Even though this off-season was shorter than usual—due to the pandemic shutdown, the DFB-Pokal final was played in July, and the 2019-20 Women’s Champions League “final eight” tournament finished in August—it still felt spectacular for the return of regular Frauen-Bundesliga matchdays every weekend. After weeks of talking about off-the-field changes (and there have been plenty to talk about), we finally saw the 12 clubs in action this past weekend. As Welsh legend Jess Fishlock, Champions League winner with FFC Frankfurt in 2015, commented last week, “Take the surround sound away and focus on the football . . . Women’s football is a high-level product and I think we need to focus on that far more than than the other stuff.”
So let’s dive in!
— DFB-Frauenfußball (@DFB_Frauen) September 6, 2020
Bayern Munich’s summer overhaul
Bayern Munich moved on from long-time head coach Thomas Wörle and replaced him with SC Freiburg’s Jens Scheuer last summer. For much of the 2019-20 season, however, Scheuer could not get his new squad to gel on the field; Bayern were never a high-scoring team, but we saw some dire performances devoid of creativity in the fall, followed by an off-season clear-out with eight departures.
In response, Bayern made six new signings—including Germany’s future striking duo Klara Bühl (SC Freiburg) and Lea Schüller (SGS Essen)—and the team’s positive performance in the Champions League quarterfinal loss led to cautious optimism that maybe Scheuer was finally turning the corner. The Bavarians continued their upward trajectory by rolling to a season-opening 6–0 victory over SC Sand.
— DFB-Frauenfußball (@DFB_Frauen) September 7, 2020
While their opponents were not stiff challengers, the most encouraging aspect of Bayern’s big victory is that four of their goals were scored by new signings. French international Viviane Asseyi (Bordeaux) got the party started early, heading-in from a free kick in the second minute, and the Bavarians never took their feet off the pedal. Schüller and Marina Hegering (SGS Essen) also scored, and Sarah Zadrazil (Turbine Potsdam) fired in a long-range rocket to make it 5–0. With four goals coming from set-pieces, it looks like Bayern will put their superior size and physicality to good use.
Lena Oberdorf is ready for her close-up
VfL Wolfsburg did not have a good week. After losing out on the European title to their continental nemesis Olympique Lyonnais once again, their top player Pernille Harder signed for Chelsea in a move that left head coach Stephan Lerch “very busy and upset” despite the record-breaking transfer fee Wolfsburg received in exchange. With the Frauen-Bundesliga season opener only three days after and both Ewa Pajor (knee surgery) and Fridolina Rolfö (concussion) unavailable, Lerch faced a selection headache.
Enter wunderkind Lena Oberdorf. Wolfsburg reportedly paid a fee—still a rarity in the women’s game—to secure Oberdorf from SGS Essen this summer. Upon her signing, Wolfsburg sporting Ralf Kellermann called Oberdorf “one of the greatest talents in women’s soccer worldwide.” Lerch had taken the cautious approach with Oberdorf, bringing her off the bench for short cameos in the Champions League (46 minutes over three games), but perhaps by necessity Oberdorf started against her former club on Friday and immediately scored a brace. Coupled with Lena Goeßling’s penalty, Wolfsburg ended up comfortably winning 3–0.
Das Freitagsspiel verpasst? Die Highlights des Ligaauftakts zwischen den @VfLWob_Frauen und der @SGSEssen könnt ihr hier sehen:
➡️ https://t.co/14T8GFhFWQ#DieLiga #MACHTLÄRM #WOBSGS pic.twitter.com/vf1vtVEAqb
— DFB-Frauenfußball (@DFB_Frauen) September 7, 2020
With Polish goalkeeper Katarzyna Kiedrzynek making her debut after switching from Paris Saint-Germain and Lerch declaring the newcomer his No. 1 between the sticks, it is fair to wonder whether Lerch’s loyalty to players who played in much of the 2019/20 season had cost Die Wölfinnen their chance at European glory. Nevertheless, expect newcomers like Oberdorf and Kiedrzynek to be every-game starters at least until players like Pajor and Almuth Schult return from long-term absences.
Traditional powers starting their climb back to the top
It was only Matchday 1 but the early returns were encouraging: Turbine Potsdam won 3–1 against last year’s surprise TSG Hoffenheim in a duel between first-ever full-time head coaches Sofian Chahed and Gabor Gallai, while Frankfurt—playing as Die Adlerträgerinnen for the first time—ran out 5–1 winners over promoted Werder Bremen at Eintracht men’s Waldstadion.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s takeover of formerly independent 1. FFC Frankfurt, the most historically successful women’s soccer club in Germany, dominated much of the off-season news cycle and for good reason. The Eintracht women’s section now has representatives at the top five tiers of German women’s soccer pyramid, with the club declaring their ambition to become the dominant, vertically integrated women’s soccer hub in Central Europe. They also become the first German club to have one integrated social media presence for both the men’s and women’s sections in the English language. While the decision—announced only one day before—to play in an empty men’s stadium rather than the team’s usual home was largely symbolic, Frankfurt’s on-field performance more than backed it up.
