The Austrian penalty-box predator has repaid the German club’s faith in her with a stunning goal return in back-to-back seasons that has them on the cusp of securing European football, writes Martin Whiteley.
Finishing third in the Frauen-Bundesliga last season gave Hoffenheim nothing more than personal pride of achieving their highest ever league placing. This campaign, as one of the top six leagues in UEFA’s Women’s association club coefficients charts that same place comes with qualification to the Champions League.
A 4-2 home win over Freiburg moved Hoffenheim onto 41 points and kept them three points clear of their nearest challengers Turbine Potsdam in fourth heading into the final game of the season on June 6. With goal difference favouring the third-placed team — +29 against +5 — there would have to be a couple of extraordinary scorelines for Hoffenheim not to be tasting European football for the first time next term.
One of the reasons Hoffenheim have been able to cement their place under the powerhouse duo of Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg for a second successive campaign is the goalscoring exploits of Nicole Billa.
Austria international Billa initially joined Hoffenheim on a two-year deal from St. Polten in her home country ahead of the 2015-16 season. During her maiden campaign for the German club, she scored six league goals in 19 appearances.
The attacker had topped the scoring charts in the OFB-Frauenliga the last two seasons she had played in Austria netting 24 and then 27 goals, respectively. Hoffenheim spotting the potential that the then 19-year-old had.
Despite never reaching double figures in league goals with Hoffenheim for the first four seasons that Billa was with the club they kept offering her a two-year extension whenever her contract was about to run out.
That faith in Billa was rewarded the last two seasons as she found the back of the net 18 times in 22 league games last term — only Pernille Harder with 27 scored more. So far this campaign — with another brace bagged against Freiburg — the attacker has scored 21 goals in 20 Frauen-Bundesliga appearances to currently head the race to be the leading scorer this time around.
Predominantly a predator in the box, Billa has the rare ability that every team is looking for to be able to punish her opponents if they give her just a fraction of a chance to score.
Whether that is with a sublime one-touch execution of pass from her team-mates or to create space for herself in the penalty area with a neat piece of skill before clinically dispatching the ball past the goalkeeper.
As an opposition coach, you know the type of goals she is likely to score, stopping her from achieving her objective is an altogether different proposition.
Losing their better players to the likes of Bayern and Wolfsburg is always a problem that Hoffenheim must overcome. On this occasion, though, they have come out on top with Billa putting pen to paper on yet another two-year extension back in January.
There are many advantages to giving extra Champions League places to more competitive sides. The chance for players like Billa to showcase their talents on a European stage is certainly one of them.
Follow Martin on Twitter at @673martin