3.Liga: Playoffs and Possibilities

Now that the tenth season of the 3.Liga has come to an end, it might be interesting to look at the success (or otherwise) of teams who get promoted from the league. This can give us an idea of how the 3.Liga compares to the 2.Bundesliga in terms of quality, offer insight into how SC Paderborn 07 and 1.FC Magdeburg will do next season, and tell us what the chances are of Karlsruher SC winning their playoff match against Erzgebirge Aue. Of course, every team and season differs, but there are also established patterns that might tell us something.

Back in 2008/09, 1. FC Union Berlin becamee the inaugural 3. Liga champion. Fortuna Düsseldorf finished as runners up and were automatically promoted with Union. SC Paderborn 07 finished third and ended up in a playoff with VfL Osnabrück, who had finished in 16th in the 2.Bundesliga. Paderborn won both play off matches 1:0, with both goals coming late in the match from Frank Löning (currently with Rot-Weiss Essen in Regionalliga West). In the following 2. Bundesliga season, Fortuna were actually the most successful of the promoted sides, finishing just outside the promotion positions in fourth. Paderborn were just behind them in fifth, while 1. FC Union Berlin were a respectable twelfth. It was a good start for the representatives from the new league and showed that promoted teams could be competitive.

In the 2009/10 season, VfL Osnabrück finished as champion, going straight back up. FC Erzgebirge Aue and FC Ingolstadt 04 filled out the second and third positions. Once again, the team from the 3.Liga won the playoff, with Ingolstadt overcoming FC Hansa Rostock 1:0 at home, then 2:0 in the away fixture to achieve promotion. In the following season, it was once again the team that had gone up as champion having the least success, with Osnabrück again finishing 16th and losing the relegation playoff to go straight back down. Aue finished a very creditable fifth. Ingolstadt went on to finish 14th..

Season 2010/11 saw Eintracht Braunschweig finish as champion, while the previous season’s playoff losers, FC Hansa Rostock, also achieved automatic promotion. Dynamo Dresden overcame Osnabrück in extra time of the second leg of the playoff after both games had initially finished 1:1. Dani Schahin, on loan from SpVgg Greuther Furth, scored four minutes into extra time. Robert Koch, who had Dynamo’s goal in the first leg, knocked in a second a minute before the end of extra time to confirm the victory. Braunschweig finished eighth the following season, while Dresden finished ninth. Hansa Rostock, like Osnabrück before them, went straight back down to the 3.Liga after finishing last.

The possibility of immediate relegation, seeming to indicate a disparity between the 2.Bundesliga and the 3.Liga, was even more apparent after season 2011/12. SV Sandhausen, VfR Aalen, and Jahn Regensburg were the three teams promoted that season. Regensburg made it up by defeating Karlsruher SC on away goals in the playoff, following up a 1:1 draw at home with a 2:2 draw away. Unfortunately, their success in the playoff was not an indicator of success in the league and they went back down to the 3.Liga the following season, having managed only four wins and seven draws. Sandhausen were also relegated, finishing eleven points away from safety. Aalen, however, managed a creditable ninth place.

The following season put an end to the trend of the 3.Liga side winning the promotion playoff, with VfL Osnabrück losing to Dynamo Dresden in a rematch of the relegation playoff from two years earlier. After winning the first leg 1:0 at home, they were defeated 2:0 away through a late goal from Idir Ouali. Karlsruher SC, who had lost the playoff the previous season, went up as champion and went on to finish fifth in the 2.Bundesliga. Runners-up Arminia Bielefeld finished 16th. Unlike Dresden the previous year, they would find their way back down, along with Dresden who finished 17th.

The opponent for Bielefeld at the end of the 2013/14 season would prove to be Darmstadt and the two sides delivered what was perhaps the most interesting of the relegation playoffs between the leagues. After Bielefeld won in Darmstadt 3:1, it looked like Darmstadt were down and out. However, they were also able to pull off a 3:1 victory during regular time. Five minutes into the second half of extra time, Kacper Przybyłko scored a goal which looked to have saved them from relegation. In the second minute of added time in extra time, Elton da Costa was able to score a goal which granted him legend status for Darmstadt. Even better for Darmstadt, in the following season they achieved a second promotion, finishing second in the 2.Bundesliga and being promoted to the Bundesliga. 1. FC Heidenheim (as champion) and RB Leipzig finished above Darmstadt in the 3.Liga, but did not do quite as well in the 2.Bundesliga, finishing eighth and fifth respectively. However, Leipzig would go one step better the following season (and we all know where they are now).

