2022/23 Frauen-Bundesliga Preview Mailbag

If you’re experiencing some post-EURO blues, fret not because regular league business will resume in the not too distant future! The new Frauen-Bundesliga campaign is slated to kick off on September 16 and it comes off the back of one of the most intriguing offseasons we’ve witnessed in quite some time—Potsdam completely imploded, Wolfsburg snapped up several of the league’s biggest stars, and Germany’s performances in England made the world sit up and take notice.

For this year’s Bundesliga preview, I decided to switch things up a bit. Instead of going in-depth on every team, I’ve asked the people of Twitter to submit what they feel are the biggest questions going into the new season. I’ll try to answer them in this piece.

How will Potsdam fare after their rough summer?

Honey, I’m on fire—starting us off are two-time European champions Turbine Potsdam, who have endured some real summertime sadness in the past few months. After looking quite impressive for much of last season, Turbine’s momentum didn’t merely fizzle out towards the end of the campaign, it came to a screeching halt. Star striker Selina Cerci did her ACL in March and things snowballed from there. Turbine proceeded to surrender the final Champions League spot to Frankfurt before getting brushed aside by Wolfsburg in the DFB-Pokal final.

The ensuing departure of head coach Sofian Chahed, who had signed a new contract only six months prior, came as a surprise but seemed innocuous enough. That was until club president Rolf Kutzmutz publicly decried that he had been excluded from the decision-making process that resulted in Turbine parting with the former Hertha man. He consequently resigned in protest.

All of this backroom drama transpired amid a player exodus of truly epic proportions. Most of last season’s key performers are gone, and the few that remain have had to deal with injuries in preseason. The likes of Cerci, Melissa Kössler, and Sara Agrež departed for other Bundesliga sides, while Merle Barth and Małgorzata Mesjasz swapped Brandenburg for the warmer climes of Southern Europe. Club legend Isabel Kerschowski hung up her boots and the Holmgaard twins replaced the blue of Turbine with that of Everton. Dina Orschmann headed to Rangers, Gina Chmielinski to Swedish giants Rosengård, and Marie-Therese Höbinger made her loan move with Zürich permanent. Those are the most high-profile losses; all told, 14 first-teamers left Turbine this summer.

In other words, it seems like one of the last independent bastions of the Bundesliga is in for a tough season. But it’s not actually all doom and gloom because Turbine have made some pretty intriguing signings, although admittedly their squad smacks more of mid-table mediocrity than top four now. Nevertheless, the attacking reinforcements in the shape of Irish speedster Amber Barrett and Japanese international Mai Kyokawa are quite exciting.

Ex-prodigy Maya Hahn gets another shot at Bundesliga football after her stint with Meppen ended prematurely two seasons ago; at 21, the New Zealand-born midfielder still has more than enough time to show why Germany were once so keen for her to switch allegiances. Full-back Adrienne Jordan is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated players in the league, so she’s a smart pick-up, as is her former SC Sand teammate Noemi Gentile, a versatile and solid, if unspectacular, ball-winning midfielder. There’s also exciting youngster Noa Selimhodzic and January arrival Onyinyechi Zogg, who will be #likeanewsigning after not featuring much last season due to injury.

The man tasked with moulding a coherent side out of this newly assembled roster is Sebastian Middeke, a 38-year-old with zero senior head coaching experience. He spent the past six years supervising various youth and reserve sides at Meppen, so he’ll at least be familiar with the trials and tribulations that come with managing a young team—the average age of Potsdam’s squad is 23—but for me, he is the biggest cause for apprehension, simply because we don’t know anything about him.

It really could go either way for Potsdam this season: the mixture of a completely overhauled squad and a relative unknown at the helm could be a potent one, but whether they can harness that potency for good remains to be seen. Coming into a club with few, if any, established hierarchies and receptive, malleable youngsters could be exactly what Middeke needs to properly implement his ideas; on the flip side, however, this task could just as well falter at the possible lack of chemistry or quality (even though I think their squad is adequate). Judging by their preseason results thus far—winning one fixture against Austrian Bundesliga opposition with ease before narrowly losing another—it’s perhaps best to sit on the fence and say that they will be fine without seriously challenging for the final Champions League spot.

Do Bayern have enough to compete on two (or three) fronts this year?

I combined several questions for this one, including one asking whether Bayern need another winger. Let’s start with that since the situation is surprisingly complicated. On the face of it, the answer should be a straightforward ‘yes’ with the one caveat being that the signing of Georgia Stanway offers Bayern some real flexibility in terms of how they’ll line up given her frankly absurd versatility. However, I’m fairly sure that she wasn’t signed to be a winger, which then makes you think: if Stanway starts centrally, either as more of a ten or deeper, one of Lina Magull, Sydney Lohmann, and Sarah Zadrazil will have to be pushed out wide, onto the bench, or Bayern will forego playing with traditional wingers altogether. In Hannah Glas, Giulia Gwinn, Carolin Simon and Maxi Rall, Bayern certainly have the full-backs to pull off the latter option.

