Women’s Bundesliga Preview: FC Bayern vs. VfL Wolfsburg
“I have the feeling that the girls will finally have a chance this season. More so than ever,” said Verena Schweers, who has played for both clubs, in an interview with us. By “the girls” she means the Bayern women, her latest ex-club. In the interview it becomes clear that Verena Schweers has not yet quite come to terms with the surprising end of her career at FC Bayern earlier this year. She would still like to be part of this team, which seems to be ready for highest achievements this year.
“This year, I’m definitely a fan of the team, I like to watch it, see a lot of good games and good football,” she adds, expressing what everyone who has watched this FC Bayern in its first eight Bundesliga games thinks.
The FC Bayern women this season do not seem to have a lot in common with the team from last season, which was insecure, not very structured, and seemed to choke in important moments. Instead, this season’s FC Bayern women appear self-confident and determined. Their weaknesses? Hardly any. Sports journalist Jasmina Schweimler in an answer to the question of what strengths and weaknesses the team has echoes this thought:
The FC Bayern women’s squad is stronger than ever, both in terms of quality and depth. They are double stacked in virtually every position, and with a player like Marina Hegering they have brought in a real mentality player with experience. In general, they are much more difficult to predict, as many different players can be dangerous and are always able to score. Sydney Lohmann is in excellent form at the moment, and she can really push the team on if she is able to start [doubtful because of a small torn muscle fibre, editor’s note]. The team wants to prove something and make a statement. It must be Bayern’s clear ambition to become champions with this squad.
They have many players who stand out for their speed, especially in transition, and in the end it in such a game what it often comes down to is mental strength. Both coaches will try to come up with something special and spring a surprise. On the back of a flawless record so far, this is the first real test for the side from Munich and I am curious to see how they will cope with the pressure and stress that will come their way.
Jasmina Schweimler, sports journalist for “DW Sports”, the “WAZ Wolfsburg” and “Sportbuzzer”
Jasmina Schweimler is one of the most widely acclaimed German sports journalists in the area of women’s football and has closely monitored the VfL Wolfsburg’s women for years. She therefore is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of VfL: “In Wolfsburg, problems in chance conversion have been increasingly a topic of discussion lately and that they often overcomplicate matters in defense. The game against Duisburg was a little wake-up call in that regard, but against Potsdam they managed to bounce back and keep a compact shape, and I expect them to do nothing less against Bayern, too.”
However, Schweimler adds, it was also a quality of Wolfsburg to make a lot out of very little. According to her, composure, outstanding mentality of the players and the threat the team is able to create from set pieces are among the foremost strengths of the team. She names Dominique Janssen, Felicitas Rauch (free kicks) and Lena Goeßling (penalty kicks) as reliable set piece takers.
But what kind of game can we expect? Jasmina Schweimler foresees a typical contest of two top teams: “On the one hand, I think it will be a game of few chances, as both sides will neutralise each other. On the other hand I expect a fast-paced, aggressive game.”
The game will be decided on the details. Who will win the important duels in midfield? Who will be more clinical in front of goal? Who can make better use of the opponent’s small weaknesses and protect their own?
It would be bold to criticise the women from Wolfsburg for achieving seven wins and one draw in the first eight games. Four goals conceded is not a terribly large number, either. But compared to Bayern, it worth having a second look at. Perhaps it is because Wolfsburg lost important key players before the season and other important members of the team are currently absent, but they have not always seemed to be gifted with a solid foundation. Jasmina Schweimler agrees:
The Wolfsburg women had to adapt their playing style somewhat, but they have done so very well so far. Due to the absences of Ewa Pajor, Pauline Bremer, Sara Doorsoun, Fridolina Rolfö and now Alexandra Popp, they had to cope with personell setbacks again and again. But the results bode well, even if there is still room for improvement here and there. The 1-1 in Freiburg was a slip up that the team should not really have made. In recent years, it is this that has always made the difference: Wolfsburg never dropped points against the supposedly “smaller” teams, whereas Bayern did. But the season is still long, and it is not completely impossible that Bayern team will yet drop points as well.Jasmina Schweimler
So far, however, Bayern have made a more structured, composed, and overall better impression than in previous years. Sydney Lohmann, who has been highly praised by Jasmina Schweimler and Verena Schweers, may well be the difference maker in this respect. Not only is she a goalscorer and has the necessary creativity for creating breakthroughs and overloads, she is also very strong at pressing and can put pressure on even a top-class team like Wolfsburg.
