UEFA’s club competition committee has decided to abolish the away goals rule in European competitions (Men and Women Champions League, Europa League and Conference League) with effect from next season. The decision to scrap the rule, which has been in effect since 1965, will require the approval of UEFA’s executive committee which will convene on July 9 before it is passed. ‘The Away Goals rule’ aimed at determining the winner of a two-legged knockout tie in cases where the two teams had scored the same number of goals on aggregate over the two matches. If one team had scored more away goals, they would qualify for the next round.
The decision to remove the rule will mean that games that end in a tie will now go into the extra time and then penalties. The rule was initially introduced to eliminate the need of a third game, or play-off in order to avoid logistical and scheduling issues, when teams finished level and is meant to encourage attacking play from away teams. Recently, the testament of the thrill and excitement generated by the Away Goals rule has been witnessed when Roma came back from a 4-1 away defeat in a Champions League quarter-final to knock out Barcelona with a 3-0 home win in 2018. The following year Tottenham went one better, reaching the final after they followed a 1-0 home defeat against Ajax with a 3-2 victory in Amsterdam.
In 2015, after Arsenal were knocked out by Ligue 1 AS Monaco (tie ended 3-3 on aggregate but Monaco advanced because they had scored three away goals compared to Arsenal’s two), the then Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger slammed the rule by calling it ‘outdated’. Even Atletico Madrid’s manager Diego Simeone has pointed to strategic disadvantages for the team playing the second leg of a knockout tie at home, especially when the tie goes into extra time. So, In September 2018, UEFA started discussions with coaches in order to put the rule under review. The coaches they spoke to during the discussions included: Massimiliano Allegri, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Paulo Fonseca, Julen Lopetegui, Jose Mourinho, Thomas Tuchel, Diego Simeone and Arsene Wenger.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin issued a statement which says - "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. Taking into consideration the consistency across Europe in terms of styles of play, and many different factors which have led to a decline in home advantage, the UEFA Executive Committee has taken the correct decision in adopting the view that it is no longer appropriate for an away goal to carry more weight than one scored at home."
Ceferin has emphasized that the rule now works as counter to its original purpose and stated his belief that it dissuades teams from playing attacking football by only motivating away teams to adapt attacking style. The other reasons being suggested by UEFA regarding decline in home advantage include higher security within grounds, increasingly standardised pitches and more comfortable travelling conditions for the away team journeying across the continent. The away goal rule led to cagey first-leg games, in which the home team has been reluctant to commit their men forward to avoid conceding goals while hoping they would nick a goal in the second leg. If the score line at the end of the first leg remained close, it would lead to an open second leg, with both teams standing a chance to win.