Even after winning our first championship since 1976, last season left us with plenty to improve upon. An unbeaten season hides the subtle details, like the mess of a second half we played in Frankfurt, that it took a penalty and a lucky bounce of the ball to beat Potsdam, that we couldn’t manage a goal over two legs against Wolfsburg, and that the selfsame Wolfsburg outscored us 17-33 in league matches this calendar year. Thomas Wörle himself admitted that luck played a big role in our triumph, and said that it would take a huge effort to repeat the success.
Suddenly spoilt for choice
Luckily, Karin Danner isn’t content to rest on her laurels and has spent the summer building a squad so deep it makes the well to hell hoax seem plausible. Although Simone Laudehr slipped through our net, four players were signed to bolster the attacking midfield: Sara Däbritz, who seemed predestined to don the four stars even after being rejected for the post of commanding general of US Army Europe; Lisa Evans, who nicked a brace against us in the 2013 DFB Pokal semifinal; Nicole Rolser, back in Germany after winning the league and picking up a lengthy injury with Liverpool; and the massivest of massive coups: Veronica “Vroni” Boquete from Portland, the hipster Ballon d’Or ballot submission who spent the last season learning how to win a champions league and immersing herself in the arts of Mammon at FFC Frankfurt.
How Thomas Wörle intends to integrate these players into his system is an incomprehensible Gordian knot. The personnel decisions over the summer hint at a 4-2-3-1, but at the Valais Cup, Wörle fed the sacred cow of the 5-3-2 to the degree of playing Vanessa Bürki as a left back. However, as with the men’s team, I imagine the formation will be secondary to what the coach plans to do with it. The preseason promised Guardiolaesque tiki-taka, with the Rückpasses flowing like vomit down a gutter outside a youth hostel in Barcelona on a Friday night. Not that we couldn’t diversify, when Lyon pressed us and denied us the ability to play our possession game we were able to smoothly transition to a counterattacking style. So it’s anyone’s guess how we’ll play next season.
You have to think of Wörle as the George McLellan of women’s football. He has trained his players to an extremely high level. Their passing is extremely precise. They never look flustered or unsure on the ball. They work extremely well as a unit. Wörle usually knows how to tweak his lineups and formations to exploit the opponent’s vulnerabilities. What he lacks is the courage to seize the initiative. His team frequently opts to slowly draw the opponent out rather than taking the game to them with fast-paced, swashbuckling football, and has a propensity for sitting on leads. But these criticisms are irrelevant if his methods continue to harvest success.
With our hip-hop waistline deep squad, we should be able to weather any injury crises or delayed flight back home from Kazakhstan. This will be Wörle’s first year dealing with a genuine selection headache, and he’ll have his hands full keeping the big names on the bench satisfied. Katie Stengel was the team’s top goalscorer last season but it’s hard to see her getting the nod ahead of Vroni B, Miedema, or that rarest of beasts, a fit Lotzen. Likewise for Melanie Leupolz, with the glut of attacking midfielders and forwards, will she ever be anything but a stalactite that drip drops down from the #10 role where she dazzles into an unconfident #6? Will Laura Feiersinger play a single minute this season? Will I set myself on fire outside the Grünwalder Stadion if Maier is used as a centre back again? No, no, and absolutely.
A big year for players and fans
There are plenty of players with something to prove this season. Vivianne Miedema only showed flashes of the omnipresent striker she can be in her first season in Germany. Katha Baunach will look to reestablish herself as the primary left back after an injury-plagued 2014/15. Mana Iwabuchi, the Thomas Müller of the team, will need to be on top form to remain on the squad sheet in a side full of stronger, more physical players. And after a disastrous world cup, Melanie Leupolz has to completely rediscover herself if she wants to live up to her full potential and avoid becoming a second Kroos.
If we are to be taken seriously as one of Europe’s top clubs, something will have to be done about the frankly embarrassing paucity of spectators at home matches last season. The aggressive marketing push made before the final matchday against Essen packed 5203 into the Grünwalder Stadion, a figure surpassed by none in the 2014/15 season. Subtracting this outlier, our average home crowds were 829 viewers. Without the boost caused by Wolfsburg, Potsdam, and Frankfurt’s visits, the number drops to 475 with the single lowest home crowd being 310, in November against Herford. In contrast, Potsdam and Frankfurt never hosted less than 1120, and Wolfsburg’s Mariana Trench was 992 against Essen (coincidentally the same week as the aforementioned Herford match). The world cup may provide a temporary bonus, but it’s hard to imagine the national team’s late night mediocrities turning out the Eventfans in droves. The onus will be on Bayern to turn success on the pitch into success at the gates every week and tap into the large potential support base that Munich offers.
