2018-19 Season Preview: FC Ingolstadt 04, Onwards and Upwards

Basics

  • Name: FC Ingolstadt 04 (Fußball-Club Ingolstadt 04 e.V)
  • Nickname: Die Schanzer (of military background, meaning trenchmen or rampartmen)
  • Founded: February 5, 2004 (MTV Ingolstadt (founded 1881) and ESV Ingolstadt (1919) merged to form FC Ingolstadt 04 after both faced bankruptcy in 2004)
  • Club Colors: Red, Black, White.

  • Rivals: SSV Jahn Regensburg, FC Augsburg, SpVgg Greuther Fürth, FC Nürnberg, TSV 1860 München

Stadium

  • Audi Sportpark (Capacity: 15,800)
  • Attendance: 174,064 (average per match: 10,239 – 64.8% of full capacity) – 15th best in 2. Bundesliga last season
Audi Sportpark (built in 2010 and is situated nearly 7km southeast from Ingolstadt city center)

Notable Achievement:

2014/15 2. Bundesliga Winners

2017/18 Finishes:

  • 2. Bundesliga: 9th Place with 45 points (12 wins, 9 draws, 13 losses) Goals Scored 47, Goals Allowed 45, Goal Difference +2
  • DFB Pokal: Round of 16 (Defeated by SC Paderborn 0:1)

2017/18 Top Scorers

  • Sonny Kittel: 10 in 2. Bundesliga (10 in all competitions)
  • Stefan Kutschke: (8)
  • Dario Lezcano: (7)
  • Robert Leipertz: (6)
  • Alfredo Morales: (5)

Pre-Season Results

Record: 6-1-0

Goals Scored: 15

Goals Conceded: 2

Top Scorer: Dario Lezcano (6 goals)

  • Stuttgarter Kickers 0:1 FCI
  • FCI 7:0 BFV Auswahl
  • FCI 2:0 FC Kaiserslautern
  • Wacker Innsbruck 0:2 FCI (Highlights)
  • FCI 1:1 SpVgg Unterhaching (Highlights)
  • FCI 2:1 Karlsruher SC (Highlights)
  • Bor. Mönchengladbach 0:1 FCI
Pre-season top scorers: Diawusie (2 goals) and Lezcano (6).

 

When We Last Saw Them

Fresh from being relegated from the Bundesliga, FC Ingolstadt entered their first 2. Bundesliga campaign since the 2014/15 season. With two powerhouses in VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 both promoted back to the Bundesliga, the second division looked set to be as competitive as ever. Ingolstadt were amongst the favorites to get promoted, but then again, so was half the league. Maik Walpurgis, the current coach at the time, had no easy task ahead of him, having to stitch together a squad that was largely changed from the previous season. Big names such as Pascal Groß, Matthew Leckie, Lukas Hinterseer, and later on Florent Hadergjonaj, Markus Suttner, and Marcel Tisserand had all departed the club. However, the Bavarian club brought in a fair amount of talent as well, such as Stefan Kutschke, Christian Träsch, and Tobias Schröck. Not to mention the return of Flügelflitzer Thomas Pledl who had had a successful one-and-a-half year loan spell at SV Sandhausen. While fans could get excited about these new additions, the gaps left by some of the departing star players were undoubtedly going to be difficult to fill.

As the season began, Die Schanzer saw an awful start to their campaign, losing all of their first three games, conceding six goals and scoring only two in the process. A 2-4 loss at the Audi Sportpark to rivals Jahn Regensburg was particularly humiliating. The only positive was an unconvincing 2-1 win against Regionalliga side 1860 München in the DFB Pokal. As a result, Walpurgis was sacked after less than a year of being in charge. Club legend Stefan Leitl stepped into the role of interim manager, having previously been coaching the Ingolstadt reserve team. Leitl’s first game in charge was a success, beating fellow Bavarian club Greuther Fürth 1-0, with Sonny Kittel thundering home the only goal.

