Wolfsburg – Potsdam: DFB cup final with different preconditions

DFB Pokal Wolfsburg Potsdam
Sophie Wolter of VfL Wolfsburg celebrates with teammates after scoring her team's third goal during the FLYERAKARM Frauen-Bundesliga match between VfL Wolfsburg and Turbine Potsdam (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Serial winners VfL Wolfsburg play Turbine Potsdam in the DFB Pokal final, aiming to crown an impressive season. For the women-only club Potsdam, the game could be one of the few shots they’ll have at a title over the next years.

Wolfsburg and Potsdam are in the DFB Pokal final, and both have exceeded expectations this season. Wolfsburg faced an upheaval last summer, with key players leaving, but recruited well and won the league. Potsdam competed for a Champions League spot, but after a season to be proud of, many talents will leave. How exactly have their seasons gone and what would a victory in the final mean for the two clubs?

Wolfsburg with a strong first season under Tommy Stroot

The “She-Wolves” can look back on an impressive season, having won the Bundesliga title and reaching the UWCL semi-final. After a rebuild last summer (https://herfootballhub.com/three-takeaways-from-the-frauen-bundesliga-season-2020-21/), Wolfsburg’s main aim for the season was to give the squad time to grow as a team. Sporting director Ralf Kellermann said (https://www.vfl-wolfsburg.de/newsdetails/news-detail/detail/news/muessen-uns-noch-finden/ ) that a title wasn’t a must before the season: 

“Now is not the time to build up pressure from the club side. The upheaval is too big for that.”

Understatement is a common thing in football, but it’s safe to say that even the club itself was surprised by the positive turn the season has taken. Wolfsburg were in the unfamiliar role of the underdog (https://www.ndr.de/sport/fussball/Fussballerinnen-des-VfL-Wolfsburg-nach-Umbruch-in-Aussenseiterrolle,wolfsburg16774.html), but the team thrived as they could play without high expectations.

Improvement over the season without pressure

After a shaky start in UWCL qualification and Frauen Bundesliga, Tommy Stroot’s team has found their feet. Stroot needed time to get to know the team and figure out the tactics, and the beginning wasn’t smooth. In the first games of the season, Wolfsburg didn’t look like a cohesive unit and over-relied on Ewa Pajor’s goals.

When the Polish striker, who had returned from a long absence in spring, got injured again, concerns grew. How would Wolfsburg fare without the player who had been involved in 9 of their 14 goals at that point?

Stroot reacted well and made some changes, like moving Lena Oberdorf from central defense back to the defensive midfield. Over time, the team visibly got used to playing with each other and the offensive play became more natural. There were still ups (4:0 against Chelsea) and downs (defeat to Juventus), but it was clear that Wolfsburg were making progress as a team. Players like Tabea Waßmuth, Kathy Hendrich and Svenja Huth brought their performances to another level.

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Wolfsburg flow after the winter break

After the winter break, Wolfsburg got into what Huth calls “a fantastic flow”. Stroot’s team won every single game in the second half of the season, an unprecedented achievement in the Frauen-Bundesliga after its reform in 1997. The 1-5 defeat to Barcelona was a lesson for the team and for Stroot too, whose tactics allowed the Blaugrana to expose Wolfsburg’s defense. But the 2-0 revenge in the home game demonstrated that Wolfsburg had, again, learned from their mistakes. They finished the season on a high, winning their eight last Bundesliga matches with a goal difference of three or more.

Now, Wolfsburg aim to crown the season with yet another victory in the DFB Pokal. 

Potsdam with good season but disappointment prevails

A bit more than 150 kilometers east of Wolfsburg, the mood is quite different. Potsdam can look back on a season where they surprised many and competed for a Champions League spot until the final Frauen Bundesliga matchday. The club can’t compete with Hoffenheim and Frankfurt in terms of money and infrastructure. On the pitch, they could.

Sofian Chahed’s team was sitting third for a good part of the season, just losing the spot to Frankfurt in the final weeks. Potsdam scored 59 goals, and their young forwards impressed. Selina Cerci (21) was on her way to becoming the league’s top scorer, with 13 goals and 4 assists in 15 games, when she tore her ACL. Melissa Kössler, Sophie Weidauer, and Gina Chmielinski also showed good performances, all of them under 23.

But the caveat of having a young, talented team is that the performances won’t always be constant. On the final meters, Potsdam visibly grew tired and they lost to Frankfurt and Bayern.

Potsdam’s talented players leaving the club – challenges grow

This might also be due to a huge share of the team’s key players leaving this summer. Even when Potsdam still had good chances to qualify for the Champions League, some departures were announced. Top scorer Kössler (Hoffenheim) and captain Sara Agrez (Wolfsburg) have already announced their new clubs. With 11 contracts running out, more will follow.

Potsdam’s success is built on making the most out of their resources, every season. They don’t have the support of a men’s side like Frankfurt and Hoffenheim, so Potsdam have to invest their money wisely. And they do, but the big question is if that will be enough in the future. Competing with the big clubs becomes more and more difficult, and others already had to give up. Eintracht Frankfurt’s team, for example, played for the women-only club 1.FFC Frankfurt before, the two clubs merging two years ago.

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Special game for Potsdam

With this context, the final is a special one for Potsdam. If the trend continues, they won’t have many more chances to win titles in the near future. This final is the last occasion for the talented side, with Kössler, Agrez and more making their last appearance, to win silverware. The prize money would also probably be more important for Potsdam than for Wolfsburg.

Potsdam are familiar with the Pokal, having triumphed in the competition in 2004, 2005 and 2006. It’s been a while since they won the cup, but the prestigious club is still far from being a relic of the past. Wolfsburg will be warned, as the last finals have been quite close. None of them have been easy, with Sand, Essen, Freiburg and Frankfurt all putting on a great fight. But thanks to a combination of mentality, stamina and a tad of luck, Wolfsburg lifted the cup in the end every time. Last year, an Ewa Pajor strike saved them from a penalty shootout: 

The final has a different importance for the two clubs

Wolfsburg want to cement their position as Germany’s number one with their eighth consecutive title. For Potsdam, on the other hand, a victory would be immensely important, showing that they are still a club that can win titles. With many players leaving, lifting the trophy would at least be a bittersweet goodbye.

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