Welcome to part three of this Frauen-Bundesliga preview series. Today, we will take a look at last season’s good but not great teams.
Last Season: 19/20 was the final campaign of FFC Frankfurt before their merger with men’s Bundesliga side Eintracht. They finished 6th after an up and down season, flattering to deceive at times and ultimately never really being that good. But who cares about last season, right? FFC will have a new identity and more importantly, new investment going forward!
Expectations: After a bittersweet goodbye to the club which won a record nine DFB Pokals, a record seven FBL titles, and which is the last German women’s club to win the Champions League, excitement for a fresh start is palpable.
The new Eintracht money was put to good use; Potsdam’s highly-rated Lara Prašnikar was snapped up, stand-in national team starting goalkeeper Merle Frohms was signed from Freiburg for an undisclosed fee – you don’t see that all that often – and her teammate and Austrian national team veteran Virginia Kirchberger also joined. Leonie Köster was signed from Bayern II and a couple of players were called up from the reserves. With no high-profile losses, that is, all things considered, a very, very impressive transfer window.
I fully expect Frankfurt to be the most improved team this season. They might need some time to gel, but a potential frontline of Laura Freigang, Lara Prašnikar, and either Géraldine Reuteler or Shekiera Martinez is absurd, like, genuinely ridiculous. I fully believe that, if coach Niko Arnautis gets it right, they could finish as high as third.
Breakout Youngster: I don’t think Sophia Kleinherne and Sjoeke Nüsken qualify anymore; the former made her senior national team bow last season and the latter was very impressive at times, and after rupturing her ACL in June, who knows when she will be fully fit again. 19-year-old Shekiera Martinez is a highly-rated young player and I believe she will prove her worth this season. She might have a tough time breaking into that stacked attack, but she is supremely talented and ready to take the next step in her development.
MVP: Virginia Kirchberger could really improve Frankfurt’s defense, but as the old adage goes, goals win you games; I think it will come down to either Lara Prašnikar or Laura Freigang. If the 21-year-old Slovenian can carry over her form from last season, there is no reason why she can’t finish among the top three in the golden boot race. Freigang on the other hand already achieved that, finishing joint third on 16 goals with Ewa Pajor and Lea Schüller in 19/20. Laura USA, as she is affectionately nicknamed by Frankfurt fans because of her time abroad, could once again show that she is the side’s MVP. Ultimately, it is a coin flip between the two.
Last Season: Essen were one of the most fun teams to watch in 2019/20. The side perfectly blended young, exciting talent with a few experienced, battle-hardened veterans. They weren’t the most solid or defensively sound team, that’s for sure – their 7-0 loss to Hoffenheim is testament to that – but they were entertaining as hell and even gave Wolfsburg a proper scare in the DFB Pokal final. They ultimately ended up finishing fifth in the Bundesliga, but they could easily have also come in fourth or sixth, such was the propinquity between the good but not great sides in the league.
Expectations: This is going to be a tough one to predict because the team is unrecognizable at this point. Essen lost twelve players during the offseason, including some of their biggest stars, and they essentially replaced them with kids.
Captain Marina Hegering and Lea Schüller were snapped up by Bayern, Lena Oberdorf transferred to Wolfsburg, Turid Knaak joined Atlético Madrid, Ramona Pretzelberger signed for Aston Villa, Nina Brüggemann is now a Leverkusen player, and the rest were either released or joined clubs in the lower leagues. That’s a lot of turnover.
Three foreign reinforcements were brought in, with Jill Baijings joining from Heerenveen, former French youth international Estelle Laurier just finished college at Wake Forest, and Eleni Markou was signed from Apollon Limassol, boasting 38 caps for the Greek senior national team. A few players were promoted from Essen’s U17s and 16-year-old German youth international Carlotta Wamser joined the club, too. But wait! There’s more!
Selina Ostermeier headed north in search of regular game time, leaving Frankfurt to play alongside her namesake Lena Ostermeier. Antonia Baaß and Nina Räcke were both signed from Wolfsburg’s reserve team, while Barbara Brecht joined from Bayern’s reserves. And finally, winger Sophia Thiemann transferred from 2. Bundesliga side Bielefeld.
Well, that was a lot to take in. Coping with this many changes will be quite a challenge, you would imagine. Coach Markus Högner will have his work cut out for him and with basically all of their high-profile players gone, it’s hard to see Essen replicate last season’s success. With that being said, there is a huge amount of raw talent in that squad and if things click, they could surprise a few teams, but I think finishing sixth or seventh should be the goal for this season.
