2021/22 Frauen-Bundesliga Preview – Köln, Jena, Sand

It’s that time of the year again. Preseason is in full swing and the anticipation for the upcoming campaign is palpably growing. A sizeable influx of high-caliber foreign arrivals coupled with the usual abundance of domestic talent and the fact that (finally) every game will be broadcast live means that the new Frauen-Bundesliga season, which kicks off on August 27, is set to be an exciting one. Let’s assess what we can expect from the teams that will populate Germany’s women’s top-flight this year. Today, in part one, we’ll examine the two promoted sides and great escapees Sand.

FC Köln

Effzeh are back in the Frauen-Bundesliga after a short, one-year absence. Their return comes off the back of an utterly dominant spell in the second division that saw them brush aside any and all challengers in their romp to the South Division title. To anyone familiar with the German women’s game, this veritable statement season didn’t really come as a surprise. Köln have invested heavily in this side over the past two years and they were mightily unfortunate to depart the top flight in the first place. Their return is merely the first necessary step toward achieving the end goal of establishing 1. FC Köln as a household name in the Frauen-Bundesliga.

In order to achieve that, Sascha Glass has strengthened his side with two young Polish internationals in Weronika Zawistowska, who joins on loan from Bayern, and midfielder Adriana Achcińska. Tying the latter down to a three-year deal is a real coup considering that Achcińska is regarded as one of the best young prospects from Poland. The 19-year-old had offers from all over Europe following a remarkable eight-goal, ten-assist season at Łódź.

Laura Donhauser is another intriguing young acquisition. The 19-year-old was a standout in Bayern’s reserves and even featured for the seniors in the Champions League. One-time Dutch international Myrthe Moorrees, Irini Ioannidou, Manjou Wilde, and Jana Beuschlein will add considerable Bundesliga experience to this team. Köln also brought back Swiss goalkeeper Elvira Herzog after a one-year excursion to Freiburg.

While all of those signings are certainly exciting for several different reasons, offensive youngsters like Donhauser and Zawistowka will presumably have to bide their time as it will be hard to dislodge the established players that fired Köln back into the Bundesliga; after all, the trio of Mandy Islacker, Amber Barrett, and Sharon Beck scored 30 goals between them last term. Rekindling that deadly connection and replicating even just a fraction of that form will go a long way toward achieving survival.

Overall, Köln boast a well-balanced, experienced squad with some genuine gems thrown in for good measure. In Sascha Glass, they have a coach who knows what it takes to persevere at this level. During his two and a half years at SC Sand, his side never finished lower than eighth. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Köln will be this season’s surprise package, but I can certainly envision them causing a few upsets. Realistically, they won’t have enough quality to threaten any of the top four or five, but they also shouldn’t have to worry about the drop too much. A comfortable mid-table season could well be on the cards for the Domstädter.

MVP: Mandy Islacker

Eyebrows were certainly raised when Köln managed to snap up 2015 European champion and two-time Golden Boot winner Mandy Islacker despite, at the time, still battling the drop from the Bundesliga, a battle they would, of course, ultimately lose. A player of her repute and age profile would’ve been forgiven for not deigning to waste a valuable year of her career toiling in the borderline amateur 2. Bundesliga, but Islacker instead affirmed her commitment to Effzeh. The veteran striker showed last season that she is far from past it, her 12 strikes playing a crucial role in their thunderous march to the title. Even though Köln have significantly bolstered their attack, Islacker’s expertise in front of goal and high-level experience should still prove invaluable to their survival effort.

Youngster to Watch: Adriana Achcińska

Physically imposing, strong in the dribble, and blessed with an absolute howitzer of a shot, which she believes to have inherited from her father, Mariusz, who also played professionally, Achcińska has all the attributes needed to succeed at the top level. Likened to N’Golo Kanté, it’s not hard to see why she’s regarded as one of Poland’s best young talents and why she’s already accumulated this much cachet at just 19 years of age. It speaks to Köln’s ambition and the alluring potential of this project that they managed to attract such a highly sought-after youngster. Achcińska enjoyed an absolute barnstormer of a season in the campaign just gone, and while this will be quite a step-up for the teenager, I expect her to thrive in Cologne. Köln’s midfield needed reinforcing this transfer window and she could well be their missing piece. She’ll be one of the standout teens in the Bundesliga this season for sure.

Predicted League Position: 8th

Carl Zeiss Jena

Like Köln, Jena, too, bounced straight back from relegation. Unlike their North Rhine-Westphalian counterparts, however, they couldn’t quite accomplish it in the same emphatic fashion and their paths could very well diverge again in a year’s time. Jena were completely out of their depth the last time they were among German football’s elite and relegation came as a surprise to absolutely no one. Of course, this is a very different side to the one that only picked up four points in 19/20 – for starters, they’re not called USV Jena anymore – but I’m having a hard time conceptualizing how they can avoid a similar fate this season.

The biggest concern about Anne Pochert’s team is their relative lack of experience. The majority of the roster is under the age of 21 and most players have never been in the top flight before – and the ones that have, only played bit-part roles in the relegation season – a predicament only exacerbated by veteran Jana Petříková’s decision to take a break from football. They will also have to make do without Nelly Juckel for the foreseeable future because she has decided to prioritize her education over football. The 19-year-old enjoyed a real breakout campaign in the 2. Bundesliga, scoring five goals in Jena’s last nine games as they claimed the North Division title; Turbine Potsdam loanee Adrijana Mori will have her work cut out trying to be an adequate replacement for Juckel.

