The Frauen-Bundesliga is Back!

The winter break is finally over and Germany’s elite women’s division, the Frauen-Bundesliga, resumes tomorrow evening when VfL Wolfsburg take on Turbine Potsdam. The Bundesliga was actually supposed to return last Sunday, but the rescheduled game between Turbine and Werder Bremen, which was initially called off back in November due to COVID-19, had to be postponed once again because the pitch at Potsdam’s Karl-Liebknecht-Stadion was deemed unplayable. With the league set to recommence with its regularly scheduled programming tomorrow, here’s what to expect as we enter the decisive phase of the season.

Who Will Survive and Who Will Go Down?

There is, of course, still a long way to go before the end of the season, so we can’t make any grand forecasts just yet, but, looking at the table and the way teams played in the Hinrude (first half of the season), we can make some educated guesses about who will likely stay up and who won’t. That said, if we cast our minds back to last season, when the battle for survival went right down to the wire, perhaps we’d be better off refraining from making any kind of predictions, but where’s the fun in that?

Anyways, the lower reaches of the current table look as follows: former European champions MSV Duisburg are perilously rooted to the bottom as the only side in the Frauen-Bundesliga without a win to its name all season. Little old SC Sand and promoted Meppen sit just three points above the Zebras, followed by the other promoted side Werder Bremen. With ten games still to be played, it might be premature to say that SGS Essen, who sit five points above Werder, are safe, but, barring a dramatic collapse, they shouldn’t have to worry about being one of the two teams to go down.

Duisburg are going into the Rückrunde (second half of the season) without Americans Taylor Kornieck and Jorian Baucom, who returned to the States after their short-term contracts expired, and they will also have to make do without Meret Günster, who recently underwent knee surgery. All three will undoubtedly be big losses, but Kornieck and Baucom, in particular, were two of the Zebras’ better performers. Kornieck’s height made her a nuisance to deal with and had her finishing been a little better, perhaps Duisburg wouldn’t be in this mess. Baucom, on the other hand, did actually chip in with some goals, scoring three times in seven appearances.

Thomas Gerstner’s club brought in New Zealand veteran Hannah Wilkinson from Djurgårdens and former German youth international Mara Grutkamp from Essen as reinforcements. The Kiwi attacker will be a major factor in where Duisburg finish this season, she has the ability to singlehandedly turn their fortunes around, but she’s far from the most-prolific player; it will be interesting to see what her role will be. Crucially, MSV failed to address perhaps the most pressing issue: the defense. In the five games prior to their 0-0 draw with Meppen in the final match of 2020, they shipped 26 goals. Only Sand have let in more goals (37) than Duisburg (35); fair to say that the club has found it incredibly hard to replace Meikayla Moore.

Unfortunately, that 0-0 versus Meppen was exactly the kind of game Duisburg had to win if they want to stand a chance of remaining in the league. In fact, they drew both of their games with Meppen 0-0! It really is not looking good for the Zebras, and with Frankfurt and Leverkusen coming up, I’m struggling to see how they could possibly survive. It’s going to be an uphill battle and I can’t see them persevering.

Let’s now take a look at Sand and Meppen. The promoted Meppener acquired Lisa Josten and Athanasia Moraitou, who both boast Bundesliga experience, and the latter has already made more than a quarter of a century of appearances for Greece’s senior national team despite being just 23. The only player to depart was youth international Maya Hahn who, after just two months and a measly 24 minutes played across four substitute appearances, left Theodoros Dedes’ team to return to Oregon in order to continue her college career, which seems like the right course of action.

Sand, who are below Meppen on goal difference, were one of the busier clubs in the transfer window and they will likely be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the winter break. Four players were signed by the side from the tiny town of Willstätt: German-American Adrienne Jordan, who has plenty of top-level experience; Danish-English dual national Molli Plasmann, who scored a goal every other game in the Kvindeliga last term; St. Kitts und Nevis captain Phoenetia Browne; and former US youth international Summer Green – all very exciting signings that will improve the side massively. However, there’s a slight problem: Jordan is the only defender that was brought in. As already alluded to earlier, Sand had the league’s worst defensive record in the first half of the season, a deficiency that will definitely be exacerbated by the departure of captain Diane Caldwell.

