In the fourth and final part of this little Frauen-Bundesliga preview series, we will examine last season’s top three.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Last Season: Hoffenheim were the revelation of 2019/20. After years of steady improvement and solid squad building, while also constantly promoting youth, last season saw the culmination of a project 12 years in the making. Jürgen Ehrmann led Hoffenheim from the Oberliga to the Bundesliga and he almost got them into Europe, too. The team from Sinsheim managed to keep pace with Bayern until the enforced COVID-19 break, but once play resumed, the Bavarians’ quality and experience prevailed and Bayern consolidated second, leaving Hoffenheim sitting third in the table. An incredible achievement, but one that will be hard to replicate, especially with Ehrmann leaving his post to become the club’s sporting director.
Expectations: With a new head coach in Gabor Gallai and after some big-name departures, the upcoming campaign will be one of transition and familiarization. Local youngster Sarai Linder decided to head stateside, to enroll in university with the Knights women’s soccer program at the University of Central Florida. The 20-year-old played the second-most minutes on the team prior to the Coronavirus suspension. Another defensive stalwart in Leonie Pankratz transferred to France with Montpellier, meanwhile, midfielder Jennifer Klein returned to her native Austria with St. Pölten. Lina Bürger joined SC Freiburg after nine years in Sinsheim.
Despite two high-profile losses in the backline, 1899 were comparatively quiet in the transfer market. 17-year-old defender Jule Brand was called up from the reserve team and two 19-year-olds joined in the form of Karla Görlitz, another defender, from relegated Jena, and Austrian U19 midfielder Celina Degen from Sturm Graz.
The most emphatic positive for Hoffenheim going into the new campaign was the eerie absence of disruption up top and in midfield in the transfer window. Nicole Billa, Tabea Waßmuth, and Isabella Hartig are, surprisingly, still with the club despite their goalscoring exploits, combining for 42 of Hoffenheim’s 67 goals last season. Given that they are all still under the age of 25, you would have thought that some of the bigger clubs in the league and abroad would have been vying for their services, but alas, that has, weirdly, not been the case. Even Lena Lattwein, the biggest young talent at the club, is still there. After impressive back-to-back campaigns, the 20-year-old will be keen to take the next step in her development and add to her six senior national team caps.
Having to replace two defensive regulars will be a tough challenge and with significant investment elsewhere in the league, I am doubtful as to whether Hoffenheim can replicate last season’s success. A top-five finish seems achievable, given that they still have the same firepower up front, but new head coach Gabor Gallai will have his work cut out.
Breakout Youngster: There is a good argument to be made for 19-year-old midfielder Paulina Krumbiegel, who is sure to double or perhaps even triple her playing time this season, but I think it will ultimately be Laura Wienroither. The 21-year-old Austrian played almost 700 minutes last time out and with Pankratz and Lindner now gone, will certainly contend for a starting spot in defense.
MVP: I think Nicole Billa would like to prove that last season wasn’t just a flash in the pan. The 24-year-old scored 18 goals last term, doubling her tally from the previous year. It was by far her most prolific campaign after flattering to deceive a bit up to that point. If she has another 15-goal season in her and shows that she can score consistently at this level, a big move will surely be on the cards in the not too distant future.
Last Season: Oh, Bayern. Forever the bridesmaid, at least in recent years. The two-time Frauen-Bundesliga champions finished runners-up last season because that is, unfortunately for the Bavarians, what they do. They are a good team, but never quite good enough – obviously, a lot of it is down to Wolfsburg’s brilliance. Bayern did almost everything right last season, they drew both their games with the Lower Saxon behemoth, but then they went and dropped points against inferior opposition.
Expectations: This season will be different, though. That’s what head coach Jens Schreuer should be telling his players. They have made some very, very exciting signings, but can they consistently keep pace with Wolfsburg? That is the big question and, honestly, I don’t have the answer. They should go into the season buoyed by their Champions League display against French giants Lyon, where they were the width of a crossbar away from being on level terms after 90 minutes.