Potsdam, on the other hand, had been more understated in their transformation off the field. Rather than flexing the new-found financial muscles like Frankfurt had done, Potsdam doubled down on youth development in the hope that their small but streamlined operations would have a more family-like appeal for recruitment and retention. On Sunday, those youngsters repaid the faith, with Gina Chmielinski—having debuted with Potsdam in 2016 at age 16—scoring the second goal and academy graduate Melissa Kössler scoring the third after a year away in the United States.
Turbine Potsdam and Frankfurt are one of the few true rivalries in German women’s soccer. If the upward trajectories continue for both, maybe their annual match-ups will become title-deciders once again sooner than most observers thought.
Carlotta Wamser and SGS Essen’s youthful squad
SGS Essen are the premier talent producing club in German women’s soccer and have made a habit of developing players and moving them on to bigger clubs and the German national team. This off-season might be their most successful one yet in this regard, as seven first-team players moved on (including four German national teamers). To keep it churning, SGS Essen got another exciting prospect in Carlotta Wamser, this year’s Fritz Walter bronze medalist who had been playing with the men’s U-17 squad at Spvg 20 Brakel.
It is clear, however, that there remains a sizable gap between being a prospect and a senior player in the first team, and Wamser had a Frauen-Bundesliga debut to forget. Going straight into the starting XI against defending champions Wolfsburg, the 16-year-old fouled Pia-Sophie Wolter to give away a penalty before being substituted in the 72nd minute. The rest of her teammates did not fare much better, as the final scoreline of 3–0 would indicate. Head coach Markus Högner is not afraid to play his youngsters, but this season especially he will need them to grow up quickly if SGS Essen want to repeat their top-half finish.
Squad depth for the bottom-dwellers
In August, the DFB announced that the five-substitute rule, necessitated by the pandemic interruptions, would continue to be in force for the 2020-21 Frauen-Bundesliga season. Based on Matchday 1, this decision would disproportionately benefit the big clubs (as expected) and make Frauen-Bundesliga even more top-heavy than usual. Only Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich—champions and runners-up last season, respectively—plus the nouveau riche Frankfurt used all five subs; on the other end, MSV Duisburg and SC Freiburg only made one sub each.
Squad depth unsurprisingly had a direct correlation to the quality of play on Matchday 1. SV Meppen, for instance, played their first-ever top-flight game against fellow relegation candidates Duisburg in a goal-less draw that featured only three subs combined and where the players noticeably ran out of gas toward the end. As much as the top teams continue to push the envelope on and off the field, the DFB and the league must impose higher benchmarks and minimum standards for all clubs (like, when will all Frauen-Bundesliga players finally receive full-time contracts with a living wage?!) so that the bottom-dwellers don’t fall away even more quickly than usual.
All the fans watching from home
Speaking of higher benchmarks and minimum standards, the league itself gets an unequivocal “F” for their complete failure to take advantage of growing interests in women’s soccer globally. Of the six games on Matchday 1, three were not broadcast on television or available for (free or paid) live streaming at all. This is simply unacceptable for a top-flight league today, let alone one that claims to be one of the best in Europe. Moreover, as fans are (mostly) not allowed in-person still, Frauen-Bundesliga’s inaccessibility creates a disconnect between the fans and the clubs they support and threatens to undo any positive momentum that the league had generated after MagentaSport made all but one Match of the Week free to stream live after last season’s restart in May.
We came to the point at which it's easier to watch the English Women's Super League in Germany than Frauenbundesliga. https://t.co/laqod19Kqn
— Goalimpact (@Goalimpact) September 6, 2020
At the moment, Frauen-Bundesliga has no—zero! nada!—broadcast deals in any English-speaking territories after BBC Alba’s short-lived arrangement for the United Kingdom ended in June. The American NWSL has had every game available live worldwide on various platforms since its inception in 2013, while the English WSL did the same with its streaming platform last year; both leagues also signed ground-breaking deals recently that commercialized their dedicated fanbases built from online streaming. Women’s soccer supporters have proven time and time again that as long as you make your products available, they are more than willing to pay for them. But to not even have them available at all? That’s just bad business.
For what it’s worth, the best way to figure out how to watch Frauen-Bundesliga games right now is by following the DFB’s Twitter channel for women’s soccer, where broadcast or streaming options are sent out before each matchday. In select European territories, Eurosport will broadcast one Match of the Week on television, and Telekom’s MagentaSport sells subscription packages to stream select games online. Occasionally, German public broadcasters will pick up games to stream for free, like this past weekend’s inaugural Eintracht game. For international viewers, some “creative” technical arrangements will let you watch these games online. Otherwise, the DFB and some clubs (usually Wolfsburg) will stream certain games internationally for free. This situation is far from ideal and the DFB—who runs the Frauen-Bundesliga—must rectify it as quickly as possible if it is truly serious about promoting the women’s game.