Darmstadt Hero Da Costa

In 2014/15, Arminia Bielefeld, MSV Duisburg, and Holstein Kiel were the top three teams in the 3.Liga, repeating the trend of the loser of the prior season’s playoff being promoted. Bielefeld went on to finish twelfth in the 2.Bundesliga the following season. In contrast, Duisburg finished 16th and then lost the playoff to Würzburger Kickers. Despite finishing third, Kiel was not promoted after losing to TSV 1860 Munich in the playoff. After managing a 0:0 draw in Kiel, 1860 were able to come from behind with late goals from Daniel Adlung and Kai Bülow.

After defeating MSV Duisburg 2:0 at home in the first leg and 2:1 away, Würzburg made a solid start in 2. Bundesliga before having ‘A Rückrunde made in Hell’ to go back down by finishing 17th. Dynamo Dresden finished 2015/16 as champion of the 3.Liga and finished fifth the following season, while Erzgebirge Aue managed 14th after their promotion as runners-up.

Which brings us to 2016/17. Once more, MSV Duisburg, the losing playoff team from the season before, went up as champion. They have had a solid season in the 2.Bundesliga and finished seventh. Holstein Kiel were the runners-up and have done even better, finishing third and looking forward to a playoff against VfL Wolfsburg. The playoff winner from last season was Jahn Regensburg, who managed a 1:1 draw with TSV 1860 Munich in the first home leg, before winning the return leg at the Allianz Arena in front of 62200 fans 2:0. After that result, 1860 then failed to pay for a license for the 3.Liga, which is why they have spent 2017/18 in the Regionalliga Bayern. Regensburg finished this season fifth.

So, what patterns can we see from what has happened over the first ten seasons of the 3.Liga? How could they impact SC Paderborn, 1.FC Magdeburg, and Karlsruher SC as the playoff approaches and in the coming season?

1. The team that loses the playoff game frequently winds up being promoted the following season. This is not a surprise, given that they were either the 16th best team in the 2.Bundesliga, or the third best team in the 3.Liga during the previous season.

2. 3.Liga sides win the playoff more often than not, having lost just twice. Again, this might not be surprising given that they have generally had a successful season leading up to the playoff game, while the 2.Bundesliga side has been headed in the opposite direction. Having said that, the history is very different in the playoff games for promotion from the 2.Bundesliga to the Bundesliga, which might be an indication of an extra level of difficulty in moving to the top league. This year might also be different because the competition was so tight in the 2.Bundesliga where relegation places were not decided until the final day which may not bode well for Karlsruher SC.

3. The team that finishes as champion in the 3.Liga often does not do as well the following season. Five of nine champions have finished below the team who were runners-up the previous season; twice the former champion was relegated after just one season up (although both those occasions were early in the history of the 3.Liga)

4. Of the 25 teams promoted from 3. Liga, only 7 were relegated the following season. This seems to indicate that, on the whole, there is good competitiveness between the two leagues (or at least from the top end of the 3.Liga). Five of those relegations took place during the first four seasons, which means that things have also improved over time.

5. While Holstein Kiel have the opportunity to win successive promotions, this is not common. SV Darmstadt achieved it across 2013/14 and then 2014/15, but were then relegated again at the end of 2016/17. RB Leipzig and FC Ingolstadt 04 both took a couple of years in the 2.Bundesliga before making the next jump. However, all those positive results have occurred in the last five years.

6. More bizarrely, there is a good chance that 1.FC Magdeburg, SC Paderborn, or Karlsruher SC (if they win the playoff against Erzgebirge Aue), could finish fifth place in the 2.Bundesliga next season. In 6 of the 9 seasons, one of the promoted teams has been able to finish in that position.

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Wayne Symes

Born and raised in Australia, Wayne developed a love of football at an early age and an interest in German football not long after. He is an international schoolteacher of English literature and Theory of Knowledge with a love of history and has taught in England, Qatar, China and now Germany (and attended local and international football matches in all of those countries). Wayne loves to travel and explore new places and cultures. His other interests include baseball, cooking, music and movies.

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