The majority of the 36 teams in Germany’s top two tiers have already put their feet up for their summer holidays, but Eintracht Frankfurt and 1. FC Nürnberg cannot afford to take theirs off the gas just yet, with the first game of a two-legged relegation play-off tie coming up on Thursday (kick-off: 20:30CEST/ 18:30GMT).
Play-off hat-trick for Nürnberg?
The participants still do not know which of the two leagues they will be pledging their allegiance to next season, with 180 minutes of intense, passionate and invariably emotional action to determine their respective fates.
Since 2008/09, the format of promotion and relegation between the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 has changed with a post-season play-off reintroduced, after already being part of the German football landscape between 1982 and 1991. Rather than the three-up, three-down system which had reigned since 1991, only two clubs are now certain of their destinies based on their league position, with the side finishing third from the bottom of the Bundesliga facing the side third in the second tier to complete the respective league configurations for the subsequent season.
It thus provides a lifeline for the club finishing 16th in the top-flight and a bonus shot at promotion for the third force in Bundesliga 2 – one which has been taken only twice by the lower-level representatives since 2009.
Nürnberg certainly need no introduction to how the play-off works as they will be taking part for the third time. Having inaugurated the revamped event with a convincing 5-0 aggregate win over FC Energie Cottbus to gain promotion in 2009, they triumphed again one year later over FC Augsburg when it was they fighting to stay in the top flight. René Weiler's men will therefore be keen on completing a hat-trick of play-off triumphs when they face Frankfurt home and away.
2013/14 Rewind: Nürnberg 2-5 Frankfurt
Check out what happened the last time the teams met, on Matchday 26 of the 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign.
Making the most of the situation
"We've been filling up on self-confidence all season long and now we just want to put the cherry on top by winning the play-off," said Nürnberg's head coach. "We've just got to accept that the amazing number of points we've picked up was only enough for third, and now we've got to make the most of the situation."
Not only do the Bavarians have play-off pedigree, but they also come into the two-legged tie in fine fettle after a season of superlatives. They went on a run of 18 games without defeat and had an unbeaten record at their Grundig Stadion that endured for over a year until a Matchday 29 loss to MSV Duisburg.
They concluded the season with their best ever haul of points (65 – enough for direct promotion last season) and goals (68) in a Bundesliga 2 campaign and the confidence levels are understandably high down in the Franconian region of Bavaria. "The consistency we've been playing with is something the team can be really proud of," said goalkeeper Raphael Schäfer as he looks forward to his fifth such fixture, having kept four clean sheets in his previous four. "These games are absolute highlights for us," added club captain Miso Brecko. "The atmosphere is euphoric. They're two huge games – for the fans, for us, for everybody. There aren't many games in your career which are top these."
"Off we go to Frankfurt, and it's not just the team that wants more!"
‘We need to be fully focused’
Frankfurt are involved for the first time since the play-off was reintroduced in 2009, although the Eagles did get a taste for the drama back in 1984, when they held off the challenge of Kickers Offenbach to preserve their Bundesliga status, and again in 1989 when they denied 1. FC Saarbrücken a place in the top-flight courtesy of a 3-2 aggregate win.
A third such successful escape is what they are seeking after being granted a lifeline few felt they were going to be given just a few weeks ago. "We're disappointed, but nevertheless we were everybody's second team to go down just four weeks ago and we've fought our way back with three wins in a row," said Marco Russ after a 1-0 defeat to SV Werder Bremen condemned them to overtime. "Now we've got to lift our heads and be fully focused on these two games against Nürnberg."
Frankfurt have home advantage to begin with on Thursday 19 May, and their Commerzbank-Arena is understandably sold out with all 51,500 tickets snapped up in near record time. Four days later, another full house at the 50,000-capacity Grundig Stadion, making for a combined attendance of over 100,000 spectators, will hope to spur Nürnberg on to promotion.
Frankfurt: Hradecky - Regäsel, Abraham, Zambrano, Oczipka - Hasebe, Ignjovski - Aigner, Ben-Hatira, Djakpa - Meier
Coach: Niko Kovac
Nürnberg: Schäfer - Brecko, Hovland, Bulthuis, Sepsi - Gislason, Petrak, Möhwald, Leibold - Füllkrug, Blum
Coach: Rene Weiler