2015-2016 Season Preview: SV Darmstadt 98

SV Darmstadt 98
Nickname: Die Lilien (The Lilies – The Fleur de Lis is prominent on the coat of arms of the city of Darmstadt)
Founded: 22-May-1898
Ground: Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor – Capacity: 17,000
Club Colours: Blue and White
Club Rivals: Kickers Offenbach

2014-15 Finishes:

2-Bundesliga: 2nd (15W 14D 5L)
DFB Pokal: 1st Round (0-0 AET vs Wolfsburg, lost 5-4 on penalties)
Top Goal Scorer: 11 – Dominik Stroh-Engel

“60-second dossier”

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals: 6
Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 9
Number of Matches drawn: 14
Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 2
Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 3
Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in loss: 1
Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in draw: 6
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 4
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory: 1

2014-15 Season Summary

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that most would have predicted Darmstadt to struggle and eventually crash out of the 2 Bundesliga last season – clearly that wasn’t a part of Die Lilien’s plans. The Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor (say that five times fast!) quickly became a fortress where opposition clubs were more often than not turned away at the gates – at 11-5-1 Darmstadt shared the joint top home record in the league with Karlsruher SC. Away from home the club showed a strong propensity to not lose matches although in five of these draws Darmstadt held a lead only to surrender it at one point or another during the match.

Darmstadt’s success was in large part due to its iron-clad defense, most notably central defenders Aytac Sulu and Romain Brégerie who logged the most and third most minutes of all outfield players on the squad. The club conceded a joint best (once again with KSC) 26 goals and conceded more than a pair of goals on only four occasions. While they didn’t score boatloads of goals, Darmstadt were very good in coming out on top in close matches. In all matches decided by a single goal (draws obviously excluded) their record was nine wins and two losses, a testament to defensive responsibility and, perhaps overlooked, mental toughness.

Aside from the lack of goals produced, Darmstadt’s true shortcoming is a dearth of Bundesliga quality players in the squad. Unavoidable financial constraints are obviously to blame but that does not change the fact that the squad is likely not good enough to compete week in and week out, to say nothing of the injuries (which will happen) that will test the squad depth. If the list of walking wounded starts to grow, Schuster and the lads will be in for a very long season.

In most matches last season, Darmstadt lined up in either a 4-4-2 (double 6) or a 4-2-3-1 and it would be expected that the same would ring true for the upcoming season. Having two dedicated defensive midfielders on the pitch can definitely provide extra cover for the back four when they are under pressure. Schuster’s best tactical plan would be to get his players to play a disciplined defensive style and to instill a fearlessness in them to overcome any intimidation factor that might come with playing in the top flight. The onus there will fall significantly on his veteran players.

It will be interesting to see how much of a factor the stadium could figure to be. The stadium is archaic, a footballing relic of days past, which could throw the opposition off of their game. While money has been spent on upgrades, the visiting players will definitely be out of their element and comfort zone when they show up in Darmstadt.

All things considered, the fact that Darmstadt is playing in Germany’s top flight has everyone involved with the club, supporters very much included, in a euphoric-like state. No one however appears to be wearing rose-coloured glasses – the expectation is that the club will go one and out but that is not going to act as an excuse for the team to meekly roll over and accept relegation as a foregone conclusion. These underdogs are going to do their damndest to show they’re not all bark.

2014-15 Trivia

Darmstadt had the longest unbeaten streak in the 2-Bundesliga last season – a run which spanned 16 matches (7W 9D) or nearly half of an entire season. This streak surpassed both FC Ingolstadt 04’s (13) and Karlsruher SC’s (12), the clubs that Darmstadt ended up sandwiched in between in the league table. Also within that streak, Darmstadt drew 0-0 on three consecutive matches – away to 1 FC Kaiserslautern, and then at home versus Karlsruher SC and SpVgg Greuther Fürth.

Money Matters

With far and away the smallest budget in the Bundesliga (perhaps even in the league they were just promoted from as well) Darmstadt will be forced to look in the “bargain bin” to fill their squad with capable players in order to replace the players who have left and be competitive in the league. Hamstrung by the fact that stadium upgrades needed to be prioritized over player transfers, it isn’t surprising that most of the new additions came either on a free transfer or were promoted from the U-19 squad. Dirk Schuster will definitely be hoping that there is still some rubber left on some of those Bundesliga retreads.

