The away goal rule was introduced in 1965 by UEFA to make sure that the visiting sides in the European competitions were encouraged to be more adventurous. The rule basically states that a goal scored by the away team over a two-legged tie will count as a double. For example, the aggregate scoreline between Team A and B is 3-3 at the end of the two matches, with Team A winning the home leg 2-0 and losing the away leg 3-1 would still progress to the next round on account of the away goal scored in the return leg.
This rule revolutionised European competitions back in the day but in the contemporary world, it’s beginning to lose its meaning. Here are four reasons why.
LACK OF APPLICABILITY IN MODERN FOOTBALL
As mentioned earlier, the away rule came into play in the mid-1960s. If you compare football from that time to this, it has moved on by leaps and bounds. Back then this rule was introduced to level the playing field. But in modern football, most pitches across Europe’s top clubs which play in the Champions League are in pristine conditions. The travel from one country to another is much more comfortable and now with the lack of crowds in the stadium due to Covid-19 restrictions all over the world, there’s no undue advantage for the home team in these knockout matches.
HOME TEAM ON THE BACKFOOT
This rule is proving to be counter-productive in the current era. The home team usually sets up in a manner where they don’t want to concede a goal and look to take the tie to the away leg to show any sorts of ambition going forward. The away goal rule was introduced to entice the away team to come out and attack more often but now has resulted in the home team sitting back and creating a solid defensive wall to avoid conceding. For the home team, a clean sheet becomes priority and goalscoring comes second.
Due to different quarantine rules of different countries across Europe, some of the ties in the European competitions are being moved to neutral venues. We saw the Champions League Round of 16 match between RB Leipzig and Liverpool being forced to be played in Budapest.
Technically, there was a home and away match in this tie with the away goal rule in place but none of the teams played on their home turf. The Champions League quarter-final match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund may well be shifted to a neutral venue. Things are dynamic in the current circumstances and in these neutral-venue matches, having the away goal rule makes little sense.
DICTATES A LOT OF THE STRATEGY
Having the second leg at home for a club serves as a bit of an advantage in this competition as the teams can manage the game strategically much better at home in the return leg. The first leg usually results in a cagey game with the home team looking to sit back and pounce on any opportunity to counter-attack. This was evident in the Round of 16 match between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea.
Diego Simeone, Atletico’s manager, is known for setting his team up compactly and has successfully managed to take his team to two Champions League finals. But this year things have been a little different. In the Spanish League, his team sits on the top of the table having played some good attacking football. But the team we saw in the first leg of the match against Chelsea was clearly a team afraid of conceding an away goal. We saw what they were capable of producing in the second leg when the team wanted to press Chelsea high up the ground.
Similarly, Chelsea under their new manager Thomas Tuchel having managed to get a 0-1 result in the first leg and started the home match with intentions of only hurting Madrid on the counter-attack.
This is just one example of so many games from the past which follow the same narrative. It becomes extremely predictable at times and doesn’t make for good viewing for the supporters.
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