I do think, though, that ultimately Sand will stay up despite their defensive frailties, simply by virtue of having the better squad and much more high-level experience than a Meppen side playing its first-ever top-flight season. Besides, they still get to play Duisburg, unlike the newbies from the Dutch border who have already blown their two chances of taking three points off of the nominal worst team in the league. It will be a very intriguing encounter when these two sides face off on the penultimate day of the season, though; Meppen actually beat Sand 2-1 on their own turf back in November. Also, before the campaign started, I did say that I fancied Meppen to stay up. But I also said that Sand will stay up (I predicted Duisburg and Bremen to go down), so this is going to be a very interesting battle for survival and we haven’t even properly mentioned Bremen yet!

As you can tell, Werder are doing better than I expected, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve been particularly good, obviously. Their record of three wins and eight losses perfectly tells the story of their season: they’ve defeated all the teams they are expected to beat (i.e. the teams below them), but as soon as they come up against someone above them in the standings, things get tricky. If they keep that up, they’ll be fine – and at this point, I’m almost convinced that they will be fine come the end of the season – but with only three points separating them and the sides that sit joint-second bottom, there’s no room for complacency. If they fail to beat Meppen, or Duisburg, or Sand, they’ll be right in the thick of it. Consistency is key and I guess that’s why they haven’t made any signings; why disrupt a team that’s working perfectly well?

Battle for the Top Three

With a revamped Champions League format taking effect next season, three Bundesliga teams will represent Germany in Europe’s premier competition instead of two, meaning that the battle for third place is just as fierce as the fight for the title.

After coming under the Eintracht umbrella and seeing significant resources siphoned into the squad over the summer, Frankfurt unabashedly declared their intentions of playing European football next season. Well, fair to say that things didn’t quite go to plan. Eintracht have been the biggest disappointment so far and they find themselves in sixth, all but out of the race for third with eight points currently separating them and Hoffenheim. They pulled off a bit of a coup by signing 20-year-old Iceland international Alexandra Jóhannsdóttir, who scored a goal every other game for domestic giants Breiðablik Kópavogur, but will that be enough to conceal their shortcomings and inconsistency? I highly doubt it.

Surprisingly, the team sitting three points above Eintracht is Bayer Leverkusen. The Werkself was exceptionally uninspiring last season and I did not fancy them whatsoever going into this campaign, but, boy, have they made me eat my words. They’ve been one of the surprise packages of this season and I fully expect them to keep it up.

They lost Ivana Rudelić to Bayern in the transfer window, but they made up for it on deadline day by pulling off one of the biggest signings in recent FBL history when they brought in Mina Tanaka on loan from Kobe. A full Japanese international, Tanaka has racked up various personal accolades in the Nadeshiko League in recent years, including five Best Eleven inclusions, consecutive MVP awards in 2018 and 2019, and four successive Golden Boots, in addition to numerous league titles and domestic cups. Wow!

Signing a good player doesn’t automatically translate to success, of course, but if Tanaka quickly acclimates to life in Germany, there’s little to suggest that Bayer can’t overtake Turbine Potsdam in fourth and, who knows, perhaps even Hoffenheim in third although that still just seems like wishful thinking at this point.

Speaking of Potsdam, they, too, have been one of this season’s surprise packages. They lost several star performers over the summer and I fully anticipated them to struggle, but it’s been the complete opposite, really; they have thrived. Turbine kept pace with the likes of Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim for a while and only fairly recently slipped below the latter in the table.

There was some enforced movement in the transfer window from the Potsdam outfit after goalkeeper Vanessa Fischer sustained a shoulder injury and was ruled out for a large chunk of the year. Emma Lind was brought in from Swedish giants Rosengård to deputize for Fischer. Furthermore, Turbine signed up for double trouble by bringing in the Holmgaard twins Karen and Sara from Danish champions Fortuna Hjørring to replace Meaghan Nally who returned to Portland following the expiration of her loan.

