The Winners and Losers of Frauen-Bundesliga Matchday 1

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!

Winners

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.

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.

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.

Losers

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.

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.

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About Sean Wang 14 Articles
I became a diehard women's soccer fan after catching the epic 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup Final between Japan and the US at a dive bar in Jordan, Montana. A Berliner since 2017, I can be frequently found shouting in front of the computer while watching OL Reign play in the NWSL, and catching Frauen-Bundesliga actions in Potsdam and on local television. Come talk "Quatsch" with me on Twitter!

1 Comment

  1. I don’t think that forcing all clubs to establish some kind of minimum living wage is better solution than just letting all clubs decide how they want to approach things. Considering that there are no profits in women’s game. So how will clubs be able to pay living wage, if clubs don’t bring profits and have only losses? NWSL is covered by USSF. So I get FBL’s hesitation in that sense. Which is good direction?
    Also what is living wage? What sum should be defined as living wage? It also creates issues. For example, Spurs women player complained that she had to take pay cut (to lose good job) in order to get into WSL and play for Spurs. Wages aren’t ideal in WSL. It seems to me WSL is only professional in the name but hardly in reality. They have handful of lucky players who got hefty wages playing for Chelsea, City and Arsenal. Others have to survive on bare minimum, I suppose. so some even keep part-time jobs.
    So definitely that solution is not ideal at the moment. And I don’t see much difference fitness-wise between WSL bottom-dwellers and FBL bottom-dwellers.
    Hesitation of some clubs in terms of spending is understandable – if you increase budget then you have to cover more losses each year. and any returns are very uncertain thing in women’s game.
    There is no evidence that such forced minumum wage for all clubs will make it more competitive. Look at WSL, Arsenal destroying teams 6-0, 9-1. Last season top 3 destroyed a lot of midtable or bottom clubs with big scorelines. Seems like it only increases gap between certain teams bc you can’t have top players in all clubs even if you want it.
    May be some all league fund will be better solution? Like DFB and BL did during corona break in order to help small clubs and women’s clubs as well to re-start after the break.
    And broadcasting issue is also not so easy. Broadcasting all games cost a lot of money, you have to pay camera crew, commentators, other employees. So you have to find extra in your annual budget. Motivation in our society, sadly, is profit-making. Everything works in order to make a profit. Broadcasting also. Hopefully, FBL and DFB will find some solution to broadcast all games. Not for free at least.
    And FBL, I think, got TV deal with Scandinavian broadcasters in 2019 to broadcast FBL games. And may be no one is interested in broadcasting FBL in England? That is why no deals. English don’t like German football and Bundesliga. They are rather inward-looking in that sense.
    And if you are woso fan why would you pay monthly for DAZN to watch WSL? You have FA player for free. And those who subscribed to DAZN already, not gonna be interested in women’s football anyway. Very unlikely.

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