Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea are all set to be involved in Champions League knockout action this month after successfully navigating their way through the group stages of the competition. But there will be one noticeable difference in the two-legged encounters after UEFA decided to bin their European away goals rule.
The away goals rule was introduced to UEFA competitions in 1965 – and it has had many proponents and detractors over the years.
It was originally introduced to encourage away teams to attack and make matches more exciting, while also acting as a decider in closely-fought aggregate affairs.
But the rule has been criticised for promoting a defensive style of football from home teams in the opening legs of encounters.
Some managers have held the opinion that if they can shut away teams out in the first leg, they will hold a huge advantage going into the second game.
And, after abolishing the away goals rule ahead of the new season, UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin admitted that it had become counter-productive to its original purpose.
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“The question of its abolition has been debated at various UEFA meetings over the last few years,” Ceferin said.
“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.
“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.
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“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.”
Pep Guardiola’s side will be the first to be affected by the new rule as the Citizens travel to Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday night for the first leg of their last 16 showdown.
Jurgen Klopp will then have to ensure his Liverpool players have got their head around the change when they visit Inter Milan on Wednesday.