Football does not stop and after a week of roller coaster results in the Frauen-Bundesliga, the weekend is here before we know it to throw another spanner on the works. There’s never been a better time to watch Die Liga (Die Bart, Die), and not just because there is genuinely nothing else on. The tension is building and, if you’re not watching, what the bloody hell are you doing?
Livestreams create fan bases
The key post-Corona detail that makes the Frauen-Bundesliga the league to watch is, simply, that it is now being streamed live. We have to confess that whilst we have been following the results and watching the highlight summaries up until this point, it had been impossible for us to watch it live before, and this has nothing to do with scheduling at ungodly hours in Australia. There was simply nowhere to watch it outside of Germany.
Magenta Sport, Eurosport Germany, and Sportschau, among others, have been broadcasting the league before, but always with a regional subscription barrier. Unlike the FAWSL, the Frauen-Bundesliga has not been picked up by Optus Sport or any other Australian platform. In fact, outside of Germany, Die Liga has only TV broadcast deals with some Scandinavian countries, and that’s it.
But the Germans have seen this as an opportunity to put their footballers on the spotlight, and both Magenta and Eurosport are showing all games live without geoblocking issues. The DFB has also joined forces with them, however their stream was less than perfect, and I believe they have shifted the responsibility of broadcasting to ‘the professionals’. We can only thank them for this move.
Title race almost over
With four games to go and 12 points up for grabs, Wolfsburg looks poised to lift the trophy for a fourth consecutive time and catch Turbine Potsdam on 6 overall league wins. The Wölfinnen are 8 points clear of second placed FC Bayern Munich, and need only another four to clinch the title. With a game away this week in Essen, Wolfsburg may be able to celebrate their title win at home against Freiburg on Wednesday next week.
In normal circumstances, a team would be quite delighted to celebrate winning the title at home in front of their fans, but given that there will be no crowds to offer the silverware to, I suppose it makes no difference when the title is secured. At least, unlike all other European champions this year, they will be able to celebrate the trophy on the field with their teammates, knocking elbows, rather than at home by themselves.
It is expected that by the time round 21 rolls in, Wolfsburg will be champions and therefore their direct clash with FC Bayern will not have the importance it may have had, had the title race been at all tight this year. Bayern have plenty to play for, needing full marks from their other three remaining games to avoid any last minute scares in order to secure their UEFA Women’s Champions League berth for next year. TSG Hoffenheim are less hot on their heels as they were at the beginning of the post Corona-pause, and their four-point cushion should be sufficient, but as we have seen with the relegation fight, nothing is decided until the final whistle.
Relegation heats up
The tension is building in the cellar of the tabelle, and the battle to avoid relegation now seems a three horse race, in which one team will have the undesired privilege of vacating the top league. Whilst Die Liga sees the two bottom reams relegated to 2. Frauen-Bundesliga, one of those tickets seems reserved for USV Jena, who have yet to win a game this year. With only two points to their name, eleven points from salvation, and playing a needy FC Bayern this week, the obituaries have already been written ahead of Sunday.
The second spot will be fought off between Bayer Leverkusen, MSV Duisburg, and FC Köln, who, until last week, were in that dreaded 11th position. A case can be easily made about the fairness of relegation without completing the season, as Köln would have taken that ticket to second division if Die Liga hadn’t restarted. After a heartbreak draw against MSV Duisburg ten days ago, they have netted six points in two games with two very last minute goals from Rachel Rinast and find themselves not only out of the hole, but one point clear of it. They are in the driver seat and depend only on themselves from here onwards.
MSV Duisburg is perhaps the team in the most precarious position. With only three more games left for the zebras (they lost 5-1 to Frankfurt last night), and two of them being rather tough clashes (TSG and Turbine), they are going to have to dust themselves off quickly if they don’t want to miss the train ahead of schedule.
Their only consolation is perhaps that both Bayer and Köln have clashes against Wolfsburg and FC Bayern respectively still to play, and would be expected to drop points in those games. Leverkusen also has to host Köln in the 21st round, and this could play into MSV’s hands as points will also be dropped then. It is, in any case, too hard to call at this stage: we can only watch and hope it is as nail biting as it is poised to be.
DFB Pokal final on the horizon
Also this week, the Pokal cup semifinals were played to no surprises: Wolfsburg and SGS Essen progressed through to the final after beating Arminia Bielefeld and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. Let’s face it, it is not a fair clash by any means: it is hard to imagine Wolfsburg not clinching the double, although anything can happen in 90 minutes. Anything other than this result would be a surprise of massive proportions, given the differences between the two teams. SGS Essen have been competitive all year, however no one has been anywhere near the Wölfinnen, not even FC Bayern.
We will have a little preview of this final this weekend, when Essen hosts Wolfsburg in the league. Will we see either team showing their cards? Or will there be a defensive approach? Essen are a bit in no-man’s land in the league, too far from Frankfurt, but well and truly in a safe position, so besides pride, there’s not much in this game for them. It would make sense to see them use this game as preparation for the final. On the other hand, we know what we’re going to get from Wolfsburg: speed, definition, ruthlessness. It would be a surprise to not see them field a full-strength team. They might not be desperate for points, but the lure of winning the title sooner will be a strong argument in their pregame chat.
Fairness and sporting merit
This is more of a general comment, and it will tie in nicely with the blog post series that we will be rolling out from tomorrow, aptly named Leagues Ending Badly. If the Frauen-Bundesliga had not restarted, FC Köln, as explained above, would have found themselves relegated without a chance to fight it out on the field. As it is, they now look like the team most likely to save themselves. Teams in other leagues, such as Olympique Marseille, Liverpool, and Tavagnacco, have found themselves on the wrong side of the line, and whether fairly or unfairly, will have to expiate their 2019-20 sins next season. They were not granted the chance to do so on the field.
‘Sporting merit’ is the terminology that Italians have used to calculate the resolution of their league, but sporting merit can only be really attributed when it is all done and dusted. It is hard to talk about the sporting merit of not playing the last six games in most leagues to determine whether a team has build enough of a case to not be relegated.
The leagues ended, and in whichever way they did, they all did so unfairly (more or less unfairly, in some cases). The Frauen-Bundesliga has put the spotlight on the importance of equality, solidarity, and including everyone in the rebuilding process, but also on the consequences of the alternative: cancellation could only bring un-sporting resolutions to sporting competitions. Food for thought.