The Frauen Bundesliga season begins in earnest on Sunday, with champions 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam having rebuilt and facing challenges from 1. FFC Frankfurt and VfL Wolfsburg.
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The Frauen Bundesliga may have begun three weeks ago but the first full programme is not until Sunday, starting in earnest a title race made more open than ever thanks to some spectacular transfers.
Due to Germany's run to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup final in Japan, only four games have been played so far, most notably title holders and UEFA Women's Champions League contenders 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam winning 9-1 at promoted VfL Sindelfingen.
However, stalwart Potsdam coach Bernd Schröder is far from taking anything for granted after losing key players: German internationals Bianca Schmidt and Babett Peter have gone to 1. FFC Frankfurt, VfL Wolfsburg have signed Viola Odebrecht and Isabel Kerschowski is Bayer 04 Leverkusen bound. "We have a completely new team," Schröder told UEFA.com. "It is a fine line between playing good or bad football."
Three training sessions a day over seven weeks and nine games, mainly against men's teams, in pre-season have helped to forge a Turbine squad that could secure a fifth straight title. That would be a superb achievement in such a strong league for a coach who has a proven track record of rebuilding sides.
New international signings like American midfielder Keelin Winters, Scottish striker Lisa Evans and Belgium defender Heleen Jaques, along with German prospects Stefanie Mirlach and Johanna Elsig, should compensate for the loss of quality. "We have a very good team with strong character," Schröder added. "We are strong enough to vie for the title again."
Last season's UEFA Women's Champions League finalists Frankfurt have high ambitions, too, but have not won the Bundesliga since 2008 and are out of Europe again. After a narrow 2-1 defeat of FF USV Jena and a surprising 3-1 loss to SGS Essen, coach Sven Kahlert has been replaced, with former fitness trainer Philipp Dahm appointed as caretaker.
New arrivals Sandrine Bretigny and midfielder Simone Laudehr, as well as Germany full-backs Peter and Schmidt, certainly prove the ambition of the club with the league's biggest annual budget of €1.8m. "We achieved a lot last season, but didn't win anything," said general manager Siegfried Dietrich. Chairman Bodo Adler added: "Having such a team, the only goal can be to win the title."
That, though, is also the aim of last term's runners-up and European debutants Wolfsburg, an already stellar lineup further bolstered by German internationals Odebrecht, Alexandra Popp and Luisa Wensing, plus prospects Lina Magull, Annabel Jäger and Carolin Simon.
Coach Ralf Kellermann told UEFA.com: "We were runners-up last season and came close to winning the title. We strengthened our squad, so it is understandable that our team are rated as title contenders. I expect Frankfurt, Potsdam and Wolfsburg to vie for the title, while Bayern München have the potential to close the gap to the top sides."
The increased competition helped the 2011/12 Frauen Bundesliga draw an increased total attendance of 147,000, including a record 8,689 for Wolfsburg against Frankfurt in May. Meanwhile, 59 foreign players from 19 countries take part in a league with an international reputation. German Football Association (DFB) president Wolfgang Niersbach said: "The Frauen Bundesliga has its own brand, which deserves to be strengthened in the future."