The away goals rule is one of those marmite issues in football; you either love it or hate it. It’s the sweetest thing if your team benefits from it, but should they lose that way, you’re cursing its very existence.
We’re all guilty of having fickle perspectives skewed by sentiment from time to time – it’s a fan’s prerogative. Should the away goals rule really be abolished, though?
Research suggests it’s a rare enough thing for deciding European ties, anyway. We’ve looked back through every knockout phase game in UEFA club football between 2008 and 2017, crunched the numbers and discovered some key findings about the away goals rule.
If you’ve been following the fortunes of Premier League teams in Europe during the last decade, chances are you’ll not be a fan of the away goals rule. Prior to this season’s Champions League knockout phase, only one tie out of seven featuring English sides decided on away goals went in their favour.
In the Europa League and old UEFA Cup, meanwhile, just one tie in four saw a Premier League club benefit from the rule. Even if you add in Glasgow giants Rangers’ results in knockout European football and two wins out of two by away goals, it leaves British sides with a success rate of just four in 13 instances.
Capital clubs Chelsea and Spurs are the only Premier League outfits to have won on away goals. The Blues have also lost two Champions League ties because of it, like another London side in Arsenal.
The Manchester clubs, City and United, lost three European knockout ties this way between them. Liverpool, meanwhile, twice bowed out of the Europa League because of the rule.
To think Premier League teams alone have fallen foul of away goals would be foolish. French heavyweights PSG may have made Neymar the most expensive football ever, but their previous record with the rule is one win and two Champions League exits too.
Valencia have had some rotten luck in Europe, losing consecutive major finals at the turn of century, and away goals haven’t been kind to them either – losing four times because of it and triumphing just once. Even German giants Bayern Munich have a mixed record under the rule by benefiting three times and departing due to it twice.
Winning on away goals comes more by luck than judgment, but if there are such things as experts in European club football then look no further than two mighty teams in Mediterranean cities. Both Barcelona of La Liga and Monaco of Ligue 1 have twice triumphed because of this rule in the last 10 years.
Maybe there’s something in coastal waters as across Spain on the Bay of Biscay, Basque Country club Athletic Bilbao are also two out of two for away goals success in Europe.
Staying in La Liga, Atletico Madrid’s successful 2010 Europa League campaign was built on the rule with three triumphs because of it in four two-legged ties. Diego Simeone’s away goal record at Atleti is a reflection of Valencia; he’s won four and lost just once.
Just how significant?
Enough with the stats already. There’s one more that sheds some light on just how insignificant the away goal actually really is in knockout European club football.
Of the 440 Champions League and UEFA Cup/Europa League ties to have taken place between 2008 and 2017, just 45 were settled on away goals. In other words, about nine times out of ten, the rule isn’t needed to separate two teams competing in knockout continental football.
As something used to split sides around just ten percent of the time, is it really worth abolishing? Probably not.