- Promoted as Bundesliga 2 champions, Ingolstadt defied the odds to finish 11th.
- Hasenhüttl forged a team that were difficult to break down and struck on the counter.
- Hartmann enjoyed his most prolific season in six years.
Despite being tipped to struggle, promoted FC Ingolstadt 04 defied the odds with a water-tight defence and a formidable home record to finish the 2015/16 campaign in 11th.
Season in a nutshell
Promoted as champions, Ingolstadt became the 54th side to feature in the Bundesliga, and, having been founded in 2004, the youngest. The aim at the start of the season was top-flight survival. "We are writing a new history," was Die Schanzer's motto. FCI immortalised themselves quickly, becoming the first promoted side in Bundesliga history to win their first three away games.
It proved to be the beginning of a worry-free season. The team from Upper Bavaria never occupied a relegation place, with 12th the lowest they placed all season. "To beat us is not so simple," said coach Ralph Hasenhüttl in an interview with bundesliga.com at the start of the season. "We will pick up our points." He was right. A 4-3-3 formation with offensive pressing and quick counter-attacks proved uncomfortable for any opponent. In addition, the Audi Sportpark proved to be a fortress in the Rückrunde, with the penultimate-day 2-1 loss to champions FC Bayern München their only home defeat in 2016.
Top three games
MD28: FC Ingolstadt 04 3-0 FC Schalke 04
FCI celebrated their biggest ever Bundesliga victory when they beat Schalke in April - playing their now-recognisable brand of football. Top scorer Moritz Hartmann opened the scoring with a penalty before high pressing forced Schalke into defensive errors which Lukas Hinterseer and then Dario Lezcano capitalised upon.
MD26: FC Ingolstadt 04 3-3 VfB Stuttgart
A six-goal thriller with no winner. Ingosltadt led 3-1 just past the hour thanks to goals from Hartmann, Matthew Leckie and Lezcano, but Stuttgart battled back with Daniel Didavi's late penalty seeing the spoils shared.
MD13: FC Ingolstadt 04 3-1 SV Darmstadt 98
After going behind to a ninth-minute Aytac Sulu header, Ingosltadt turned the game around in the second half, with Robert Bauer equalising before Hartmann became the first FCI player ever to score a top-flight brace.
Hartmann is Die Schanzer's longest-serving player and with 12 goals this season, also their top goalscorer. This was his best return since the 2009/10 campaign, when he scored 21 times in the 3. Liga. Although his first season in the Bundesliga - as with many of his teammates - at 29 years old, he is also one of the veterans of the squad. The experienced forward had a 100 per cent record from the penalty spot, converting eight, including one against Germany's number one Manuel Neuer.
What is next?
The most significant change this summer will be in the dugout, with Markus Kauczinski replacing the RB Leipzig-bound Hasenhüttl. "With his knowledge of grassroots football and his direct style, Markus Kauczinski fits very well with Die Schanzer," says director of football Thomas Linke. So far there have been three confirmed departures amongst the playing staff. Right-back Danny da Costa will return to Bayer 04 Leverkusen after four seasons away, while the expiring contracts of Alfredo Morales and Konstantin Engel have not yet been renewed. The pre-season schedule is not yet fixed.
For bundesliga.com reporter Maximilian Lotz the season highlight came on Matchday 29 with a 1-0 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach, making Ingolstadt's safety all-but mathematically guaranteed. "We played an outstanding game, and everything worked perfectly," said Hasenhüttl after the game. "With 39 points we should stay clear."