Together with Lina Magull and Sarah Zadrazil, Lohmann in recent games has been part of a midfield trio that has perfectly complemented each other. The three are technically at the highest level, well organised against the ball, and Lohmann in particular is also physically strong. Now, besides Lohmann, Magull’s appearance is also doubtful as she has suffered a slight knock.
If only one of them were unavailable, it would be a severe setback for the team. But an important strength of the Bayern women, regardless of the high individual quality, is the depth of their squad. It would be complicated, but not impossible, for coach Jens Scheuer to replace them. In view of the team’s outstanding performances in recent weeks, he will nevertheless hope that ideally all of them will be fit to play in time, because the trio could be the key to success.
Another fact playing into the hands of Bayern on Sunday is that there has been significant turnover in on-field personell at VfL Wolfsburg recently. “With Pernille Harder, Sara Gunnarsdottir and Noelle Maritz, three important players have left the club,” says Jasmina Schweimler.
But how can it be that something like this happens to Wolfsburg, of all clubs? Jasmina Schweimler sees very different reasons for this. Harder, for example, joined Chelsea FC in London because her partner Magdalena Eriksson plays there and the two wanted to live closer together. Wolfsburg ultimately did not want to stand in the way of a deserving player and her private life.
In the case of Gunnarsdottir, Olympique Lyon was simply a bigger club with which they could not keep up, which once again underlines Lyon’s supremacy in Europe. And “they wanted to keep Maritz, but both sides could not agree on a new deal,” says Jasmina Schweimler.
Wolfsburg tried to compensate for these departures, but experienced setbacks:
With Pauline Bremer, Wolfsburg signed a player for the offensive early on. She is a very flexible attacking player, which in a way was also Harder’s strength. Unfortunately, she is now out with a torn cruciate ligament.
Nevertheless, in the face of these facts, the Wolfsburg women managed to cope with the challenging situation relatively well and move on:
With Lena Oberdorf, an up-and-coming talent joined the club who is a one-to-one replacement for Gunnarsdottir in defensive midfield. So far, Wolfsburg have been able to compensate for all their losses quite well. Svenja Huth neatly slips into the Harder role and plays in the central offensive playmaker position, where she enjoys a lot of freedom. She often can be found everywhere on the pitch and appears stronger than ever before. In defensive midfield, Alexandra Popp, who will also be unavailable unfortunately, is given an increasingly bigger role and can play together with Ingrid Engen or Lena Oberdorf. In addition, goalkeeper Katarzyna Kiedrzynek, defender Kathrin Hendrich and the two last-minute additions in attack, Shanice van de Sanden and Karina Saevik, with their enormous experience also represent a significant step up in quality for the team. Basically, the responsibilities are now spread among several players and everyone contributes their share. There is often more than one way to assign responsibility and lead a team. Zsanett Jakabfi, for example, with her 10 goals in eight games is currently a real weapon – and has been with the club since 2009.Jasmina Schweimler
Wolfsburg are a good team, without question. But are they also an excellent team? Admittedly, that is probably the question that applies to both teams at the moment, because the FC Bayern women, too, have not really been put to the test so far. Against Wolfsburg, they will be facing a top opponent for the first time this season.
The game will be a benchmark for both sides. For the first time in a long while, Bayern can go into a game a little more relaxed. Of course, the pressure is on, because they want to use the chance to raise the gap to Wolfsburg to five points. But this time the onus to perform and prove themselves is on Wolfsburg for once. They need to prevent such a gap in the standings at all costs – precisely because there are signs that Bayern are more confident and stable in their games against the smaller teams than in previous years.
Therein lie the delicacy and excitement of the fixture. And ideally, this premise will lead to a top-class football match that is first class advertising for women’s football. Or as Verena Schweers put it in her interview with us: “These two teams can take women’s football to the next level”.
She said it was important that the Bayern women would have trust in themselves and take their game to the opponents. Then they would have the chance to finally topple Wolfsburg this season – “more than ever”, says the former player of both clubs. Jasmina Schweimler agrees: “I’m all with Verena. Nevertheless, she is predicting a 1-1 draw, adding: “I don’t want to go out on a limb too soon when it comes to the championship question.”
We would like to thank Jasmina Schweimler very much for the chance to talk to her about the two teams ahead of the game.