And that is, although with some deviations, what new coach Alexander Straus decided to do in their fixtures against Sassuolo and Barcelona. Playing with a back three, he didn’t force all of his amazing midfielders into the side—Lohmann started both matches on the bench—but he did elect to only go with one out-and-out winger in Klara Bühl to start the games, and she didn’t even play as a traditional winger; against Sassuolo, she had a free role and was allowed to roam in the attacking area, particularly the half-space, while left wing-back Gwinn pushed up aggressively, hugging the touchline, and often ending up higher than Bühl. Captain Magull mirrored on the right what Bühl was doing out on the left.

There was plenty of fluidity and rotation among Bayern’s front three with Magull and Bühl sometimes switching sides and at other times, all three rotating counterclockwise, resulting in Lea Schüller moving to the left, Magull centrally, and Bühl out onto the right. It wasn’t surprising to see Magull, a central midfielder by trade, frequently dropping deep, but the fact that Bühl and even centre forward Schüller did so as well was quite intriguing to watch. Magull regularly retreated into her more familiar central position to orchestrate play before making a darting diagonal run into the right attacking half-space. Bühl, too, was found unusually far behind the play as Gwinn charged forward with brio.

Stanway started next to Zadrazil in a central pivot, but both had license to reinforce the attack when the situation permitted—which it did quite often since Sassuolo struggled to get a hold of the ball after an initial phase of matching the Bavarians quite well. Bayern’s pressing choices were also interesting, alternating between high-octane early pressure that didn’t allow the Italians a second to breathe in possession and completely retreating into their own half where their nominal 3-4-3 collapsed into a sturdy 5-4-1. This defensive structure was particularly evident against Barcelona as there were large stretches where the Catalans had their trademark vice grip on possession, leaving Bayern with plenty of defending to do, which they did, for the most part, with aplomb.

In both games—one a test of their capacity to break down teams, the other a test of they themselves not being broken down—Bayern’s new system worked quite well save for maybe a lack of end product—at least in the first half against Sassuolo—and overall quality of play, which can be chalked up to preseason rustiness. Copa America winner Tainara, their right-sided CB, often had to resort to fruitless long balls because Sassuolo did a decent job restricting Bayern’s space on the right; against Barcelona, it should be noted, she was imperious. When Bayern were offered space, their passing motions looked promising, even if they didn’t always come off. If a refined version of this is what Bayern will look like come opening day, their fans have every right to be cautiously optimistic about the new season.

This system seems a good compromise considering the player profiles Bayern have: excellent attacking full-backs, plenty of central linchpins, but a dearth of out-and-out wingers. However—and this is where the question about those wingers becomes pertinent again—if teams sus you out, how will you react? Do you just hope that your superior talent will prevail or do you switch things up? And in that case, are you going to rely on perennial squad player Emelyne Laurent (who, granted, scored against Barcelona) or talented but still raw Karólína Lea Vilhjálmsdóttir? Do you play one of your central strikers or Stanway out wide? This is, of course, a pure contingency and I don’t think Bayern necessarily need another wide player, but it’s something to think about, especially if they want to compete on two fronts (or three; don’t forget about the Pokal!), which they surely do.

Any potential business, though, will be complicated by the fact that the transfer window is already in an advanced stage, meaning that most high-calibre free agents are already out of the equation and teams also might be reluctant to let players leave at this point. Therefore, don’t be shocked if the Munich outfit put off dipping into the market until January. Someone like Nichelle Prince, for example, would be a real statement signing, but with the NWSL Playoffs on the horizon, the Houston Dash surely won’t be entertaining any offers until the end of the year.

This could be precious time, however, because, on paper, Wolfsburg look even more of an unstoppable juggernaut than they did last year. One slip-up could be enough for Bayern to be left in the dust. Pound for pound, they are as good as anyone in Europe, but I’m struggling to see how they could mount a challenge for both the Bundesliga and the Champions League. Shoring up second place and reaching the UWCL semis should be considered acceptable in Straus’ first season in charge. Keep in mind, though, that for two years running, I’ve been wrong about the league winners, so take my prediction with a healthy dose of salt.

Will Wolfsburg and Frankfurt be the most consistent teams thanks to their early business?

I doubt the timing of their transfers gives these two any particular advantages over their rivals, especially Bayern, but the fact that they haven’t had to endure a coaching change might very well be beneficial. That said, we should be wary of putting them in the same category. I don’t think anyone would be shocked if Wolfsburg displayed ruthless consistency and finished the season unbeaten—but if Frankfurt did so, that would be quite astonishing. This Eintracht team is incredibly fun, likeable, and talented—especially now that Pawollek is back from her ACL injury—but they’re not on Wolfsburg or even Bayern level, so I’m sure that they’ll drop some silly points here and there.

