SV Darmstadt 98 – Bundesliga 2016-17 Season Preview: Do Die Lilien have what it takes to beat the drop again?

It’s time ladies and gentleman to welcome back the Bundesliga and the first few weeks of the season will see plenty of us looking like kids entering the local sweet shop, there’s so many new players, new managers, new teams and plenty of other choices to feast our eyes on.

During this preview we will be looking at one of the surprise packages of the Bundesliga last season, SV Darmstadt 98. The Hessen based club secured their safety from relegation last season with a game spare and in doing so completed the mission that many thought was impossible.

The club celebrated their fourteenth place finish last season like they won the league and you can’t really blame the club with resources so small, despite their incredible achievement last campaign they face an even tougher challenge this time around after the departure of some key figures.

With the previously mentioned departures and the lack of resources the club will only have one aim ahead of the new season and that will simply be to stay in the Bundesliga for another season. Realistically the club don’t need a cup run and would prefer to concentrate on the league campaign, however a respectable showing would be welcomed with the club not reaching past the second round since the 1986/87 season when they made the quarter-finals.

The departures from the club have seen two of last season’s key player’s leave, firstly goalkeeper Christian Mathenia has left to join Hamburg for just €680,000. The young keeper was a mainstay in the Darmstadt side last season and leaves having made seventy-one appearances for the club and in the process kept twenty-seven clean sheets. Another huge blow for Die Lilien has seen Sandro Wagner leave for Hoffenheim, the striker leaving for just over €2 million. Wagner was key to Darmstadt’s survival as he enjoyed his best ever season, scoring fifteen goals and grabbing four assists.

Last season's hero Sandro Wagner departs.

Last season’s hero Sandro Wagner departs.

The other departures saw crowd favourite Marco Sailer become a free-agent along with Milan Ivana and Patrick Platins. Elsewhere Luca Caldirola returned to parent club Werder BremenYannick Stark joined FSV Frankfurt on loan,  Konstantin Rausch joined fellow Bundesliga side Köln, Tobias Kempe moved to NürnbergLukasz Zaluska left for Wisla Krakow and Slobodan Rajkovic went to Italian side Palermo, while Michael Stegmayer decided to hang up his boots at the age of thirty-one.

As for player’s coming into the club Darmstadt have done a good job in replacing the player’s lost. With twelve player’s going out they’ve managed to recoup the squad with ten signing’s, the biggest signing’s so far has seen experienced Ukrainian defender Artem Fedetskyi arrive from Dnipro, while Sven Schipplock has been sent to Darmstadt on a season long loan.

Darmstadt have managed to make three more loan signings with Antonio Colak temporarily joining from Hoffenheim, along with Laszlo Kleinheisler from Werder Bremen and Alexander Milosevic Besiktas JK. Former VfL Bochum keeper Michael Esser has signed following a season with Austrian side SK Sturm Graz, another keeper was also brought in with youngster Daniel Heuer Fernandes arriving from SC Paderborn.

Die Lilien have also signed to Victor Obinna from MSV Duisburg and Denys Oliynyk from Vitesse to help replace Wagner’s lost goal’s. Lastly one of the most promising move’s has seen the club bring in twenty-four old Immanuel Höhn from Freiburg, the defender scored three time’s last season in Freiburg’s promotion campaign.

Norbert Meier takes over after Dirk Schuster left for Augsburg.

Norbert Meier took over after Dirk Schuster left for Augsburg.

Surprise Schuster departure sees Meier take charge

One other key change at the club has seen a change of head coach, unfortunately for Die Lilien their club hero and mastermind behind the team’s tremendous rise from 3. Liga to the Bundesliga, Dirk Schuster parted with the club to take over at Augsburg. The man that has been given the tough task of keeping Darmstadt up and replacing Schuster is Norbert Meier, the 57-year-old couldn’t turn down the offer from Darmstadt after he managed to secure promotion into the 2. Bundesliga for Arminia Bielefeld last season.

Meier does have Bundesliga management experience, his first job was with Borussia Mönchengladbach back in the 1997-98 season, however more recently he managed to take Fortuna Düsseldorf into the Bundesliga, disappointingly for Meier he couldn’t stop them from going down back to the 2. Bundesliga.

Almost perfect pre-season for Die Lilien

Darmstadt have had plenty of changes during pre-season and they’ve done extremely well to pick up a number of good results ahead of the season. In eight matches they’ve won six game’s, drawn one and lost just the once. The pick of pre-season saw Darmstadt defeat Bursaspor 3-0 , other victories came against SKV Hähnlein (22-0), FC Sportfreunde Heppenheim (12-0), SC Teutonia Watzenborn-Steinberg (3-0), Ennstal-Auswahl (17-0) and Die Lilien edged past FSV Frankfurt 2-1. The one defeat during the summer came against fellow Bundesliga side Freiburg (3-1), while the one draw came in the club’s last friendly match as they were held to a 1-1 draw against Spanish side UD Las Palmas.

Key Man: Marcel Heller

Marcel Heller will look to cause problem's once again.

Marcel Heller will look to cause problem’s once again.

For a club with the budget Darmstadt have it’s hard to have many star player’s, they instead have to rely on a strong and hard to beat squad, nevertheless they do have an exciting player to cause plenty of problem’s for Bundesliga team’s and that come’s in the shape of 30-year-old Marcel Heller.

The winger has been a mainstay in the Die Lilien squad for the last few season’s and that was the case last season as well with Heller making thirty-three appearances, only one player was able to make more appearances and that was Luca Caldirola with thirty-four. During those thirty-three appearances last season Heller scored six goal’s, the most impressive being his volley against Borussia Dortmund which rounded off a brilliant counter attack. Heller was also the joint top creator for Darmstadt last season as he assisted his team mates five times.

Die Lilien will need one of their heroes to step up once more this season as his lightning pace and trickery will be vital in punishing team’s on the counter attack and getting Darmstadt up the field after spells of pressure.

Key Man: Aytac Sulu

Aytac Sulu will set the example at both ends of the pitch.

Aytac Sulu will set the example at both ends of the pitch.

The experienced player’s will be key once more this season and there is none more important to Darmstadt’s relegation fight than club captain Aytac Sulu. The 30-year-old Turkish defender played a huge role last season and certainly lead by example in his thirty-three matches. Not only was Sulu leading from the back with a number of excellent defensive display’s he also showed massive value in front of goal at the other end as he scored a brilliant seven goals from defence, which in the process saw him become Europe’s best scoring defender last season.

Sulu will have to reciprocate last season’s form this campaign if Darmstadt are to remain strong defensively and the fans will hope he can inspire the team to another season in the Bundesliga.

Ahead of the new season as previously stated Darmstadt have done well to replace the player’s they’ve lost or allowed to leave and in most positions they’ve managed to bring in good squad depth. The squad only lack currently in the wing area’s and could do with a player or two for cover due to only having three natural wingers in Marcel Heller, Denys Oliynyk and Laszlo Kleinheisler, there are player’s that can play in the wider position’s so only time will tell if Norbert Meier decides to bring in extra cover.

The game plan for Die Lilien will be roughly the same as last season, the squad isn’t the most talented however they do have plenty of heart, determination and togetherness and this show’s in the way they play. Darmstadt defend with all their heart’s, soak up pressure and try to make the most of counter attacks and set pieces, the latter has seen the majority of their goal’s being scored.

With the squad Darmstadt have built over the summer they’ve set themselves up well for a very tough campaign and it’s going to be difficult for them to stay in the Bundesliga, providing the new player’s gel and some great performances are put in then Die Lilien can stay up.

Article for VAVEL Bundesliga.

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