Jena have looked to rectify that lack of experience somewhat by bringing in Dutch defender Chantal Schouwstra from VV Alkmaar, while versatile midfielder/defender Sophie Walter and attacker Verena Volkmer joined from Bremen. The latter racked up over a century of appearances during her time up north, but she failed to find the back of the net in any of her 20 outings last season. Christin Meyer, meanwhile, went the other way and joined the Werderaner which is sure to be a huge blow as she was one of Jena’s key players.

Gentiana Fetaj, formerly of Arminia Bielefeld, is an incredibly interesting arrival. The 18-year-old tore up the U-17s Bundesliga first with Bochum and then Gütersloh before becoming a 2. Frauen-Bundesliga regular at Bielefeld. She was also part of the German U-17s side – alongside another new Jena signing in Nicole Woldmann – that won the European Championship in 2019. Despite her tender years, she’ll likely see a decent amount of game time this season. Lastly, Karla Görlitz has returned to the club after spending a year at Hoffenheim, mainly playing for the reserves; a defender by trade, she chipped in with an impressive seven goals last term.

This team will certainly be very appealing to people concerned with youth development as there will be plenty of opportunities for youngsters to show off their talents. In the final analysis, however, they don’t have sufficient high-end quality to really trouble any of the established sides. Judging by their friendly results against Bundesliga opposition, it looks fairly unlikely that Jena will be able to cope with the step-up in quality, especially since even the more modest sides in the league are steadily getting stronger. I think they’ll be in for a long, long season, culminating in relegation.

MVP: Julia Arnold

Veteran midfielder Julia Arnold will be pivotal in Jena’s fight against the drop. The 30-year-old is one of a select few with genuine top-flight experience and she’s crucial to Jena’s play on both sides of the ball. She will be expected to lead by example and a solid season from her will increase their slim chances of survival exponentially.

Youngster to Watch: Lisa Gora

There are several candidates here – like the two players with Kosovar roots, Gentiana Fetaj and Donika Grajqevci – but I have decided to give the nod to Lisa Gora. The 17-year-old was a mainstay in Jena’s team last season and, despite her age, didn’t look out of place. If she has another solid year at right-back, a move to a bigger club will surely be on the cards before long.

Predicted League Position: 12th

SC Sand

Oh, SC Sand. The minnows from Willstätt have made quite a habit of defying the odds – the fact that this will be their eighth successive Bundesliga season is outrageous in and of itself – and they did it yet again last term. They looked all but set to go down with the end of the season just around the corner, but Alexander Fischinger’s return to the dugout – replacing Nora Häuptle who was let go following a 12-game winless spell – ultimately proved to be an inspired decision. Sand ended up finishing the season with three wins from their last four and managed to remain in the league for another year.

Unfortunately for Sand, I have the creeping suspicion that this campaign won’t have the same kind of happy ending. Fischinger is gone now – for good, it seems – and his successor, Matthias Frieböse, is a 37-year-old coaching novice with zero experience in the women’s game, whose last gig was at sixth-tier side Kuppenheim with whom he twice finished in a solid but ultimately meaningless sixth place.

What’s more, they’ve not really done enough to reinforce their roster. They lost three important players – Serbian international Dina Blagojević, goalkeeper Jacintha Weimar, and Myrthe Moorrees – and replaced them with Victoria Bruce from Fortuna Hjørring, Lena Triendl from Wacker Innsbruck, and a couple of goalkeepers. Triendl is definitely a savvy pick-up. A speedy winger with decent set-piece delivery, she notched five goals in the Austrian Bundesliga last season despite only featuring in eleven games. The 21-year-old has plenty of potential upside, but she can’t elevate the level of this team all by herself.

At the point of writing this, their squad is tiny and, frankly, not very good. Unless they bring in some genuine top-level players, it will be another right old slog to stay in the Bundesliga. All good things must come to an end, and this could very well be the final chapter of SC Sand’s top-flight adventure.

MVP: Chiara Loos

Loos is the heartbeat of this side, their talis(wo)man, and I’m genuinely shocked that she hasn’t been snapped up by a bigger club yet. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder/winger is an absolute baller and she will have to play out of her mind if Sand are to stand a chance of staying in the first division.

Youngster to Watch: Noemi Gentile

There’s no obvious answer here because Sand aren’t necessarily blessed with an abundance of prospects, so we’ll just have to go with Noemi Gentile simply by virtue of her being one of the youngest members of the first team. Of course, that’s not to say that the 21-year-old isn’t a good player. Far from it, actually; she was a regular in Sand’s line-up last year, playing the fifth-most minutes on the team, and she is a very solid option to have at the heart of midfield. If Sand end up getting relegated – hell, even if they survive – they should be worried about losing Gentile because bigger sides in need of a reliable and versatile midfield dynamo could do a lot worse than snapping her up.

Predicted League Position: 11th

That concludes part one of this preview series. Part two will be out tomorrow!

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