Most of their new faces featured in said tie, like Lea Schüller, Germany’s most prolific domestic forward, and commanding, ball-playing center-back Marina Hegering; both arrived from Essen. Swedish full-back Hanna Glas, who joined from PSG, started in defense, while ex-Bordeaux forward Viviane Asseyi and former Potsdam captain Sarah Zadrazil came off the bench. Klara Bühl, perhaps Bayern’s most exciting new player, missed the game; she underwent surgery on her shoulder after sustaining an injury late last season whilst playing for Freiburg.
The transfer window wasn’t all rosy for Bayern, though. Verena Schweers and Nicole Rosler retired. Captain Melanie Leupolz signed for Chelsea, Kathy Hendrich is now a Wolfsburg player, and Dominika Škorvánková joined Montpellier, while set-piece specialist Emily Gielnik seemingly didn’t impress enough to earn a new contract, she ultimately ended up signing for Vittsjö in Sweden. Young goalkeeper Jacintha Weimar joined SC Sand and Mandy Islacker will be playing with relegated Köln in the 2. Frauen-Bundesliga. Jovana Damnjanović tore her ACL in the Champions League and will be out for quite some time.
So, what should be Bayern’s goal this season? It’s pretty simple. Despite their new exciting, shiny attacking toys, I don’t think they have it in them to really challenge Wolfsburg’s hegemony. Their main aim for the season should be to make the title race closer than last term and to get to the DFB Pokal final, and, preferably, win it, to have some silverware to show for these new purchases, this new project, if you will. Whatever the outcome of the season will be, a front three of Klara Bühl, Lea Schüller, and Lineth Beerensteyn is hugely exciting, and even if there won’t be any new silverware on the mantelpiece come next spring, Bayern fans should be pretty content with getting to watch some of Germany’s best young talent.
Breakout Youngster: There are a couple of options. If we exclude 22-year-old Lea Schüller and 21-year-old Giulia Gwinn to narrow it down a bit, that leaves us with Klara Bühl, Sydney Lohmann, and three 18-year-olds in Gia Corley, Julia Pollack, and Laura Donhauser. Realistically, it will come down to Bühl or Lohmann; both are already experienced first-team members, despite being just 19 and 20, respectively.
Lohmann will be tasked with being an adequate replacement for Leupolz. A tall ask, but she has the talent and raw potential to be as good if not better than her predecessor. She showed that she can hold her own against some of the world’s best when Bayern faced Lyon and she almost scored, too.
Common sense suggests, however, that the headline makers get the most attention, so Klara Bühl will likely be Bayern’s breakout young player this season. Equally adept at setting up teammates as she is at scoring, Bühl could strike up an extraordinary partnership with Schüller. The 19-year-old is already one of the Frauen-Bundesliga’s best players and with better support around her, she could take her game to another level, which is scary to think about.
MVP: It’s a three-horse race between Lina Magull, Linda Dallmann, and Lea Schüller for me, but if Marina Hegering can improve Bayern’s already pretty solid backline with her experience and passing, she could be a dark horse.
Schüller wasn’t anywhere near her best against Lyon, but her talent and goalscoring ability should never be in doubt. With Pernille Harder leaving for Chelsea, Schüller should be one of the favorites for the golden boot. Linda Dallmann is Bayern’s main creative outlet. The diminutive playmaker posted 10 goals and a league-leading 11 assists last season and she will surely play a big role once again this term. My vote for Bayern’s MVP goes to Lina Magull, though. With the added responsibility of captaining the side and mentoring Lohmann, Magull will have her work cut out for her, but she is unequivocally one of the best midfielders in the league. A ferocious dynamo in the center of the park, the 26-year-old can chip in with a few goals, too, either from free kicks or open play. I fully expect her to basically go beast mode this season.
Last Season: We have finally reached perennial silverware collectors Wolfsburg. The She-Wolves won their fourth successive Bundesliga title last time out, finishing eight points ahead of Bayern in second. With a whopping goal difference of +85 (for comparison’s sake, Bayern had a GD of +46, Hoffenheim +43), Wolfsburg weren’t just unstoppable in front of goal, they were also tight at the back, conceding just eight times in 22 games.
Expectations: There are a few narratives around Wolfsburg this season, but one thing is clear: expectations are as high as ever. After a solid showing in the Champions League and with this being the swansong of distinguished head coach Stephan Lerch, who leaves for pastures new after this season, the She-Wolves are expected to pick up where they left off and then some.
