Summary

  • Darmstadt silenced the critics on Bundesliga return.
  • Sandro Wagner in inspired form with 14 goals.
  • Aytac Sulu Europe's most prolific defender with seven.

Darmstadt have a second season of Bundesliga football to look forward to after surprising many by avoiding the drop straight back down to Bundesliga 2, exalting the strength of team spirit in a remarkable return to the top flight after 33 years away.

Season in a nutshell

Darmstadt are perhaps the surprise team of the season, and even if their coach Dirk Schuster may never admit it, not even he would have thought last summer that his side would have gone into their final game of the season free from relegation worries. They managed that thanks to a compact, united team, without any particular stars but brimming with team spirit.

They were clinical from set pieces, with 19 of their 38 goals coming from a dead-ball situation. After a decent start to the season with three straight draws from their first Bundesliga games since 1982, they picked up the first of a total of six away wins on Matchday 4 – in Leverkusen. At the midway stage of the season, they were in a sensational 13th place, while their performance in the second half of the season was the 10th best in the division.

Top three games

MD15: Eintracht Frankfurt 0-1 SV Darmstadt 98

You don't have to live in the Rhine-Main area to realise how much this win for the underdogs meant over their illustrious neighbours, who have for over three decades been the leading force in the district.

MD33: Hertha Berlin 1-2 SV Darmstadt 98

Darmstadt sealed their place in the top flight with a game to spare, and with a performance which typified the Lilies campaign: faced with their Goliath, pushing for Champions League qualification, the Darmstadt David struck with two accurate stones to upset the odds and silence the critics for good.

MD22: FC Bayern München 3-1 SV Darmstadt 98

It may have ended in defeat, but this was the game Darmstadt's fans were looking forward to most, and their team gave them plenty of joy at the Allianz Arena with a half-time lead. Even Bayern coach Pep Guardiola praised Darmstadt for putting his side on the ropes, even if their second-half comeback dashed the visitors' dreams.

MVP

Sandro Wagner was one of Darmstadt's most experienced campaigners at top-flight level, having previously appeared at the top table with Bayern, Bremen and Hertha, but his 2015/16 campaign exceeded even his own expectations. With 14 goals – more than in any previous season, at any level – the 28-year-old supplied almost half of the Lilies' goals. Aytac Sulu's performance as the most prolific defender in any of Europe's top leagues also deserves a mention.

Sandro Wagner weighed in with 14 goals for Darmstadt this season.

What is next?

Fans' favourite Marco Sailer and coveted custodian Christian Mathenia will no longer be wearing Darmstadt shirts next season, while Wagner has also announced that he is unlikely to be part of the squad. The dreaded second year after promotion is therefore going to be more challenging than anybody would have imagined with Schuster forced to dig deeper than ever into his box of tricks to guide his team to a third successive season in the Bundesliga. That job starts in earnest next month, with training due to commence between 15 and 20 June.

Darmstadt secured their place in the top-flight next season with a game to spare.

Personal Highlight

For our bundesliga.com reporter, there was nothing quite like a trip to the Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor this season. Admittedly there are plenty of stadiums in the Bundesliga with special atmospheres, but only in Darmstadt did you get the feeling for 17 matches and 1530 minutes of action that every single fan was enjoying the occasion. Even the stadium sausage was spot on, although it took two games for them to get that right, and turn that also into a delight.