German professional football employs a distinctive method to determine the clubs to be promoted to and relegated from the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2.
While in many European leagues the top three teams are automatically promoted and the bottom three are relegated, Germany’s top two tiers only have two automatic movers between the divisions, while a two-legged play-off system is used to determine whether a third club stays up or goes down.
What is the relegation play-off?
The Bundesliga’s play-off differs from more conventional fixtures referred to as play-offs that often feature four teams contesting a semi-final and a final. In Germany, the teams who finish 16th in the Bundesliga and third in Bundesliga 2 contest the relegation play-off.
The first leg is played at the home of the Bundesliga side and the second leg is played at the home of the Bundesliga 2 side. The winner over two legs claims Bundesliga status in the season that follows.
Watch: Union Berlin create history in their 2019 play-off with Stuttgart
In the case of a tie at the end of the two legs, the away goals rule is used to determine the victor, meaning that goals scored on the road count double. Should that not be enough to separate the teams, there will then be two 15-minute periods of extra-time and penalties if needs be.
The play-off was re-introduced to the Bundesliga in 2008/09. It had previously been used between 1981 (the introduction of a single-division Bundesliga 2) and 1991 (the integration of East German clubs following reunification).
When does the relegation play-off take place?
The two legs are played following the final Matchday of the season, which in 2018/19 fell on Saturday, 18 May for the Bundesliga and the following day for Bundesliga 2. The first leg at the home of the Bundesliga club (VfB Stuttgart) was held on Thursday, 23 May, while the return fixture was hosted by the Bundesliga 2 side (Union Berlin) on Monday, 27 May.
Both these matches made use of goal-line technology and VAR.
Watch: Highlights of the most dramatic relegation play-off to date
Relegation play-off results since 2008/09
Clubs listed first finished 16th in the Bundesliga
Results in brackets represent the two legs
The club in bold won the two legs and either retained their Bundesliga status or were promoted
2008/09: Energie Cottbus 0-5 Nuremberg (0-3, 0-2)
2009/10: Nuremberg 3-0 Augsburg (1-0, 2-0)
2010/11: Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-1 Bochum (1-0, 1-1)
2011/12: Hertha Berlin 3-4 Fortuna Düsseldorf (1-2, 2-2)
2012/13: Hoffenheim 5-2 Kaiserslautern (3-1, 2-1)
2013/14: Hamburg 1-1 Greuther Fürth (0-0, 1-1 – HSV won on away goals)
2014/15: Hamburg 3-2 Karlsruhe (1-1, 2-1 a.e.t.)
2015/16: Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 Nuremberg (1-1, 1-0)
2016/17: Wolfsburg 2-0 Eintracht Braunschweig (1-0, 1-0)
2017/18: Wolfsburg 4-1 Holstein Kiel (3-1, 1-0)
2018/19: VfB Stuttgart 2-2 Union Berlin (2-2, 0-0 – Union won on away goals)