Bayer Leverkusen are not the only undefeated champions in Germany

<span>Pernille Harder (21) celebrates with teammates after scoring against <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Wolfsburg;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Wolfsburg</a> on 23 March.</span><span>Photograph: Oliver Hardt/Getty Images for DFB</span>

Let me start by saying, proudly, that Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen aren’t the only unbeaten German top-flight team this season. With our 4-1 victory at Hoffenheim on Monday, my Bayern side have achieved the same feat in the Frauen Bundesliga, which made it a very satisfactory ending to my first campaign in Bavaria.

If you look at it from the outside, you might think we’ve had it easy winning a second successive title but none of the games have been a walkover. After six seasons in the WSL with Chelsea, I had expected that there’d be a bigger difference between the two leagues in terms of quality. Instead, I’ve been surprised by the level of competition here as most teams are quite evenly matched. It’s true that the Frauen Bundesliga doesn’t have the same number of star players as in England. Here Bayern and Wolfsburg are on a level of their own but the other teams are still hard to break down – if you look at our goal difference of +52, it’s one fewer than the +53 of WSL champions Chelsea.

What’s different in England is that almost every WSL team will have some players with the individual class to hurt you and so they’re quite open and try to press high. There’s more technical quality. In Germany, by contrast, I’ve discovered that most teams stay compact and run a lot and make it very difficult for you. They focus a lot on fitness which means they can keep up with you physically if not technically. For us at Bayern, therefore, the onus is always on us to create and score goals, and yet there were few games where we could just go out and kill off our opponents early.

Attendances and interest

Wherever we go with Bayern there is a group of fans based in that region who’ll come to the stadium to support us along with our amazing group of travelling fans, and that’s been really cool to see. And generally, while the average attendance is lower than in England – around 2,800, compared with 7,363 in the WSL – I’ve seen a decent crowd in every stadium we’ve been to. Attendances should improve with time, helped by the fact Borussia Dortmund have created a women’s team who are working their way up the ranks with the aim of being in the Bundesliga by 2027.

Overall, since Germany reached the Women’s Euro final in 2021, there’s been a big interest in the current national-team players and my Bayern teammate Giulia Gwinn is huge here – whenever we go out, everyone recognises her. Media-wise, meanwhile, every game is streamed which is a positive sign too although I do think they could stage more of the women’s matches in bigger stadiums.

When I compare it with England, it’s fair to say the WSL do a better job at turning certain fixtures into a spectacle – for example, taking a London or Manchester or Merseyside derby and putting it on in a big stadium. There is no equivalent of the Women’s Football Weekends so that’s definitely something the Bundesliga can learn from.

Yet on the positive side, we played Wolfsburg in the Volkswagen Arena in front of 24,000 spectators and that was an amazing experience. Our recent DFB Pokal final against Wolfsburg was an even bigger spectacle with a sell-out crowd of 44,000 in Cologne and I can only quote my parents who were there and told me that it was at least the equal of attending an FA Cup final. There was a big stage outside and a real festival feeling in the hours leading up to the game.

Secret of Bayern’s success

On the football side, we lost that cup final 2-0 on an evening when Wolfsburg showed the quality and experience that took them to the Champions League final 12 months ago. They had all their best players fit and firing, and mentally they were really switched on. We finished seven points above them in the league but on that day, they were simply better than us.

Otherwise, we’ve been really solid throughout the season. We’ve conceded just eight goals in 22 league games and that’s not me bragging about my contribution as a defender – it’s because of the way we control games with the ball.

One thing that may surprise people about a big institution like Bayern is that we focus a lot on the team. At Chelsea it was a little bit more about the individuals – big-game players who can step up when it matters. Here it feels more like with my Swedish national team. We have a big squad and everyone steps up when needed and I see players here who are competing for the same position who are best friends, and substitutes who are just as happy as regular first-teamers when we win the championship. I don’t imagine a lot of top sides in Europe have this.

The biggest disappointment for us in 2023-24 was failing to get out of the group stage of the Champions League. In fact, with Eintracht Frankfurt also falling at that hurdle and Wolfsburg eliminated in the second round, it was the first time no German team had made it to the quarter-finals since the old Uefa Women’s Cup was rebranded in 2009. That led to some negative articles about the state of the game here, coming only five months after Germany’s group-stage elimination at the World Cup. But in football, people are so quick to say something is moving in the right or wrong direction – don’t forget Germany had one more side in the Champions League group stage than England.

If Germany don’t do well at the Olympics this summer perhaps that argument could resurface but to drive progress, there must be other factors – investing in clubs and seeing how many fans they can attract if they put the teams in the men’s stadiums more often.

One thing I wouldn’t suggest, though, is expanding the Frauen Bundesliga to 16 teams. That was one argument after the clubs’ Champions League exits but even now with 12 teams, there are smaller clubs in the division where not every player is fully professional. The girls at Bayern have told me some teams train in the late afternoons and evenings to give those players time to work or study beforehand. So first they should be making sure there are 12 teams that are fully professional. With all due respect to Spain, a big European league which does have 16 clubs, everyone I’ve spoken to there says that it’s way too many teams and the depth of quality is not there.

Bottle the moment

Finally, I’ll end with one last difference between the Frauen Bundesliga and the WSL – and that’s the beer! When we won the title at Leverkusen, the first thing I saw being brought on to the pitch were these big bottles of beer. Basically, they don’t spray champagne around like they do in England but beer and they left crates of it on the pitch for us.

We were given these nice T-shirts to wear, which had the message “Deutsche Meisterinnen 2024” across the front, and straight away mine was soaked in beer. I decided to keep it as a souvenir and packed it away and, needless to say, when I opened my bag the next day the smell wasn’t the best!

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