Even though Potsdam have been good value for money thus far, the worries from the start of the season still haven’t fully subsided; goalscoring might yet become a bit of a problem for them. While Selina Cerci and Melissa Kössler have done an ample job (I guess?) in replacing the prolific Lara Prašnikar, six goals between your two deadliest strikers doesn’t exactly scream of Champions League form. Also, the gulf in quality between them and the three sides above them is truly evident. It was particularly glaring in their 5-0 shellacking at the hands of Hoffenheim right before the winter break, and with Wolfsburg coming up tomorrow, the second half of the season could easily turn into quite the reality check. I can’t see Potsdam putting up a genuine challenge for third place if I’m being honest.

The team that I can envision putting up a challenge, and the team that most likely will be in the Champions League next season, is Hoffenheim. 1899 have once again undoubtedly been the third-best team in the league, their forwards are as deadly as ever, and after last season’s heartbreak, it seems that this time around they will finally have something tangible to show for their smart work over the past few years. As a matter of fact, they should probably already look ahead to next season. Of course, consolidating third and officially qualifying for European football is the main objective right now, but with that looking increasingly inevitable, planning for the future is vitally important because this team will look very different this time next year.

Tabea Waßmuth and Lena Lattwein, two of Hoffenheim’s biggest stars, have announced that they will join Wolfsburg in the summer which leaves TSG with a lot of work to do in terms of assembling a squad good enough to compete on two fronts in 2021/22; replacing the two seems a daunting task. For the neutral – or at least for me – Hoffenheim’s squad composition going forward is a more intriguing project to follow than what they will achieve on the pitch this year because, well, we know what we’re going to get. This team is really, really good, there’s not a ton more to say about them! Lastly, a piece of advice from me: keep an eye on Nicole Billa. With Pernille Harder gone, the Austrian looks poised to take on the Dane’s mantle as the Bundesliga’s preeminent goal machine. She was already good last season, but this time around, she’s almost unstoppable.

Wolfsburg or Bayern?

Can they do it? Can they really do it? Yeah, I think they can. I didn’t think they could before the season, but now I’m fully on board. If, for some reason, you don’t know what I’m waffling about, I’m talking about Bayern’s chances of winning the title. The Bavarians last won the Frauen-Bundesliga in 2015/16, when they still had Vivianne Miedema on their roster, but they made big signings last summer and they’ve been reaping the rewards ever since. They have conceded one goal – one! – all season – a penalty against Wolfsburg (none from open play!) – they haven’t dropped any points yet, and they just routed a Regionalliga (third tier) side 13-0 in the DFB-Pokal. They are unstoppable, plain and simple.

From the defense all the way up to the strikers, Bayern are stacked. The players they brought in – Zadrazil, Schüller, Bühl, Asseyi, Hegering, Glas – have all been hits and the terrifying thing is, not only have they further strengthened the squad with the signings of Iceland international Karólína Lea Vilhjálmsdóttir and the aforementioned Ivana Rudelić, but Schüller and Bühl never even hit top gear in the Hinrunde; they can get even better! A special mention also has to go out to Sydney Lohmann, who has, for my money, been the player of the campaign so far. Coach Jens Scheuer has gotten the best out of the midfield machine and her nine goals actually make her the team’s most-prolific scorer.

Bayern are only five points ahead of Wolfsburg, but it would take a collapse of sizeable proportions for them to relinquish their grip on top spot. Everything is still possible, of course, but I actually think that Wolfsburg have already resigned themselves to the fact that, for the first time in what feels like ages, it won’t be them who will sit and laugh atop the summit come the end of the season. They are clearly already looking ahead to the new campaign. Unfortunately for them, unless Bayern lose some of their stars in the summer, the power dynamic in the league is unlikely to change much, I don’t think. With a new coach coming in, some big names like Engen, Rolfö, and current top scorer Jakabfi leaving, and new faces joining, I fully expect Wolfsburg to be in transition for the foreseeable future.

It’s still early days, but we could conceivably be about to enter an era of Bayern domination. They will almost certainly inherit the crown from Wolfsburg this season, and who knows, perhaps they will also obtain the near invincibility that Wolfsburg displayed in recent years. I think that we are witnessing a major shift in the Frauen-Bundesliga’s balance of power right now.

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