As the season progressed, Die Schanzer showed frustratingly turbulent form. Following the win against Fürth, Ingolstadt lost 1-2 against Erzgebirge Aue, then won in emphatic fashion against FC St. Pauli with a score of 4-0, went on to draw 2-2 with MSV Duisburg, and then lost 2-0 to VfL Bochum. This sort of form would continue throughout the season, with highlights such as consecutive 3-0 home wins against SV Darmstadt and FC Heidenheim, convincing wins against high-flying sides such as Arminia Bielefeld, FC Nürnberg, and Fortuna Düsseldorf, as well as an utterly bizarre draw against lowly FC Kaiserslautern. The inconsistent Hinrunde was capped off with disappointment in the cup, seeing Die Schanzer lose 1-0 to then 3. Liga side SC Paderborn.

The winter break and transfer window came and went, with Ingolstadt not conducting much business. Antonio Colak and Romain Brégerie left the club (the latter going on loan), while midfielder Patrick Ebert and defender Frederic Ananou joined the Bavarian outfit.

The start of the Rückrunde saw Die Schanzer plummet in form, only winning one of eight games after the winter break. They returned to decent form with an impressive yet shaky 4-2 win against Dynamo Dresden, and a narrow 2-1 win against Heidenheim. That seemed to be all they had to offer, as they drew their next two fixtures, then proceeded to catastrophically lose 0-3 and 1-5 to Düsseldorf and Holstein Kiel respectively. A 2-0 victory against Eintracht Braunschweig was a brief respite, before losing 1-3 against Kaiserslautern on the last day of the season.

 

Aspiration

Promotion: With an arguably stronger squad than last season, Ingolstadt will ideally push for at least a third-place finish. One of the key failures of the previous season was not utilizing the squad’s potential. Having a total market value of 33.1 Million Euros in 2017/18, the highest in the league by a mile, the team severely underperformed. Discarding some of the deadwood in Stefan Lex, Tobias Levels, and Max Christiansen, while bringing in promising signings such as Konstantin Kerschbaumer, Lucas Galvão, and Thorsten Röcher will hopefully strengthen the team in attack and likewise in defense. Moreover, keeping the likes of Sonny Kittel, Thomas Pledl, and Örjan Nyland could be key as the season progresses. A lengthy run in the DFB Pokal would be a welcome change as well, seeing as Die Schanzer have never advanced past the Round of 16.

Above all else, a more consistent season would do Die Schanzer a world of good. Fixing defensive mistakes and being more clinical in front of goal are two necessities for the upcoming season. But Schanzer fans know that that is a lot to ask from a team that has struggled with these issues in the past.

 

Reality

Upper/Mid-Table: While last season the goal was to gain promotion back up to the top division, this season is a little less clear of what the goal is and where Ingolstadt will end up. With giants such as FC Köln and HSV looking to take the 2. Bundesliga by storm and the likes of Union Berlin, Duisburg, and Dresden all looking to improve on their results from last season, Ingolstadt are unlikely to crack the top three. However, an improvement on last season is not unrealistic at all, and without the added expectation of getting promoted, a massive pressure from the 2017/18 campaign has been lifted from the club’s shoulders. This could see Die Schanzer soar high above expectations, or fall far below what the club is capable of.

Can Kittel repeat his heroics of last season? Will the newcomers to the squad be properly integrated? Is Leitl able to be tactically flexible, that if required he can shake up the system and lineup? These are questions that will be answered as the season gets underway.

 

The Boss

40-Year-Old Stefan Leitl was appointed as Ingolstadt head coach in August 2017, following the sacking of Maik Walpurgis. After a failed start to the 2017/18 campaign, Leitl had to take charge of a largely broken team, with the squad’s confidence at an all time low. While his first season in charge was not a rousing success, he managed a 9th place finish, steadying a ship that could have sunk far below what it did last season.

Born in Munich, Leitl was most notably a player himself, having started his career at clubs such as SpVgg Unterhaching and the Bayern Munich reserve team. A move to FC Nürnberg in 1999 saw him get a taste of 2. Bundesliga, before he rejoined Unteraching in 2002. In 2004 he moved to Regionalliga side SV Darmstadt and spent three season there, before they ultimately got relegated. In 2007, Leitl made the move to FC Ingolstadt and would establish himself as a key player in the next six years (he also became the first player to score a goal in the Audi Sportpark after it opened in 2010), before retiring in 2013. His career saw him find the back of the net 81 times in 472 appearances, while providing a further 45 assists. Primarily playing as an attacking midfielder and striker, Leitl could also be found playing on the right wing or in a deeper midfield position.