The difficulty of a repeat
The Frauen Bundesliga’s transitional period that began with Wolfburg’s emergence can be considered complete. The Croesian splurges of Niedersachsen’s neon lime-clad Gary Numan fanclub and lately us have tilted the playing field to the extent that now and in the foreseeable future, only the progenies of men’s clubs with cash to burn will be able to compete for leafy appetizers. As a title challenger we can rule out the once mighty Turbine Potsdam, who over the course of the summer lost their main sponsor, almost all their best players, and even their twitter account whilst Bernd Schröder stands like Ajax on the deck of the sinking ship, railing curses at Silvia Neid and the world in general. Their misfortune notwithstanding, Turbine’s high fitness levels and the quality of future Ballon d’Or winner Tabea Kemme make them an unfanciable opening day opponent, especially for a team like us that puffed and sputtered through preseason.
An Europameister being a dark horse in the title race is a peculiar state of affairs, but nothing is to be expected in the phantasmagorical hall of mirrors called Frauen Bundesliga 2015/16. Financially, Frankfurt are no longer on the same plateau as Wolfsburg, PSG, or Lyon but that hasn’t stopped Sportdirector Siegfried “Siggi Azalea” Dietrich selling his entire family to Somali pirates to fund a new flotilla of moderately talented signings. None of them are adequate replacements for the departing Vero Boquete, Jess Fishlock, Bianca Schmidt, and Celia Sasic. The task of rebuilding with Sophie Schmidt, Bella Linden, Yuki Ogimi, et al falls to Colin Bark, who hasn’t had an original tactical thought in his life and only won the champions league last season by nicking Wörle’s best ideas.
It’s not only us and Frankfurt who have shaken up our squads this summer. Eager to squeeze off the spots of a dissatisfactory season, Wolfsburg has snapped up the Lyonnaise Big Brother house in Elise Bussaglia and Lara Joy Dickenmann, along with a trio to make any football hipster’s absinthe turn white with terror: Synne Jensen, Ewa Pajor, and Tessa Wullaert. Not that this is necessarily to our disadvantage. Wolfsburg struggled to accommodate Yuki Ogimi and Julia Simic last season, and it’s impossible to say how Wullaert and Pajor will adapt to a higher level.
The margin of error is particularly fine this season. The schedule is heavily front-loaded, we have Potsdam, Wolfsburg, and the dreaded NRW away day in the first three weeks, so the team will have to gel like a middle-aged man denying his increasing baldness or get left behind. With us, Wolfsburg, and Frankfurt so far ahead of the pack, six-pointers become 66-pointers and every game against Freiburg or Hoffenheim becomes more tense than when Pierre Lasogga introduces his girlfriends to their potential mother-in-law.
What can we expect?
For the uninitiated, the women’s Champions League is like the old European Cup before it french kissed the devil, a straight two-legged knockout competition with the final at a neutral venue, which is how adults play football. This will be our second appearance in the competition after 09/10, so Europe is no terra incognita for Bayern. That year, we were unseeded and had to play a lengthy playoff round involving Lisa Evans’ Glasgow City, a team of senior cultural studies professors from Gintra Universiteitas, and a Georgian side so bad I won’t embarrass them by mentioning their name. This year, we drew a group of Twente-somethings living in Manhattan who never have to worry about money, located directly at the bottom of the huge cliff that protects Germany from Holland. The two-time BeNe league winners, in whose ranks can be counted 18-year old Jahrhunderttalent Jill Roord and Marthe Munsterman (Max’s Dutch cousin), are much better than a first round exit. They press like there was a bright red button in the room that said DO NOT PRESS, defend as if their lives depended on it, and leave no room for complacency.
Our expectations this season should be to challenge for the title, qualify for the champions league again, and find our feet in Europe (winning would be ideal, but almost any way in which we avoid getting blasted 1,000,000-0 by Lyon in the round of 16 would be acceptable). Last year’s Bayern struggled so hard in their away days to the Ruhrpott that Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote a 300 volume novel about it, and those jolly midweek jaunts to Europe’s far flung corners (the Lena Goeßling jokes write themselves) will be a whole different plate of chips. I hope we can finally add some flair this season, but the anti-football we played at Valais suggests otherwise.