Transfers In:

Mario Vrancic – Central Midfielder – SC Paderborn (€ 500 Tsd)
Fabian Holland – Left Fullback – Hertha BSC (€ 350 Tsd)
Luca Caldirola – Central Defender – Werder Bremen (€ 100 Tsd) (Loan)
Peter Niemayer – Defensive Midfielder – Hertha BSC (Free)
Jan Rosenthal – Second Striker – Eintracht Frankfurt (Free)
Konstantin Rausch – Left Midfielder – VfB Stuttgart (Free)
Junior Diaz – Left Fullback – 1 FSV Mainz 05 (Free)
Sandro Wagner – Striker – Hertha BSC (Free)
Jan Finger – Defensive Midfielder – SV Darmstadt 98 U-19
Noel Wembacher – Central Defender – SV Darmstadt 98 U-19
Ali Kazimi – Left Midfielder – SV Darmstadt 98 U-19
Nick Volk – Defensive Midfielder – SV Darmstadt 98 U-19

Transfers Out:

Hanno Behrens – Defensive Midfielder – 1. FC Nürnberg (Free)
Leon Balogun – Right Fullback – 1 FSV Mainz 05 (Free)
Romain Brégerie – Central Defender – FC Ingolstadt 04 (Free)
Ronny König – Striker – Chemnitzer FC (Free)
Marius Sauss – Goalkeeper – Lupo-Martini (Free)
Maurice Exslager – Right Winger – 1 FC Köln (Loan End)
Fabian Holland – Left Fullback – Hertha BSC (Loan End)
Jan Rosenthal – Second Striker – Eintracht Frankfurt (Loan End)
Timon Frölich – Defender – Released
Serkan Firat – Left Fullback – Released
Jannik Bachmann – Central Defender – Released

Total: € -950 Tsd

The Boss

In my season preview for SC Freiburg, I made a veiled reference to a miracle worker when describing about Christian Streich and his work with Die Breisgauer. Well if Streich is a miracle worker than Dirk Schuster can probably walk on water given what he’s done as manager of Darmstadt. Since taking over in 2012 Schuster has overseen two consecutive promotions – after of course being saved from relegation to the Regionalliga thanks to Kickers Offenbach’s financial troubles.

His views on his club’s survival in the league are incredibly realistic (as in they likely will be relegated) but of course he isn’t interested in just capitulating before a ball is even kicked. For all he’s done, his frank honesty, and his dedication to the club (he was fully prepared to stay on as manager even when the Regionalliga beckoned in 2012), it is no surprise that he’s beloved by the Darmstadt faithful, many of whom would honour Schuster by treating him to a pint down at the local pub.

Odds to win league:

2500/1 Bet365.com (as of 10-08-2015)
5000/1 Ladbrokes (as of 10-08-2015)
500/1 (!) Paddy Power (as of 10-08-2015)

Relegation…

2/5 Bet365.com (as of 10-08-2015)
4/9 Ladbrokes (as of 10-08-2015)

Five-Year Record:

2014-15 – 2-Bundesliga W15-D14-L5 2nd and promotion to the Bundesliga
2013-14 – 3 Liga W21-D9-L8 3rd and promotion to the 2-Bundesliga
2012-13 – 3 Liga W8-D14-L16 18th*
2011-12 – 3 Liga W12-D13-L13 14th
2010-11 – Regionalliga Süd W18-D8-L4 1st and promotion to the 3 Liga

*Kickers Offenbach were denied a 3 Liga licence due to a sizable debt and were relegated

Questions with a Club Fan:

I was unfortunately unable to connect directly with a Darmstadt supporter but I was fortunate to have two wonderful German football supporters step up and answer these questions – Scott (@heynckelpott), host of the Rekordmeister podcast and Kathi (@shishisong) a Russian Bayer Leverkusen fan with a soft spot for Die Lilien.

Who is the player to keep an eye out for this season and why?

