DÜSSELDORF – Call it the sound of silence. With the stands empty, players and coaches in Germany are changing how they communicate.
Coaches know opposing teams could listen in on tactical chatter, but they also need to motivate their team without fans to drive them forward.
Freiburg coach Christian Streich drew on years of experience from his old job with the club's under-19 team as his players earned a surprise 1-1 draw at title contender Leipzig on Saturday, the first day of the Bundesliga's empty-stadium restart.
“I was remembering back to that. You can hear yourself the whole time there too,” he said. “It could be that I was speaking more now because the players pick up on more of it."
Volume is no problem for Streich.
“I don't have that quiet a voice either. You can hear it from 50 meters away,” he said.
Players on the field and head coaches aren't muffled by wearing masks, though substitutes and other staff have to wear them.
Freiburg scorer Manuel Gulde summed up the approach. “Be loud, push your teammates, give commands and get the energy going on the field,” he said in comments reported by German agency dpa. Leipzig defender Lukas Klostermann also said the team had tried to emphasize on-field communication.
Without fans, viewers at home have heard unexpected soundbites, whether it's a player appealing a decision or loudly cursing after a shot's blocked. Inside the stadium, dpa reported hearing referee Guido Winkmann saying, “I don't speak so much Spanish, only ‘cerveza’,” after his comments to Cologne's Colombian forward Jhon Cordoba were apparently lost in translation.
The silence could be stripping teams of a home advantage, too. Only one home team, Borussia Dortmund, won any of the first eight games played.
Referees typically tend to punish away teams more harshly — perhaps because of pressure from the crowd — but on Saturday and Sunday slightly more fouls and yellow cards were awarded against home teams. However, the small sample makes it impossible to draw firm conclusions yet.
No crowd doesn't mean no conflict. The new rule change allowing teams to make five substitutions per game had broad support among clubs for giving players more rest in a packed schedule. Not everyone agreed how it should work in practice.
After a 2-2 home draw with Mainz on Sunday, Cologne's sporting managing director Horst Heldt claimed the visitors had broken a gentlemen's agreement between the clubs that they would only change up to two players at a time. When Mainz made a triple substitution late on, “it got emotional,” Heldt told broadcaster Sky.
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