Joshua Kimmich, Bayern Munich and the Bundesliga at centre of a Covid vaccinations debate

On-pitch matters are almost secondary for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga this weekend, amid arguments and absences for five first-team players due to Covid-related rules, with Joshua Kimmich the biggest name in that group.

For Julian Nagelsmann, he’ll have to go on preparing and plotting for victory regardless, but he’s without a host of stars for Saturday’s fixture and Bayern lost to 15th-placed Augsburg last time out domestically.

It’s hard to escape the reality, though, that this isn’t a football issue: Germany is among the European nations currently facing a new wave of Covid infections and facing the prospect of increasingly bleak winter. Bayern, though, are the focal point; partly because they are the biggest club and top of the league, but mostly because they are significantly affected right now, with high-profile individuals having acknowledged they have – or had, in a couple of cases – not been vaccinated.

Kimmich heads up the list.

Niklas Sule and Josip Stanisic recently returned to training after quarantining, but last week it was announced that the quartet of Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting and Michael Cuisance were all in isolation. That came after someone “in the immediate circle of Bayern” tested positive, with Gnabry among those who was then unvaccinated and has since opted to get his jab.

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The reasons he has kept to himself, but reports released may have had something to do with it: the players were denied entry to the team hotel before last weekend’s game, unvaccinated players at the club will reportedly face a pay cut while they are unavailable to play and, more problematic in terms of missing matches, unvaccinated players are automatically unable to escape quarantine early if they are close contacts of someone who tests positive – even if they test negative themselves.

Kimmich and Choupo-Moting don’t have that particular frustration but rather a more immediate concern, as they have both now tested positive. They’ll miss not just this weekend’s game, but next week’s at Borussia Dortmund, too.

On Wednesday, Germany confirmed over 66,000 new positive coronavirus cases and the German Football League (DFL) has faced calls to suspend matches once more, just as was the case at the beginning of the pandemic, to help halt the spread. For now they are resisting, but that doesn’t mean no action at all: the region of Saxony has implemented measures which include a return to the geisterspiel: ghost games, with fans once more being banned from stadiums, meaning RB Leipzig will play in an empty ground at home to fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday as well as against Man City in the Champions League at the start of December.

Germany is not the only region affected, of course, with Austria already announcing lockdowns and stadiums empty once more.

The Bundesliga is the more high-profile league, but Europe-wide there are fears over returns to this type of scenario right now.

And this all comes after Werder Bremen’s former head coach, Markus Anfang, had to resign over claims he had forged his own vaccination certificate. He denied the suggestion, but departed all the same.

What it all means, on the pitch at least, is that Germany’s top flight title race could look very different heading toward the winter break.

Dortmund’s own inconsistency remains an issue, but after Bayern lost to the team in 15th last week, they play the side in 17th this time. Two shock instances of dropped points – if the missing first-team faces plays as significant a part as it could – and then the prospect of heading to Signal Iduna Park cannot be an enticing prospect for Nagelsmann right now.

Of course, all those worries will disappear in an instant if Ballon d’Or hopeful Robert Lewandowski simply rocks up and bags another couple of goals – he has 14 in 12 games so far this Bundesliga season.

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Real Madrid went a point clear at the top of LaLiga last weekend but they immediately face a massive challenge to stay there.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side are at home to Sevilla on Sunday night, who themselves can displace Los Blancos with a victory. Only second-placed Real Sociedad have a better unbeaten streak than Sevilla right now, and Julen Lopetegui showed his focus is fully on taking his team to glory with a withering dismissal of rumours over the Manchester United job in midweek.

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Earlier in the weekend, Villarreal face Barcelona at the Estadio de la Ceramica. Unai Emery has had regular interaction with English sides of late: managing Arsenal, almost appointed at Newcastle, beating Man United in the Europa League final and then losing to them in Michael Carrick’s first game as caretaker boss in midweek. This time he’s up against another relative novice, Xavi, who in his third match in charge of the Catalan club will be looking for the team to score their first goal under him in open play.

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Finally, there are several games to watch out for in Serie A, but the pick of the bunch at the top end sees Juventus face Atalanta on Saturday evening, after Max Allegri’s side were widely panned in Italy after a crushing defeat to Chelsea in midweek.

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