Despite all the excitement of last weeks Champions League semi-finals, it’s hard to disagree that the games have raised a few more questions than answers. I’m not about to enter a debate on the ‘right way’ to play football, due to Chelsea’s tactics being spot-on in terms of taking on Barcelona, as with the Blues current personnel, a pure footballing encounter would have been akin to leading Lambs to the slaughter. Instead one of the real issues, for me, is the away goals rule, which appears to be becoming more and more out-dated.
Both of last weeks ties were affected by the rule, with the away sides in the two second legs both advancing. The Real Madrid example highlights many of the drawbacks in regard to the ruling, and the impact it can have on the spectacle. Bayern Munich set out their stall early on, looking to defend their lead, due to Madrid’s strike at the Allianz Arena, yet when the Spaniards scored early on the Bavarian side’s game plan was hindered. Real Madrid quickly notched another, before some woeful defending gave Bayern the chance from the spot, which they duly took making it 2-1 on the night, and all square in the tie. From here the game descended into a boring spectacle with both sides wary of committing men forward, due to the danger of being hit on the break. As a result the game fizzled out and ended in a penalty shoot-out.
The away goals rule had a similar impact at the Camp Nou, with Barcelona racing to a 2-0 margin, taking the lead on aggregate. A temporary lapse in concentration allowed Ramires in to net the vital goal, and swing the tie in favour of the Londoners. From here Barcelona continued to push, but Chelsea had the luxury of sitting back, before Fernando Torres notched a late strike to put the tie to bed.
The rule was introduced in 1965 during the Cup Winners Cup, in a bid to deter the trend of away teams in European competition using negative tactics. Prior to the rule, below 20% of two-legged Continental ties ended in an away win, with sides all too aware that the strength of home advantage would be the deciding factor. As a result attacking during the away tie, and risking conceding vast quantities of goals for very little reward, was seen as pointless, promoting defensive football.
At the time the rule was a radical and necessary change, promoting an optimism in away sides during their travels, who knew that one goal, could effectively equate to one-and-a-half, in the event of the scores being level at the end of 180 minutes. At first away home teams still had the overwhelming advantage, but as time has moved on the home and away legs have almost switched roles, with the traveling club, at times, having the advantage.
Although it is still rare to see a team being trounced at their own stadium, they are getting beaten more and more, with the figure of away sides achieving victory reaching around 35% in recent years. This is due to a variety of factors that are levelling the playing field, rendering the away goals rule almost obsolete. Perhaps the biggest issue is the fact that players are no longer entering the unknown during away legs, with many having already played at a certain venue, or even having performed for the side they are taking on, as was the case with Arjen Robben during last Wednesday’s clash. Due to this, the mysterious factor of venturing away from home is almost removed, as the majority of teams across Europe take each other on frequently during competition or exhibition games.
Travel improvements have also swung the odds toward arriving sides, who no longer turn up dazed and fatigued after their journey. During the early days of European competition, communication links were far from the level of now, with teams frequently having long and arduous trips to far-flung areas of the continent. Nowadays travel arrangements are far more efficient, with flights across Europe rarely taking over four hours and mobility in other nations being similar to that at home.
The introduction of the rule was necessary at the time, turning a 3-1 loss into a more positive outcome for the away side than a 2-0, encouraging attacking and exciting football. However, as is the case with most things in life, it has become out-dated and is now actually hampering the game.
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