Our Frauen-Bundesliga preview series continues with the almost-relegated Duisburg and two content mid-table-ish clubs whose sole aim it is to not drop out of the division.
Last Season: Duisburg, Leverkusen, and Köln found themselves in a real dogfight for survival last season. Any of the three could have been relegated, but ultimately it was the side from Cologne that dropped out of the division; however, the other two certainly didn’t cover themselves in glory. Duisburg, much like Frankfurt and Potsdam, is a historical giant of German women’s football that has found it increasingly difficult to remain competitive. The former European champions – albeit under a different name – will be keen to improve upon last season’s 9th-place finish, but that could prove to be a lot easier said than done.
Expectations: Duisburg are going into the new season with a tiny squad. At the point of writing this, only 19 players have been registered.
The Zebras released four players after last season, including joint top scorer (with a meager three goals) Kristina Maksuti. Laura Radtke and Pia Rybacki dropped down to the Regionalliga to sign for Bochum, while Anja Kirsten went the other way. Kiwi Meikayla Moore joined Liverpool and Lisa Makas returned to Austria with St. Pölten. Sophia Meierhofer joined from Aston Villa, Ecem Cumert arrived from third-tier side Alberweiler, and Miray Cin is making the step-up from Wolfsburg’s reserves.
Obviously, Duisburg’s target should be to stay up and, ideally, to not finish level on points with the side that ended up getting relegated again, but that will be a tough challenge for head coach Thomas Gerstner. With a small squad and no obvious game-changers, I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how they could possibly survive. It’s not looking good for the six-time Bundesliga champions.
Breakout Youngster: There really is no obvious answer here. Vanessa Fürst and Antonia-Johanna Halverkamps featured quite a lot last season and shouldn’t be eligible anymore. Emma Hilbrands, meanwhile, was rarely called upon, so picking her would be a very bold choice. Meret Günster and Miray Cin probably have the best chances of getting this entirely made-up award. Günster, 17, racked up almost 800 minutes last term. You would hope for the sake of her development that she will see similar or perhaps even more game time again this season. 19-year-old Cin was a regular fixture in a good Wolfsburg II side and even chipped in with a couple of goals from midfield. It’s a toss-up between the two; maybe they can both establish themselves in Duisburg’s midfield, that would be quite exciting.
MVP: Captain Yvonne Zielinski is the most experienced player on the team and she was one of last season’s top scorers, too, so it will likely be her, but if Alina Angerer can find another gear and get a few more goals – perhaps the goals that will keep them up – then she will definitely be in the conversation. However, given that I’m operating under the assumption that they will ultimately end up in the 2. Bundesliga, I think Zielinski will have more of an impact than the 22-year-old Angerer.
Last Season: Ah, little old Sand, from the town of Willstätt with a population of just under ten thousand. After achieving promotion at the end of the 13/14 season, they understandably struggled a bit in the Bundesliga early on, but they have now firmly established themselves as a mid-table side, even reaching the final of the Pokal in 15/16. It always seems like they are punching above their weight, but upon closer inspection, they are where they are on merit; a tad reminiscent of Eibar in the Primera Iberdrola and LaLiga. The Sportclub ended up in 8th last season, six points behind Freiburg and the same number of points also separated them from the relegation zone; in many ways, it was the ideal campaign in relation to what their ambitions should be.
Expectations: Well, there really isn’t much to say, is there? Just stay up and have fun, I guess, and I think that is exactly what will happen next season, but it might not be straightforward. Nora Häuptle was only announced as the club’s new head coach on August 24, and she won’t be in Willstätt until the next international break has passed, as she is still coaching the Swiss U19s. The 37-year-old is currently the only woman in a head coaching position in the Frauen-Bundesliga; that is something that should concern everyone affiliated with the league.
Sand’s biggest losses in the transfer window weren’t even transfers, it was the retirement of Anne van Bonn and the release of Franziska Fiebig. They also lost not one but two goalkeepers – Manon Klett to Köln and Charlotte Voll to PSG – which could be a slight worry, but other than that, they should be fine. Jasmin Sehan joined Bremen, Viktoria Pinther signed for Leverkusen, and Agnieszka Winczo transferred to newly-promoted Meppen; none of these moves are real blows in the grand scheme of things.