The murmurs of star player Pernille Harder making a record-breaking transfer to England to be closer to her significant other, Chelsea’s Magdalena Eriksson, ultimately turned out to be true in what is an incomprehensible blow for the champions. Wolfsburg also lost a handful more players this summer; Noelle Maritz signed for Arsenal, Kristine Minde returned to her native Norway with Rosenborg BK’s new women’s department, Claudia Neto left for Fiorentina, Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir joined Lyon, and three goalkeepers were let go, including experienced Swedish shot-stopper Hedvig Lindahl, with youngster Melina Loeck going out on loan. Ewa Pajor was supposedly on the verge of signing for Real Madrid’s new women’s team, but a new long-term contract extinguished what little fire there was to the metaphorical smoke.
Sporting director Ralf Kellermann and Stephan Lerch got their business done early to replace the outgoing players, and they made sure to make a couple of statement signings. Pauline Bremer, who finished third in the FA WSL golden boot race, was signed from Manchester City, reigning German Young Player of the Year Lena Oberdorf joined from Essen, experienced PSG ‘keeper Katarzyna Kiedrzynek will be Lindahl’s replacement, and full-back Kathy Hendrich transferred from rivals Bayern.
Bremer will undoubtedly add goals to Wolfsburg’s already stacked frontline, but no matter how good of a season she will have, she is no Pernille Harder. Hendrich will slot in at right-back, with Kiedrzynek fighting it out over the number one spot between the sticks with Frederike Abt, who was very impressive towards the back-end of last season, but struggled in the Champions League, and the returning Almuth Schult, who gave birth to twins in April, but has already made her intentions clear of getting back to playing football in 20/21.
Wolfsburg are, once again, the clear favorites for the title, even without Harder. They are the best, most experienced, and most valuable team in the league. Anything other than lifting the Meisterschale at the end of the season will be seen as nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. Will they do it again? Yeah. As nice as it would be to have some variety atop the standings, if we are being realistic, Wolfsburg should be crowned champions again this term.
Breakout Youngster: Lena Oberdorf. Why? Well, she is the reigning Fritz-Walter gold medalist, given to Germany’s best young player, but she is also the only teenager in Wolfsburg’s squad with a realistic shot of getting regular game time. The point of contention isn’t whether the 18-year-old will be the breakout star or not – she definitely will be – it is way more interesting to ponder where she will end up playing. Upon signing, she was billed as Gunnarsdóttir’s replacement in central midfield, but when she was subbed on in the Champions League, she played more as a winger. The thing about Oberdorf is that wherever she plays, she will deliver, and despite her tender years, she is already a proven player in a multitude of positions.
Honorable mentions have to go out to Ingrid Engen and Pia-Sophie Wolter, though. At 22, both aren’t really youngsters, but Engen, despite featuring regularly in her first season, still has room to improve, and Wolter will be keen to get more game time after impressing whenever she saw the field last term.
MVP: Prior to Tuesday, this was the easiest MVP pick out of all the twelve teams because it was Pernille Harder and Pernille Harder is inevitable. Her move has made this decision quite tough now; it could be Fridolina Rolfö or Alex Popp, hell, it could even be Lena Goeßling with her set piece delivery. My money is on Ewa Pajor, though. I think she has something to prove this season. The 23-year-old didn’t look her usual dangerous self in the Champions League mini tournament and she definitely could have been a lot more prolific last term. She will be keen to ensure that Harder won’t be missed and I would not be shocked if she bagged 20+ goals like she did in 18/19.
That concludes this preview of the upcoming Frauen-Bundesliga season, let’s hope it will be a good one. The first ball will be kicked on Friday, September 4, with a rematch of the DFB Pokal final, as Wolfsburg take on Essen. All the other games kick off simultaneously on Sunday. I will spare you of all the broadcasting details because the Bundesliga rights are quite literally all over the place. If you want to know how and when to watch games, make sure to follow DFB-Frauenfußball on Twitter, they got you covered.
And what would be a season preview without a league table prediction that will most likely end up being way off:
- VfL Wolfsburg
- Bayern Munich
- Eintracht Frankfurt
- TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
- Turbine Potsdam
- SGS Essen
- SC Freiburg
- Bayer Leverkusen
- SC Sand
- SV Meppen
- MSV Duisburg
- Werder Bremen