From next season onwards, European football will no longer use the away goals rule for two-legged ties, UEFA have confirmed.
This decision will alter the dynamic of Champions League and Europa League football completely, and it should be interesting to see how clubs respond to the change next season.
So why has this been done? Why have UEFA decided to bin off a rule that has been in operation for decades?
UEFA president Alexander Ceferin has said (via Football Daily): “The impact of the rule now runs counter to its purpose, as in fact it now dissuades home teams, especially in first legs, from attacking because they fear conceding a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage.
“There is also criticism of the unfairness, especially in extra time, of obliging the home team to score twice when the away team has scored.”
The original purpose of the away goals rule was to encourage away teams to attack instead of play for a 0-0 and hope to win the reverse fixture.
And yes, the away goals rule can have the inverse effect and instead provide an incentive for the home side to defend.
But by scrapping the rule, surely you’ll go back to the original problem, where away sides look to take a draw?
Home advantage is still a significant factor in these ties. Home teams still go into knockout games looking to win.
In the last five Champions League and Europa League knockout campaigns, exactly 200 matches have been won by the home side.
133 were won by the visitors, and 79 were drawn. In those same matches, home teams scored 680 goals, while the travelling sides got just 532. The away goals rule does not discredit home advantage.
But many argue: why should one goal be worth more than another? And that is a fair point.
However, the rule adds a lot of drama, bringing about some of the most memorable moments in recent football history.
Would we still be talking about Lucas Moura’s last-minute goal vs Ajax if it had only taken the game to extra time?
That’s what the rule brings to the game. The possibility that a team could go from winning to losing in a second. There’s nothing else quite like it in football.
And, when both sides have equal opportunity to score an away goal, the rule is hardly unfair.
But that brings us to one of the other major complaints with the rule. If a game goes to extra time, the away side gets an extra 30 minutes to score an away goal.
Some have suggested removing the away goals rule just for extra time, but this brings up another flaw, that the home side gets an extra 30 minutes in front of their fans. So what’s the fairest solution?
Well, scrap extra time.
What does extra time actually add to the tie that we haven’t already had? The two sides have already been up against each other for 180 minutes – why do we need another 30?
It’s just the same as what we’ve already seen, except no one can sprint anymore, and there’s an increased risk of injury.
Getting rid of extra time solves every inequality in this situation. Neither side gets an additional 30 minutes at home or more of a chance to score an away goal.
Some goals are worth more than others, but both teams get the same amount of time to score an away goal.
And, if it’s still all square after two legs, it goes to a penalty shootout, which the majority of spectators would prefer.
Something needed to change, but UEFA have taken the wrong step.