After his retirement, Leitl took over as head coach of Die Schanzer’s U-17 team, moving on to coach the reserve team a year later. In his three year stint with the “Jungschanzer,” Leitl managed an average of 1.37 points per game and a record fifth place finish in the Regionalliga Bayern during the 2014/15 season. It seemed only logical to offer him the job of head coach of the professional squad when Walpurgis was sacked, and after 4 games as interim manager, was appointed as full-time manager in September 2017.

In an interview with Florian Plettenberg for Bild, Leitl stated that appearing self-confident and speaking the truth, no matter how harsh it is, is valuable, “I don’t try to avoid things, instead I try to be authentic.” He went on to say, “This was true for me when I was a player, and also now as a coach I want to be perceived this way.” He also stated that the relationship between a player and his coach is of the utmost importance to him, citing ex-Ingolstadt coach Benno Möhlmann as a strong example of this. “You never knew where you stood with him; he was always respectful, but kept a healthy distance from the team.”

Having grown up with four older brothers, Leitl always felt protected and respected by them. “I want to be there for my players in the way my brothers were there for me,” further explaining, “If they need too, they can send me a text message at midnight. There needs to be basis of trust with the player, only then can you be successful [as a coach]. If I don’t communicate with my players, I lose their trust – and I don’t want that.”

In his first season in charge of Die Schanzer, Leitl primarily used an offensive 4-3-3 formation, but reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation after a series of bad results using the former. It looks like he will continue using the latter formation heading into the 2018/19 season, having used it in all pre-season games so far.

While last season was not as smooth and successful as some might have hoped, Leitl showed that the team can get results under his management, and he will hope that with strong summer reinforcements and a successful pre-season behind him, he can improve on last season’s mid-table finish.

 

Transfers

As of July 26 – All figures in Euros

In

  • Charlison Benschop from Hannover 96 (Free Transfer)
  • Osayamen Osawe from FC Kaiserslautern (Free Transfer)
  • Agyemang Diawusie from RB Leipzig (500k)
  • Benedikt Gimber from TSG Hoffenheim (1 mill.)
  • Konstantin Kerschbaumer from Brentford (1 mill.)
  • Thorsten Röcher from Sturm Graz (1.25 mill.)
  • Lucas Galvão from Rapid Vienna (2.4 mill)
  • Nico Rinderknecht from Preußen Münster (Loan return)
  • Romain Brégerie from SV Darmstadt (Loan return)
  • Fatih Kaya from FC Ingolstadt U19 (Promoted to first team)
  • Joey Breitfeld from FC Ingolstadt II (Promoted to first team)
  • Patrick Sussek from FC Ingolstadt II (Promoted to first team)
Some of the new faces at Ingolstadt: (l. to r. – Benschop, Kershbaumer, Gimber, Osawe, Diawusie, Röcher)

Out

  • Hauke Wahl to Holstein Kiel (200k)
  • Martin Hansen to FC Basel (250k)
  • Stefan Lex to TSV 1860 München (Free Transfer)
  • Moritz Hartmann to Fortuna Köln (Free Transfer)
  • Alfredo Morales to Fortuna Düsseldorf (Free Transfer)
  • Max Christiansen to Arminia Bielefeld (Free Transfer)
  • Patrick Ebert to Dynamo Dresden (Free Transfer)
  • Tobias Levels (Destination unknown – Free Transfer)
  • Maximillian Thalhammer to Jahn Regensburg (Loan)
  • Takahiro Sekine to Sint-Truiden (Loan)

 

How The Team Might Lineup

(*Assuming Leitl continues using a 4-2-3-1 formation.)

Goalkeeper

Örjan Nyland should continue to stand between the sticks come the start of the season, despite both Marco Knaller and Fabijan Buntic showing strong performances in pre-season.

