Chelsea’s Champions League rivals Wolfsburg in safe hands with veteran keeper Schult back in fold

The Frauen Bundesliga leaders are hoping to regain silverware with the return of their big-game goalie from a lengthy injury lay-off and maternity leave — but they face the mother of all challenges in European action against the wounded Blues on Thursday, writes Martin Whiteley.

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For almost a decade, Wolfsburg have been the standard bearer in German women’s football. During most of that successful run, it has been Almuth Schult who has been anchoring their last line of defence.

The veteran goalkeeper possesses a strong personality and has extraordinary willpower, which are great characteristics in those who play the most isolated position on a football field. This was never more evident than in Schult’s inspired performance in Wolfsburg’s 1-0 win at Bayern Munich last month, when she pulled off a plethora of saves to keep the Frauen Bundesliga champions out.

Without the experienced 30-year-old shot-stopper — most recently missing from their squad due to being a close contact of a person who may have tested positive for Covid-19 — her side have endured mixed fortunes and lost the league to Bayern by two points last season.

At the weekend, Wolfsburg were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw at Bayer Leverkusen in her absence despite Lena Lattwein’s 25th-minute opener, but they remain top of the table by a point after their old rivals were held to the same scoreline by Turbine Potsdam.

The title chasers may have been suffering a Champions League hangover from their exploits in midweek, having kept their hopes of reaching the last eight alive with a 3-0 win over Servette in Switzerland. But it’ll be a blow for Wolfsburg to be without the reassuring presence of their big-game goalie for Thursday’s final Group A clash with wounded WSL champions Chelsea, who’ll be looking to bounce back from an uncharacteristic defeat by Reading.

Since Schult joined the club from SC 07 Bad Neuenahr in 2013, they have won five Frauen Bundesliga titles, seven DFB-Pokal Frauen cups and added a second Champions League to the trophy cabinet.

Back then, the 22-year-old was Germany’s No.2 goalkeeper — behind Nadine Angerer — and had been a member of the squad that had recently been crowned Euro 2013 champions, adding to her 2010 U-20 World Cup glory. The goalie would cap her meteoric rise by helping her country to their first gold medal in Olympic football just three years later in Rio.

Despite everything she has accomplished the She-Wolves custodian continues to work on improving her game: such as being able to distribute the ball from the back more efficiently. She is vocal about the game’s development on and off the pitch. As a strong communicator — and the only mum playing in the Frauen Bundesliga — Schult has sparked discussions about how to combine motherhood with being an elite athlete.

When Schult hurt her shoulder at the 2019 World Cup, she was expected to return for Wolfsburg after recovering from surgery. However, it was later announced that she would take time away from football to start a family and she gave birth to twins the following April.

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Unlike a lot of players before her, the German star felt she received the full support of both her club and national federation, but also voiced that more could be done by clubs to help mothers. Back in 2017 a report from FIFPRO — the worldwide representative organisation for professional footballers — showed that only three per cent of clubs offered childcare support.

Schult returned to the pitch for Wolfsburg in a warm-up match with Eintracht Frankfurt during the winter break in January and it was as if she had never been away when she made her first competitive start in a 4-0 win at MSV Duisburg at the end of April.

She faces a battle to reclaim the Germany No.1 jersey from replacement Merle Frohms, having been forced to settle for a place on the bench during the latter stages of their World Cup qualifying campaign, but her most immediate concern will be fighting to regain silverware with Wolfsburg.

The position of goalkeeper can often go unnoticed in any dominant team until they are tasked with holding their opponents at bay in a significant match. For Wolfsburg, with the formidable Schult between the sticks, they know they still have one of the best around to handle the heat of a title race with Bayern.

Follow Martin on Twitter @673martin

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