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Are playoffs a possibility in the Bundesliga?

Friday 23rd February 2018

Over recent weeks many German football observers have been searching for a way to make the Bundesliga more interesting as Bayern Munich move towards a sixth consecutive title. One of the options has been to introduce a playoff system and perhaps somewhat surprisingly it has been gaining some support, with Matthias Ginter of Borussia Monchengladbach the latest to say it would be a positive move.

Is it really possible that in an effort to make the league more attractive to potential investors that the German football authorities could take such a drastic step by essentially making their national league, not a league anymore? It's extremely unlikely that such a move would happen, especially in Germany where the fans aren't big into change, as we saw when the home fans interrupted Eintracht Frankfurt v RB Leipzig on Monday evening as they weren't happy that the game had been scheduled for a Monday night. 

At present the idea seems to be that the top four in the Bundesliga would go into some sort of playoff scenario to decide who becomes league champions but in truth, it's a horrendous idea and one that simply won't happen. However, the prospect of some sort of playoff being introduced for other reasons is a bit more realistic and it might even be something that people could get on board with. 

One of the best things about the German football calendar is the current promotion/relegation playoff that takes place between third bottom in the Bundesliga and the team that finishes third in 2. Bundesliga. In recent seasons there have been a number of phenomenal games as teams go head to head with their seasons at stake. The precedent is already in Germany that playoffs can be a good thing so how about some sort of system to decide European qualification? 

From 2018/19 Germany will have seven teams qualify for Europe. Four of those will go straight into the Champions League group stages with the other three Europa League-bound. So how could the Bundesliga introduce a playoff system to resolve who goes into what tournament? 

One thing that is very important is to recognise that there has been a league campaign of 34 games and good performance in that deserves to be rewarded. Therefore any such playoff system would have to be weighted in order to give those who finished higher an easier path to the bigger prizes. My proposal would see eight teams enter the playoffs and would work as follows: 

  • The two groups of eight split into two from the beginning, the top four and the bottom four with each team receiving a seeding based on their final league position. In each tie the team that finished higher in the league will always have home advantage. 
  • First will play fourth and second will play third with the winners of both ties automatically entering the Champions League. The losers of these two ties will then play each other for the third Champions League place. 
  • While this is being played the teams who finish from fifth to eighth would play in a similar tournament with fifth hosting eighth and sixth hosing seventh. The winners of these two ties should progress and play each other. The losers of this will go into the Europa League and the winners should play the team who failed to qualify for the Champions League from the top four tournament for the fourth and final Champions League spot. The losers of this game should get one of the Europa League spots. 
  • If the winners of the DFB Pokal have not qualified for Europe via one of the above methods then they will get a Europa League spot but if they have already qualified for Europe then the two teams who have not qualified for Europe via the playoffs should meet with the winners taking a Europa League spot.

Sometimes change is unwelcome but it does seem those in control of German football are willing to try something different to try and restore some interest in what has become a rather predictable league, certainly at the top of it. Whether playoffs are the answer remains to be seen but for the neutral, there is little better than watching two teams go head to head in a one-off game with everything on the line and should the powers that be go with something along those lines it would certainly bring some much-needed publicity to the league.

Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.

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