Center-Back

While Marvin Matip has his place nailed down in the starting eleven, his center-back partner is the bigger question. Lucas Galvão will most likely fill in that role, but Benedict Gimber is in strong competition for that spot as well. Phil Neumann will have to look on from the side, only being used as a back-up if necessary.

Full-Backs

Right-back – Despite playing defensive midfield for much of last season, it looks as if Christian Träsch will slot in at his preferred position as right-back. The young Frederic Ananou will hope that he is able to ease the aging Träsch out of the starting eleven, and apply his energetic style of play to the right side of the defensive line. Joey Breitfeld would be lucky to see any game time.

Left-back – Again we have two players battling for a full-back position. Marcel Gaus was preferred over Paulo Otávio last season, but having played a solid pre-season the pacy Brazilian will look to get more game time this upcoming campaign. If neither is convincing the manager, Galvão can also slot in at this position.

Defensive Midfield

Konstantin Kershbaumer has had a convincing pre-season and is seen as a creative midfielder, being able to dictate play from a deep position. One of the more expensive signings Die Schanzer made this summer, Kerschbaumer is almost certain to be a starter. Almog Cohen and Tobias Schröck will battle it out for the other deeper midfield position, although with the latter just being announced as Vice-Capitan, he could have a slight edge to the more experienced Israeli international. Nico Rinderknecht will be used as back-up, or be loaned out to the 3. Liga again.

Attacking Midfield

Who else but Sonny Kittel? With 10 goals and 16 assists last season, the 25-year-old is sure to be a regular in the starting-eleven. Alternatively, Thomas Pledl could fill in at that postition despite being a learned right-winger. Youngster Patrick Sussek is unlikely to get many minutes this season, as he lacks the experience at the top level.

Wings

Right-wing – A highly competitive position in Die Schanzer’s squad. Having played most of last season at this postition Thomas Pledl could slot in here again, although 20-year-old Agy Diawusie has looked extremely sharp in pre-season and could sneak into the starting eleven. Osayamen Osawe, while being very flexible in attacking positions, has been playing at right-wing in pre-season, thus adding his pace and strength to the competition.

Left-wing – New signing Thorsten Röcher will most likely be the starting left-winger, despite the younger Robert Leipertz finally finding his form in the second half of last season. Osawe was often seen playing as a left-winger during his time at Kaiserslautern, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he occasionally appears here this season.

Striker

Seeing as it looks like Dario Lezcano could be staying, Ingolstadt have a total of four out-and-out strikers available. Lezcano has six goals in seven games in pre-season so if he can continue this form in the regular season, he looks set to be the starting striker. If the Paraguayan does end up leaving, Charlison Benschop and Stefan Kutschke will go head-to-head in the race for the starting spot. Again, Osawe can play as a striker, but is being planned as winger by the Bavarian club. 18-year-old Fatih Kaya will see little game time this season, if any at all.

 

Philosophy

Attacking in a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 formation, Stefan Leitl and his men have been known to play a high defensive line, often having the entire team contributing to the attack. It looks as if Leitl will continue playing with a high defensive line going into the 2018/19 season, as seen in some of the pre-season friendlies (this proved a problem against Wacker Innsbruck, where a simple ball over the top caused chaos in Ingolstadt’s defense, forcing goalkeeper Marco Knaller to save his team from going down a goal).

Going forward last season, playmaker Sonny Kittel would often orchestrate the attack along with winger Thomas Pledl. Both contributed with goals and assists, often from set-pieces. During their 2016/17 campaign, Die Schanzer were the fourth best team in the Bundesliga in terms of goals scored from set-pieces. While set-pieces were not quite as successful in the 2017/18 season, the Bavarian club has always been strong from these types of situations, especially with Kittel’s lethal right-footed deliveries.

Looking ahead to this upcoming season, Ingolstadt will look to continue channeling their attack through Kittel, who now has added support from other creative midfielders such as Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Thorsten Röcher. With Schröck partnering Kerschbaumer in defensive midfield, it will allow the latter to push up and help Kittel with the attack, while the former guards the back-four. The lightning-fast Diawusie will look to destroy opposing defenses, and Lezcano will aim to be clinical in front of goal, being supplied from the aforementioned midfielders. Die Schanzer will also hope that new defensive additions to the squad will fix their problems at the back, while still being able to play dominant and possession-based football that has been seen in the past.

