When FC Ingolstadt won promotion from the 2. Bundesliga in May of 2015, they began a journey they had never been on before.
Last season marked their first campaign ever in the top flight, but you wouldn't have known it by looking at the table. Ingolstadt finished in 11th place, avoiding the real relegation struggle that was forecast before they'd even kicked a ball in the first division.
Their stadium, Audi Sportpark, only seats 15,800 people. It's the smallest ground in the league, but teams like Schalke and Monchengladbach were still going there and losing. Clearly manager Ralph Hasenhüttl was doing something right.
Unfortunately, Red Bull Leipzig noticed what Hasenhüttl was doing, and poached him this summer. Is the departure of the manager who got them promoted enough to knock Ingolstadt back down?
They haven't spent much this summer, but now the challenge for Ingolstadt will be to sustain their success in the Bundesliga despite Hasenhüttl's departure to Leipzig.
Transfer Summary (All prices in Euros)
Benjamin Hübner (CB) -> Hoffenheim (800k)
Ramacan Özcan (GK) -> Leverkusen (500k)
Danny da Costa (RB) -> Leverkusen (500k)
Elias Kachunga (ST) -> Huddersfield (Loan)
Konstantin Engel (RB) -> Astana (Free)
Florent Hadergjonaj (RB) - Young Boys (2 mil)
Robert Leipertz (RW) - Schalke (1.5 mil)
Hauke Wahl (CB) - Paderborn (Free)
Sonny Kittel (CAM) - Frankfurt (Free)
Anthony Jung (RB) - Leipzig (Loan)
Martin Hannsen (GK) - ADO Den Haag (1 mil)
Ingolstadt lost a few main players from their first year in the Bundesliga, but they've replaced them quite well. In Ozcan they lose their keeper, but they've signed a particularly interesting one in his place. Martin Hannsen from ADO Den Haag was statistically one of the best keepers in the Netherlands last season. Plus he can do something that most goalkeepers can't do...he can score...with a back-heel...in stoppage time...to equalize against one of the best teams in the league.
FCI will be hoping that Hadergjonaj and Wahl can slot right in for the departed defenders they replace in Danny da Costa and Benjamin Hübner. A lot of their success this year will depend on how effectively those players can come in for two players who were a big part of their impressive back-line last season.
Players To Watch
Markus Kauczinski (Manager): Obviously not a player, but losing Hasenhüttl can not be overstated. Kauczinski comes in with no experience managing in the first division, which could be a recipe for trouble. If Kauczinski flops, so do Ingolstadt.
Dario Lezcano (ST): The Paraguayan forward only signed for Ingolstadt from Luzern in January, and clearly still hasn't had time to settle in. Lezcano has shown his talent by scoring 4 goals in only 5 appearances for his country, but has only managed 2 in 17 for FCI so far. Increased production from Lezcano is a necessity for the team this season.
Moritz Hartmann (RW/ST): Ingolstadt didn't score a ton last year, but when they did it always seemed to be coming via Hartmann, who tallied 12 goals. Still without any big name goal scorers, Kauczinski will certainly be relying on Moritz for scoring once again. But Hartmann can do this, so he may not be a terrible person to rely on.
Prediction: 16th Place
I think Ingolstadt will suffer a bit from second-season syndrome in the Bundesliga this year. They exceeded expectations last year, but they should be happy with staying up this season. They've lost Hasenhüttl and a few of their defensive anchors, and it's still to be determined how qualified their replacements are, especially the manager.
If their players fit in Kauczinski's system, they've got the talent to stay up. But I wouldn't be surprised to see them only stay up by defensively smothering a 2. Bundesliga team in the relegation playoff.