Europa League away goals rule: what happens if there is a draw?
The first leg of Barcelona’s Europa League tie against Manchester United ended level - what does that mean for the return leg after UEFA abolished the away goals rule last season?
The second legs of the Europa League playoff round take place on Thursday, with four of the eight first legs ending level. Barcelona’s clash with Manchester United finished 2-2 on the whistle, while neither Ajax nor Union Berlin were able to find the net in their meeting in Amsterdam (Sporting Clube vs Midjylland and Juventus vs Nantes both finished 1-1). While away goals were a crucial part of determining two-legged ties during much of the past 50 years, that is no longer the case. United know that despite having scored twice at Camp Nou in last week’s first leg, it will count for nothing when the two teams meet to resolve the tie at Old Trafford.
That is because the old away goals rule was abolished with the changes introduced in all of UEFA’s club competitions last season. Whereas once an away goal would count as double if a tie ended level after both legs, that rule was axed last year.
Removal of the away goals rule
In June 2021, UEFA took the decision to abolish the away goals rule in all two-legged European ties. Introduced in 1965, the away goals rule stated that all goals scored by the visiting team in both home and away legs would count as double if the aggregate score ended level.
Over the years there have been many cases of famous victories in both the Champions League and Europa League, in which late goals have counted as two goals under the away goals rule to sentence a tie. Among the more memorable ones was Andrés Iniesta’s stoppage-time winner at Stamford Bridge in the 2008/9 semi-final - the tie ended 1-1 but it was Barça, as the visitors, who advanced as Iniesta’s goal basically doubled his team’s tally.
The Catalans also suffered the agony of the away goals rule themselves - Roma heroically clawed their way back after losing the first leg 4-1 to win 3-0 on home soil. That tie ended 4-4 on aggregate but Edin Dzeko’s goal at Camp Nou counted as double, so the Italians progressed to the semis.
Problems with the away goals rule
However, as the tournaments developed, teams playing at home would simply focus on avoiding conceding any goals at all - even if it meant putting 10 men behind the ball and defending for 90 minutes. It didn’t make for entertaining football - the kind we have come to expect in the world’s greatest club competition. Teams parking the bus in the first leg also put the visiting team at a disadvantage later, when the tie was to be decided at their ground.
UEFA explained why the away goals rule had to go and what will replace it: “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”.
Extra-time then penalties
Today (the change was effective from the knockout stage of the 2021/21 competition), all two-legged ties which end level after both the home and away matches have been played will go to extra-time - 15 minutes per half. At the end of that, if the score is still level, the game will be resolved from the penalty spot - a shootout involving five players from each side which will go to sudden death if it remains level after both teams have taken all of their five spot-kicks.
UEFA gave examples of recent statistics to illustrate their decision to make the historic change: “Statistics since the mid-1970s 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”.