 

Strengths

As mentioned before, Ingolstadt is very strong from set-pieces, scoring 36% of their goals during the 2016/17 season in this fashion, and 23% during the 2017/18 season. Moreover, Die Schanzer play a possession-based game, often dominating against smaller teams. Not only in possession are the Bavarian club dominant, they also dominate in terms of shots on goal. During the 2017/18 season, Ingolstadt attempted an average of 14.9 shots per game (third-highest in the league), an average 4.8 of those landing on target. These statistics do not always translate into wins however, as their home game against FC St. Pauli last season clearly shows; despite losing 0-1, Die Schanzer recorded 20 shots compared to the Hamburg-based club’s 5, while also maintaining 63% of possession.

Ingolstadt often see play flow through the wingers, while full-backs overlap to provide added offensive threat. Deep-lying midfielders often find themselves further up the pitch contributing to the attack, while another stays back and protects the defensive line. Many times, this defensive midfielder can be seen acting as a third center-back, filling in that role if a defender is pushing forward, while still being able to dictate play from a deep position. This role is vital, as it allows the defensive midfielder to pick up the ball from the defenders, carry it up the pitch, then use his vision to find an attacker.

 

Weaknesses

A big weakness Die Schanzer have displayed in the past is their inability to convert their chances into goals. As shown in the previously mentioned game against St. Pauli last season, having 15 more shots on goal than your opponent does not automatically translate into a win. This was also seen in the recent pre-season friendly against Unterhaching, in which Ingolstadt only drew 1-1 despite seeing chance after chance fly past the goal or be parried away by the opposing goalkeeper. At the end, Ingolstadt had to settle for a late equalizer from the penalty spot, showing that finishing chances, especially from open play, still needs improvement before the season begins.

A lack of composure in the dying minutes of games has been capitalized on many times by opposing teams. This loss of concentration, particularly in the twilight minutes of a match, has often seen Die Schanzer drop crucial points when silly mistakes were pounced upon.

Critical Stretch

Die Schanzer head into a critical stretch starting right on Matchday 1 and lasting until Matchday 9. The club starts its 2018/19 campaign with two massive derbies against Jahn Regensburg and Greuther Fürth, then faces FC Magdeburg, Erzgebirge Aue, VfL Bochum, and FC St. Pauli before two potentially crucial games against FC Köln and FC Union Berlin. Ingolstadt then take on promoted side SC Paderborn at the Audi Sportpark, and if football has taught me anything, it’s not to underestimate promoted sides.

What is absolutely vital for Die Schanzer, is getting results at the start of the season. Last campaign saw Ingolstadt lose their first three matches and in doing so, never gained the lost ground to the top three spots. Having these difficult fixtures at the start of the season could be a blessing, or it could be a disaster.

 

Verdict

5th Place

With Bundesliga giants such as FC Köln and HSV both eyeing the top two spots and 2. Bundesliga regulars such as Union Berlin, Bielefeld, and Bochum all looking to improve on last year’s finishes, Die Schanzer could consider themselves lucky if they crack the top threeWhile it may be an aspiration, the reality is that this crazy league will once again be as ridiculous and competitive as ever, despite the top two spots being already taken, and Ingolstadt will have to hope for a solid season if they want to end up in a promotion spot.

However, a higher placed finish than last season is certainly on the cards. With one of the strongest squads in the league, Ingolstadt will be hoping that new signings have a direct impact and key players of last season continue their heroics. At the very least, a more positive, composed, and consistent season would bode well for the club and likewise for its supporters.

The following two tabs change content below.
Having a strong connection to Germany through family, but based in the USA, Simon has always been interested in German football. While being an enthused FC Ingolstadt fan, he enjoys all German football, from Bundesliga to 3. Liga. Other than spending too much time watching the beautiful game, Simon likes to travel, go shopping, and eat coffee ice cream. Follow Simon on Twitter @SimonVargas_

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.