La Liga clubs given permission to expand into group training

BERLIN: Champions Bayern Munich scored a goal late in each half to beat promoted Union Berlin 2-0 on their return to the Bundesliga on Sunday after more than two months out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and protect their four-point lead at the top.

League top scorer Robert Lewandowski converted a 40th minute spot kick and Benjamin Pavard headed in a corner in the 80th in an empty stadium, to keep the Bavarians in the driving seat for a record-extending eighth successive league title.

They are now on 58 points, with Borussia Dortmund in second place on 54 following their 4-0 demolition of Schalke 04 on Saturday. There are eight matchdays left in the season.

The Bundesliga is the first major sports league in the world to restart amid the pandemic but games are played without fans.

A set of strict health regulations are governing the matches, including a ban on spectators, limited staff inside and outside the stadium and regular testing.

The empty slabs of the concrete stands in the Alte Foersterei stadium with a few dozen officials, staff and substitutes scattered around were an unusual setting for a return to action of Germany’s most successful club.

But Bayern quickly took control and had an early effort ruled offside.

They had to wait until the 40th minute to score with Lewandowski, chasing Gerd Mueller’s legendary 40-league goal record from 1972, grabbing his 26th of the campaign from the spot.

The game lost some of its pace after the break with the players lacking match practice.

Pavard made sure of the three points when he headed in a Joshua Kimmich corner.

 Earlier, Cologne squandered a two-goal lead and had to sweat to rescue a point in their 2-2 draw with visitors Mainz 05 on Sunday in their first  game back after a two-month suspension due to the COVID-19 virus.

Cologne, looking for their fourth straight league win, thought they had wrapped up the match played without spectators after early goals in each half.

Despite the lack of fans, Cologne had some support as about 1,300 season-ticket holders sent in their favorite club items —  team shirts, scarves or stuffed animals — which were draped over the empty seats.

Mark Uth converted a sixth-minute penalty he won himself and Florian Kainz headed in a perfect Dominick Drexler cross at the far post in the 52nd minute.

But Mainz, led by former Cologne coach Achim Beierlorzer, cut the deficit through Taiwo Awoniyi in the 61st and leveled 11 minutes later thanks to Kunde Malong’s 30-metre solo run and fine finish from inside the box. They also went close to scoring a third in the final minutes.

“I am not saying I am satisfied but we can live with the point,” Cologne coach Markus Gisdol, who succeeded Beierlorzer, said. “That goal (in the second half) was not good for us. It made us too passive. We gave away too much space but maybe that is normal after such a short preparation to return.”

Cologne remained 10th in the standings on 33 points while Mainz moved four points above the relegation playoff spot.

 Borussia Dortmund are a point behind following Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Schalke 04.

The Bundesliga on Saturday became the first major league in the world to restart amid the pandemic.

A set of strict health regulations are governing the matches, including a ban on spectators in or around the stadiums to minimise the risk of infection.

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