully flicked a pass out from the back into the path of Hazard, whose cross from the right was coolly turned home by the Norwegian.
Haaland did a little jig as his team-mates kept their distance.
Dortmund kept their foot on the gas as they pushed for a second that arrived just before half-time when Schubert’s poor clearance allowed for the overlapping Guerreiro to rifle a low shot past Schalke’s goalkeeper.
Wagner brought on Wales international Rabbi Matondo in a bid to add extra attacking impetus at the break, but BVB killed the match when countering at breakneck speed three minutes after the restart through Hazard.
Any flashes of life from the visitors were further dimmed in the 63rd minute as Guerreiro bent home a lovely strike with the outside of his boot after playing a one-two with Haaland.
Frustrated Matondo received a booking for hacking down Hakimi as the clock wound down on a match that saw nine substitutions as the International Football Association Board is temporarily allowing five changes per team.
That was just one of many of the Covid-19 quirks, along with the way Dortmund’s players distanced themselves before celebrating in front of an empty Sudtribune after closing the gap on leaders Bayern Munich to a point.