The Bundesliga season is coasting towards its final weekend with one main issue left to resolve: who goes down and who competes the in the relegation playoff?
It’ll be either Fortuna Düsseldorf, currently third from bottom with 30 points, or Werder Bremen, second from bottom with 28 points. But there is one thing they both have in common: they both deserve to go down.
Both teams have been bereft of ideas on the field for a long time. Despite Werder Bremen’s storied history in the Bundesliga, significant contribution as founding members and impressive fanbase, both teams have been the worst of a handful of bottom half Bundesliga teams that have contributed very little to suggest they’ve earned another season.
Beyond their failings as teams, it is just fundamentally wrong for a team that finished third in their league to playoff against a higher ranked team. Eight of the last 11 relegation playoffs have been won by the Bundesliga team, which isn’t surprising given that the higher ranked team is operating on a higher budget and adjusted to playing a higher standard of football. Even the current format of two legs home and away is dull.
Werder Bremen have picked up just 0.8 points per game this season, but can still avoid relegation.
Whether its Werder Bremen or Fortuna Düsseldorf who compete in this year’s playoff, victory for either will be another victory for mediocrity. Both teams have scored 36 goals this season, just three more than Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski has managed on his own. Meanwhile, Hamburg and Heidenheim have proven to be better than over 75% of the second league, but one or both of them will miss out.Schalke haven’t won a league game since January but are still nowhere near being relegated — the balance is wrong.
Lack of competition
The Bundesliga, which has just crowned its same champion for an eighth straight year, also needs to be more competitive to help it compete commercially with the other top leagues in Europe. There are currently 10 teams who will finish the season neither in Europe or suffer automatic relegation. That’s over half the league happy to just finish somewhere in the middle. Three relegation places and three automatic promotion spots from the league below – or an expanded promotion playoff system — would make all divisions of the Bundesliga far more interesting.
Michael da Silva
The English Premier League is known for its competitiveness and typically requires teams to achieve 40 points — or 1.05 points per game — to be safe from relegation. Werder Bremen currently have 0.8 points per game and a goal difference of -32. If the Bundesliga must persist with the commercially-driven need for a playoff, the English system isn’t a bad case study, with the third, fourth, fifth and sixth placed teams playing off for a day at Wembley and a shot at the big time.
While this system can be criticized for not adequately rewarding the third-placed team for achieving a higher position than sixth, it gives four more teams something to play for and, crucially, rewards positive football, as teams are looking to gain promotion rather than avoid relegation.
The German playoff system isn’t fit for purpose and should also be abolished to make way for a reformed system that makes the Bundesliga more competitive and, inherently, more exciting. The current system isn’t interesting or fair — it’s time for a re-think.