Friday’s soccer news starts with UEFA deciding that the away goals tiebreaker is no longer necessary. Or, to put it in their words, “abolition of the away goals rule in all UEFA club competitions.” Most importantly, that means an end to the Champions League knockout round series decided by away goals.
Pour one out for the memory of the Bayern Munich vs PSG quarterfinal in 2020-21. That’s now the last Champions League knockout series decided by away goals. A round earlier, Porto advanced past Juventus on away goals. Due to the pandemic, 2019-20 had single-legs following the round of 16. 2018-19 had an away goal winner in every round of the knockout stage. It was Manchester United over PSG in the round of 16, Spurs over Manchester City in the quarterfinals, and Spurs again to advance past Ajax in the semifinals. That’s how important the away goals rule was in the Champions League and why so many people are probably happy to see the end of it.
The problem with the away goals rule is that it impacts how teams play in both legs. We’ve all heard commentators in the opening leg of the series talk at length about how an away goal changes things. Never having to listen to that again is another positive from UEFA’s decision. The reasoning is that home field advantage simply isn’t what it was. With that in mind, rewarding away goals makes less sense than it once did.
“Many different factors may be considered as having an impact on this decline in home advantage,” UEFA’s statement read. “Better pitch quality and standardized pitch sizes, improved stadium infrastructure, higher security conditions, enhanced care of refereeing (and more recently the introduction of technological support such as GLT and VAR), wider and more sophisticated TV coverage of matches, more comfortable travel conditions, a compressed calendar dictating squad turnover, and changes in competition formats are all elements which have affected the way football is played and blurred the lines between playing at home and away.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin went further, focusing on the idea of competition in contemporary soccer. ” “The impact of the rule now runs counter to its original 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. It is fair to say that home advantage is nowadays no longer as significant as it once was.”
While that could certainly change for a variety of reasons, UEFA deserves credit for acting. Whether or not they acted too quickly is a different question. Introducing the Europa Conference League this season means that UEFA now has two secondary tournaments they could’ve used to trial such a significant rule change. The game has to evolve, but like FIFA quickly adopting VAR at the last World Cup, it’s worth asking why governing bodies believe that it should happen so quickly.
Soccer America’s Mike Woitalla relays Weston McKennie’s visit to FC Dallas. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald looks at a key part of the Union’s success. FourFourTwo’s Richard Jolly with what has changed for the Netherlands at EURO 2020. Football Italia’s Martin Mork works through the knock-on effect if Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Juventus. The Athletic’s Jordan Campbell explains the potential changes to Scottish club soccer.
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