S – It would seem that the biggest challenge this season will be scoring goals. Despite winning automatic promotion last year, Darmstadt were smack dab in the middle of the league in terms of goals scored. For that reason, striker Dominik Stroh-Engel will be worthy of paying attention to. He basically shot SVD into the 2. Bundesliga two years ago with 27 goals and was the leading scorer last year with 9. Darmstadt also lost their number two and three goalscorers from a year ago, so it looks like the goalscoring burden is going to fall on the former Wehen Wiesbaden man to get into double-digits.

K – Júnior Díaz a very experienced left-back. Good strengthening for the line-up.

Is there a particular terrace favourite amongst the Darmstadt faithful?

S – No player gets a louder cheer than the club’s delightful song.

K – I suppose it’s Marco Sailer, very charismatic person indeed! (Editor’s note: seriously, how can you not love that beard?)

You’re given an audience with manager Dirk Schuster. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give him?

S – There’s literally nothing I could say. I’d be an idiot to try to suggest something to this god amongst men. He achieved promotion to the Bundesliga faster than I did on FIFA 15, and I’m actually a pretty good FIFA player. I’m sort of the Felipe Santana of FIFA, or at least that’s what’s on my business card.

It’s really interesting to examine Schuster, actually. He is a member of the Winnie Schäfer coaching diaspora, who if you recall, was a preeminent “system” innovator of the 90’s along with Volker Finke at Freiburg. The Karlsruhe of the 90’s played lightning-quick football and were always a good entertainment value. Schuster’s Darmstadt isn’t quite the same, but then again the game is much more tactically organized today than it was 20 years ago. Back then it was basically all about winning possession and trying to hit a through-ball as opposed to working the ball up the field.

K – To stay strong and to keep the fighting spirit.

Are there any tips you’d give to folk visiting the Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor? Etiquette lessons for away fans?

S – Darmstadt play in the coolest stadium in the Bundesliga. It feels like you’re going back in time to the 1970’s in many ways, when the sport was played and watched in a totally different way. And, usually by people chain-smoking while guzzling beer. Having been in a fair share of German stadiums, I can say with some certainty that if the table were determined by a percentage of stadium-goers who were smoking, Darmstadt would be in the Champions League next year.

The fans have waited a very long time for this, and could have never expected to be playing Bundesliga football only a few years ago when the club was only spared a stay in the 3. Liga because hated rivals Kickers Offenbach were denied their license. Every match will be a party. For away fans who are younger than 40: this is what is must have been like back in the good old days.

K – Because I’m not German and don’t live in Germany, my first visit to Darmstadt is being planned for the winter time. My advice is general: pay respect to other fans and just enjoy the football.

Get out your crystal ball! Where are Darmstadt finishing this year?

S – Number seventeen in the table but number one in your heart.

K – I’m afraid of these predictions. I want the team to stay in Bundesliga as long as possible, so something around 10th place would be great for them.

Crucial Fixtures Stretch:

To be quite blunt the entire season is likely going to be a struggle for the Bundesliga newcomers however it appears that whoever it is at the league office that is in charge of scheduling the matches must have a mean streak a mile wide. After a relatively manageable opening match at home to Hannover 96, Darmstadt are truly in for the roughest of rides over the next six match days…here, just look at it for yourselves:

MD 2 at Schalke 04
MD 3 vs Hoffenheim
MD 4 at Bayer 04 Leverkusen
MD 5 vs FC Bayern München
MD 6 vs Werder Bremen
MD 7 at Borussia Dortmund

If six straight matches versus those clubs doesn’t qualify as cruel and unusual punishment, I’m not sure I want to know what does. To make matters worse, Darmstadt will be playing the final three matches of that stretch (FCB, SVW, and BVB) in the span of eight days. A string of poor results, which is in fairness quite likely given the opposition, could see Darmstadt well rooted to the bottom of the league table after only 2/10ths of the season is even played. And to make matters worse, they are going to have to suffer a similar fate when the reverse fixtures come around at the beginning of the Rückrunde.

Verdict

Most pre-season predictions have Darmstadt relegated at season’s end and in all honesty, this one won’t be much different. The Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor will be rocking, and will perhaps inspire Die Lilien to a surprise victory on the odd occasion, but the reality is this club just isn’t good enough to stay in the league.

Bundesliga: 18th

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Born in Toronto, Adrian is a first generation Canadian by way of Bavaria and the Black Forest. After some intense football soul searching he's now a fully fledged member of the Church of Streich. Follow @AdrianSertl