Could Wolfsburg win the Champions League?

Absolutely, and judging by their summer business, winning the UWCL is clearly this season’s objective. Obviously, not every signing that looks good in theory also works out in praxis—Dutch forward Joëlle Smits, who is now back at PSV, is a great example of this—but the players Wolfsburg have brought in all look like excellent additions. You know you’ve done a good job when your least exciting signing is Kristin Demann, a two-time Bundesliga champion with almost 150 top-flight appearances to her name.

Reinforcing a defence—which didn’t even necessarily need reinforcing, mind you—with the likes of Marina Hegering and Sara Agrež is a clear statement of intent. So, too, is bringing in winger Jule Brand, the most exciting player under the age of 20 in Germany and perhaps even the world. Lastly, the return of Merle Frohms means that Wolfsburg now boast one of the most well-rounded goalkeepers in the game; compared to her predecessor, Almuth Schult, who is an excellent shot-stopper but not always the most comfortable with the ball at her feet, Frohms is an outstanding ball-player, who will add another dimension to Wolfsburg’s build-up.

Supplementing an already irresistible side with pieces of this quality should be illegal. However, such an influx of talent inevitably entails heightened expectations and pressure. Anything short of complete dominance in the league should be considered a failure, and you can argue that not making it to the final of the UWCL should be, too. It will be interesting to see how Tommy Stroot lines his team up because it’s impossible to fit all of these components into one side—you could construct an entire eleven with their absurd attacking talent alone—but there’s no doubt in my mind that Wolfsburg will be one of Europe’s finest this season.

Who is Frankfurt’s new goalkeeper?

With Merle Frohms’ departure looming, Eintracht Frankfurt dipped into the transfer market back in March to bring in a new number one for 22/23 in the form of Stina Johannes. Rather than remaining with her club, SGS Essen, until the conclusion of the campaign, Johannes made the surprising decision to head to Japan to feature in the new WE League. Her three months abroad were strange because although she ended up celebrating the league title with her INAC Kobe teammates, the 22-year-old only featured in a grand total of 45 minutes, coming on as a half-time substitute against Omiya Ardija and conceding twice.

Now that she’s back in Germany and (presumably) the undisputed number one at Eintracht, the questions are: what will she offer to the Champions League participants and can she be an adequate Frohms replacement? That she’s a good signing on paper is beyond doubt, and Eintracht sporting director Siggi Dietrich said as much when he remarked that she is “among the goalkeepers with the highest potential in Germany.”

Having made her Bundesliga debut for USV Jena at the tender age of 17, Johannes, like so many players before her, developed into one of the league standouts in her position during her four years at talent factory Essen, being an integral part of the side that took Wolfsburg to penalties in the 2020 DFB-Pokal final. Her exploits earned her repeated call-ups to the senior national team.

The biggest concern about Johannes as of right now is more to do with fitness than ability. She didn’t play a single minute for Essen’s first team last season due to a back injury and she won’t feature for Frankfurt in their vital Champions League outing against Fortuna Hjørring for the same reason. You’d hope for the sake of everyone involved that this won’t be a recurring or long-term issue.

When she’s fit, though, Johannes is, as Dietrich correctly pointed out, one of the best in the Bundesliga business, at least when it comes to stopping shots. She does, however, suffer from one acute shortcoming that also afflicts several of her peers: indecisiveness in crucial moments. Rather than being proactive, she can be quite hesitant in claiming balls, particularly in dead-ball situations, which might be in part due to her height (she isn’t the tallest). Apart from that, though, she is a very well-rounded goalkeeper. 

How good she truly is with the ball at her feet remains to be seen because at Essen she wasn’t involved in the build-up nearly as much as she likely will be at Eintracht. Especially against bigger opponents, she was mainly tasked with simply hoofing the ball upfield. It has to be said, though, that Eintracht’s use of their goalkeeper isn’t anything out of the ordinary. The keeper is merely an outlet for possession behind the defensive line; it’s nothing radical like pushing them up alongside the centre-backs near the halfway line, as some modern teams like to do.

To get back to the question of whether she can be an adequate Frohms replacement, then, I think the answer is ‘yes’ if we emphasise the adequate part. She probably won’t become the “next Merle Frohms,” but she will be an adequate—good, even—goalkeeper for Frankfurt and we shouldn’t be surprised if she eventually returns to the national team fold.

That concludes this Frauen-Bundesliga preview mailbag. Seeing as though the season is still a month away and there are plenty of undiscussed topics, I might write a second part if there’s sufficient interest. If you have any questions pertaining to the upcoming campaign, feel free to send them my way on Twitter.

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