Darmstadt and Ingolstadt Vol. 2: Großer Than Before
It's almost impossible to overstate how central Pascal Groß was to Ingolstadt's attack. He led the league in key passes yes, but this doesn't get to the bottom of it really. He also led the league in passes from attacking areas (~final third):
But that's still not my favorite attacking passing stat for the big man, it's this list of all passing connections in final third with at least 60 completions:
6 of the top 33 connections involve the man Groß, often forming one of his patented Pascal triangles with the right backs Levels and da Costa and his main man toward goal in the Aussie Leckie. Basically, what I'm saying is the only way Ingolstadt ever applied pressure to the opposing defense was through Pascals. It is interesting to notice how close the RB's got to Groß to pass him the ball, passes of ~12 yards on average for a team who loved a long-ball. The difference in how Levels in particular passed compared to the rest of the Ingolstadt fullbacks was stark.
In one of the more bizarre and standout stats of the year Tobias Levels actually had one of the highest completion percentages of any fullback in the league and did it while playing on a team that completed 64% of its passes overall. Maybe he's suddenly Phillip Lahm in the body of the guy manning the counter at your local electronics store?
If he is, he will have plenty of minutes to roll up and down the right with da Costa moving to Leverkusen.
One Big Strength: The frenetic press made Ingolstadt were a tough opponent for everyone in the league with how they defended. No team forced opponents into a lower completion % in their own half than Ingolstadt did. I'll let Pep say it, he might have more credibility than me:
Tuchel made similar comments about how it's a headache to play against them. To be promoted and get praise like that from coaches like Tuchel and Guardiola is basically enough said. Though to say something else, I also named Hasenhüttl by coach of the year in Europe at the midpoint and the Bundesliga Coach of the Year after the season. If you have Pep, Tuchel, and a random guy on twitter with a Homer Simpson profile picture praising you, you know you've made it.
One Big Weakness: Ralph Hasenhüttl is off to RB Leipzig. He was the man behind the hectic defensive pressure Ingolstadt brought to each and every game and the Groß-centric strategy that scraped enough goals out of what looked to be a talent-poor attack to finish comfortably mid-table. Groß himself said that Hasenhüttl was crucial to getting him to reach his current level: "Ralph Hasenhüttl has let me play immediately and gave me the confidence in a personal conversation. At my age, that's the most important thing." (link)
Markus Kauczinski is the new man, in from Karlsruher, and he will face a tall task to keep the team defending like madmen.
Good Season: Someone else besides Groß helps out with the ball and Kauczinski continues to get the team to swarm around and safety is assured.
Bad Season: Relegation
The passing connection that advanced their team the 2nd-most yards toward goal was Timo Horn to Anthony Modeste. This pushed Koln just over 8000 yards toward goal, now these weren't high-quality yards because it was just dumb-bombing the ball forward and the second ball was often lost but 8000 yards is a significant number. But it's still 3000 yards shy of Darmstadt's goalie to striker hook up of Christian Mathenia to Sandro Wagner. Darmstadt picked up over 330 yards a game just through these two. They are both gone but it signifies how Darmstadt survived last year and probably how they will play this season. When they get the ball it's full steam ahead: 67% of their midfield passes are toward the opposition goal, 17 points above the league average and 8 points ahead of 2nd place. 8.3% of their total completions came in the final 25 yards, compared to a league average of 4.8% and the second place team there at 6%. It started at the back where Sulu and Caldirola's passes went more than double the distance of an average CB and ended in front of goal where Sandro Wagner's passes went 5 yards toward goal, when we rarely see a striker above 2 yards. No player was exempt from the rush the ball forward and get back and hope to block shots strategy. When you talk teams on the edge as far as playing style, you talk Bayern on one end and Darmstadt on the other.
One Big Strength: Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces. Darmstadt led the league in set piece goals which is simply an astounding stat for a team that strung 5 passes together I think twice in their first 3 months. They stayed up almost completely on the back of set pieces, as every time they had a free kick anywhere in the opposition half they heaved the ball toward goal. If you aren't one of the best passing teams, I'm not sure this isn't a good strategy.
One Big Change: Augsburg hired Dirk Schuster away this summer. To replace him Darmstadt have brought in Norbert Meier who is not promising the stars to Darmstadt fans. He said things are unlikely to change too much and that "We will certainly not play Tiki Taka here." For those who love the opposite of Tiki Taka, Darmstadt are good to watch. For those who like to watch Most Extreme on TV, Darmstadt also great to watch.
For a team who had nowhere near the level of talent needed to succeed in the league last year, survival was beautiful. This year the odds remain stacked against them. Sandro Wagner the leading goal-scorer is gone, Luca Caldirola the center-back who led the team in minutes is gone, Mathenia the goalie is gone, Konstantin Rausch the leading assist man is gone, and the coach is gone. They are odds on for relegation and survival this year would be even more beautiful than the year before.