Breakout Youngster: Jill Baijings featured in all of Heerenveen’s games last season, but failed to record a single goal. In fairness to her, she is more of a winger than an out-and-out goalscorer, but she will certainly be keen to improve in that department. She could definitely have a big role to play this season, however, I think Antonia Baaß will be Essen’s breakout young player. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder was a mainstay in a very good Wolfsburg II side and although she has some big shoes to fill in trying to replace some of the outgoing offensive talent, I’m sure she can make the step up.
MVP: Lena Ostermeier and Jana Feldkamp played the most minutes last season, but I don’t think either really has the mettle yet to be the team’s main player. Nicole Anyomi would be a contender, but it’s still unclear when she will fully recover from the back injury sustained in the Pokal final. Ultimately, it will come down to Elisa Senß or Manjou Wilde, in my opinion. The latter is the more attacking option of the two, but the former was very impressive last season and I think she has what it takes to be a real leader in Essen’s midfield, despite being just 22.
Last season: Once the best the country had to offer and still, to this day, the only side – men or women – from former East Germany to win a top flight title, Turbine Potsdam have found it increasingly hard to keep up with Wolfsburg and Bayern, failing to finish in the top two for seven seasons running. Last time out, they achieved a respectable fourth place, but with some of the talent they had at their disposal, you could argue that they should not have finished 12 points behind Hoffenheim. The Coronavirus break really didn’t do the side any favors either. They were a shell of their former selves when the Bundesliga returned.
Expectations: In late June, the club announced that they had entered into a commercial partnership with men’s Bundesliga side Hertha BSC, which entailed some changes within the coaching staff; former Hertha U16 coach Sofian Chahed has replaced Matthias Rudolph at the helm. There was also a lot of transfer activity this offseason. Top scorer Lara Prašnikar headed south to join Frankfurt and Caro Siems left continental Europe for newly-promoted Aston Villa. Three experienced midfielders also departed for greener pastures, with Sarah Zadrazil joining Bayern, while Rahel Kiwic and Klára Cahynová both went back home; the former joined FC Zurich in her native Switzerland, and the latter transferred to Slavia Prague.
Trying to replace Prašnikar’s 15 goals won’t be easy. Nina Ehegötz hit the target nine times fewer than the Slovenian last season, but such were Turbine’s goalscoring woes that Ehegötz’s six goals were enough to see her be the club’s second-highest scorer. Selina Cerci was brought in from promoted Werder Bremen after scoring 13 goals during the abbreviated 2. Frauen-Bundesliga season. But can she make the step up? The 20-year-old registered five goals in 900 minutes in Bremen’s relegation season, so with a better supporting cast around her, she could potentially be quite prolific at this level.
Melissa Kössler has returned to the club after spending a year at the University of Massachusetts, scoring eleven and assisting seven in 16 games for the Minutewomen. Kössler was prolific for Potsdam’s reserve team, but never managed to hit the same heights in the Bundesliga. Perhaps now, at 20 and with new experiences abroad, she is ready to reach the next level.
Young Austrian midfielder Maria Plattner joined from Sturm Graz, while Lena Uebach and Merle Barth were signed from Bayer Leverkusen. Both were regular fixtures in a poor Werkself side last season and will be hoping for an upturn in fortunes at their new club. Will that happen, though? Now that is the big question.
They certainly won’t be as bad as Leverkusen, who battled relegation last term, but Turbine’s squad was exenterated in the transfer window and with a new coach, I can’t see them finishing as high as last season. The team will surely take some time to gel and get going, so I reckon a solid mid-table finish is on the cards for the side from Brandenburg’s capital.
Breakout Youngster: There are a couple of names that spring to mind. Uebach, a German youth international, could have herself a nice little season, Sara Agrež will continue to improve, and Marie-Therese Höbinger will be keen to build on a decent debut campaign in the top flight, but I think it will come down to Gina Chmielinski or Sophie Weidauer.
Initially, I was leaning towards Chmielinski, but she is already a fairly established player for Potsdam. Sophie Weidauer on the other hand was utilized as a type of super-sub last season and with the number nine position up for grabs, she could – emphasis on could – make this position her own. However, common sense suggests that, at just 18 years old, she is still quite far down the pecking order, but the talent is clearly there – she scored three goals last season despite never really being allowed to settle into a proper rhythm.
MVP: This is quite a tough choice because Turbine lost two of their best players and didn’t replace them with obvious MVP picks, and to add insult to injury, Anna Gerhardt, a potential star in the making, will be out for some time after tearing her ACL at the end of last season. 21-year-old Luca Graf, who is already an important cog (she played the third-most minutes in 19/20), could use the jumble in midfield to really put her stamp on the side and show that the team should be built around her. There is also Jojo Elsig, Małgorzata Mesjasz, and whoever gets the starting spot at center-forward, but, honestly, there is so much uncertainty surrounding this really young team, anyone who has a half-decent season could turn out to be their MVP.
That concludes part three of this preview series. The fourth and final edition will be out tomorrow.