UEFA announced today that they’ve decided to abolish the away goals rule from their club competitions, effectively from the starting of the 2021-2022 season. Now, the number of away goals scored will not matter if a knock-out stage have scored the same number of goals on aggregate.
Here’s UEFA’s statement:
Following the recommendation of the UEFA Club Competitions Committee and the UEFA Women’s Football Committee, the UEFA Executive Committee has today approved a proposal to remove the so-called away goals rule from all UEFA club competitions (men, women and youth) as of the qualifying phases of the 2021/22 competitions.
The away goals rule was applied to determine 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. In such cases, the team which had scored the higher number of goals away from home was considered the winner of the tie and qualified for the next round of the competition. If the two teams had scored the same number of goals at home and away at the end of normal playing time in the second leg, extra time was played, followed by kicks from the penalty mark if no goal was scored.
With the decision to remove this rule, ties in which the two teams score the same number of goals over the two legs would be not decided on the number of goals scored away, but two 15-minute periods of extra time are played at the end of the second leg and in case the teams score the same number of goals or no goals during this extra time, kicks from the penalty mark would determine the team which qualifies to the next stage of the competition.
Since away goals would no longer be given additional weight to decide a tie, they would also be removed from the criteria used to determine the rankings when two or more teams are equal on points in the group stage i.e. the criteria applied to matches played by the teams in question. They would not be removed from the additional criteria applied to all group matches if the teams remain equal (higher number of away goals scored in all group matches), in order to retain a maximum number of sporting criteria.
Statistics from the mid-1970s until now show a clear trend of continuous reduction in the gap between the number of home/away wins (from 61%/19% to 47%/30%) and the average number of goals per match scored at home/away (from 2.02/0.95 to 1.58/1.15) in men’s competitions, whereas since 2009/10, the average goals per game have remained very steady in the UEFA Women’s Champions League with the overall average of 1.92 for home teams and 1.6 for away teams.
Many different factors may be considered as having an impact on this decline in home advantage. Better pitch quality and standardised 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.
Commenting on the abolishment of the away goals rule, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin said:
“The away goals rule has been an intrinsic part of UEFA competitions since it was introduced in 1965. However, the question of its abolition has been debated at various UEFA meetings over the last few years. Although there was no unanimity of views, many coaches, fans and other football stakeholders have questioned its fairness and have expressed a preference for the rule to be abolished.”
Mr Čeferin added: “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,“ the UEFA President concluded. “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.”
The latest versions of all UEFA club competition regulations can be accessed here.
Clubs will now have to adapt to this new format, as they often took a more cautious approach when they played at home, given that conceding a goal in that situation could be decisive.
This format will undoubtedly lead to more periods of extra-time in the second leg, something which will benefit the home teams in this return leg. It’s also fair to mention that the previous rule benefited the away teams playing an extra-time, as a goal in that situation was more valuable for them than for the home team.