The duo of Laura Kovákcs and Dóra Süle was signed from Hungarian top flight side Győri, Jacintha Weimar from Bayern and Jasmin Pal from Wacker Innsbruck are the new goalkeepers, and a few other players were picked up from all over the place: Leonie Kreil joined from relegated Jena, American Patricia George arrived from bankrupt Cloppenburg, Emily Evels from Mönchengladbach, Noemi Gentile from Freiburg II, Fatma Sakar from Hoffenheim II, Chiara Loos from Saarbrücken, French forward Danielle Tolmais was signed from Icelandic outfit ÍBV Vestmannaeyjar, and last but certainly not least, 30-year-old Julia Zirnstein was promoted from the reserves.
Some of those players are coming from the 2. Bundesliga and that is exactly the level Sand should be scouting. The club’s entire philosophy should be to give players that impressed in the second division their first taste of top-level football before they eventually move on to join a bigger club.
Sand will be fine this season; they won’t get relegated, but given that they were busy in the transfer market and brought in quite a few new faces, I predict Nora Häuptle’s side to finish one or two places lower than last season.
Breakout Youngster: I’m intrigued by the prospect of Fatma Sakar. The 21-year-old full-back will most likely act as Franziska Fiebig’s replacement and could potentially slot right into the starting eleven.
MVP: Dina Blagojević was the side’s top scorer last season and there is no reason to believe that she won’t be again this time around. Sand aren’t the most prolific side in the world, so anyone who can rack up five goals or more will naturally be their most important player.
Last Season: The days of Freiburg finishing third and fourth are a distant memory at this point. There really isn’t much to say about the team from the Black Forest; a solid if unspectacular seventh place was a fairly accurate reflection of their season.
Expectations: Freiburg aren’t quite on the same level as Essen when it comes to producing talent, but they definitely run them close. Both Klara Bühl and Merle Frohms were sold for actual money, joining Bayern and Frankfurt, respectively. Virginia Kirchberger also joined Frankfurt and promising youngster Verena Wieder signed for Leverkusen. Lena Lotzen and Sharon Beck dropped down to the 2. Frauen-Bundesliga with Köln and a few more players were released.
Head coach Daniel Kraus snapped up three players from promoted Bremen: winger Giovanna Hoffmann, former national team defender Luisa Wensing, and Samantha Steuerwald, also a defender. A handful of players were promoted from the U17s, but they will most likely feature for Freiburg II in the Regionalliga – weirdly, they rejected the chance to get promoted to the 2. Bundesliga despite winning their regional division. Swiss internationals Tyara Buser and Elvira Herzog joined from Basel and Köln, respectively. Lina Bürger was signed from Hoffenheim and Erëleta Memeti transferred from Wolfsburg II.
Freiburg lost an absolute superstar in Klara Bühl, but, realistically, they should still occupy similar realms in the table next season. 7th or 8th seems a reasonable prediction for a side that, to put it bluntly, reeks of mid-table.
Breakout Youngster: Meret Wittje will likely get more game time this season, but after debating with myself if she still qualifies, I think Janina Minge will be Freiburg’s breakout young player. Minge has been a starter for two seasons, so she really shouldn’t be eligible anymore, but it’s my preview and I make the damn rules! The 21-year-old midfielder added goals to her game last season, scoring four times, and I think if she continues to improve, not only will bigger clubs come calling, but she could make her debut for the senior national team before long.
MVP: It will likely be captain Rebecca Knaak, but she is by no means the clear favorite. Naomi Mégroz and, yes, Janina Minge are in with a good shout and so too is Sandra Starke if she can double or, ideally, triple last season’s goal tally of five. Knaak is a solid midfielder, but unlike her more attack-minded namesake Turid (the two are not related), she is not someone who will consistently wow a crowd.
That’s it for part two of the FBL preview series. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at teams that will be aiming a bit higher than the club’s discussed today.