Tag Archives: Champions League

In defence of the away goals rule

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Look, we’ve all been burned by it or adorded it, so let’s talk about the away goals rule in the Champions League.

For me, I’ll never forget the time Manchester United lost to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League semi-final on away goals. Having drew 2-2 at Old Trafford, the Germans slipped through our grasps and snuck into the final in a 1-1 that will have me shaking my head for all eternity.

At least Zinedine Zidane scored that blinder in the final.

So many complain about it, while those same voices are eerily quiet when it works in their favour. With that in mind, do we really need the away goals rule? Is it really fair to everyone? Or is it just a way to avoid extra time like it’s the plague for club sides?

In the last six years, eight knockout ties have been settled by the away goals rule with at least one each year. Four of the opening ties were won by the home side, Paris Saint-Germain drew twice to Barcelona in 2012-13 and to Chelsea in 2014/15, while the other two were defeats for Arsenal at the Emirates.

Two of those four that won their opening home fixture secured safe passage to the next round, while both of the Gunners’ initial defeats could not be turned around away from home. PSG’s two draws saw them knocked out at the Camp Nou but qualify in extra time on away goals at Stamford Bridge.

In some, like Marseille’s passage in 2011/12 over Inter Milan and Arsenal’s two losses, the rule looks incredibly harsh. The Ligue 1 side won the tie in the very last second, having held on for 74 minutes before the Italians nabbed two goals only to see it slip on one mistake in the dying embers.

As for the Gunners’ pair of clashes, three goals conceded at home in opening legs killed the ties. On both occasions, they managed to score two away without conceding but alas, the away goals rule states that is not good enough.

Then again, it gives some teams their just rewards. Atletico Madrid were excellent in their semi-final over Bayern Munich last season, with their away goal coming whilst the tie was level at 1-1 and Chelsea’s excellent 2-0 win at home meant the single goal they stole from a drab affair at the Parc des Princes earned them rightful passage to the next round.

In truth, it does tend to hand the advantage to the away side in that first leg. In the 78 games played in the knockout stages in the last six years, the away side has only failed to score in the first game on 27 occasions.

58 of those 78 sides that start away have gone through. However, with seeding affording you that opportunity through qualifying top of your group, it’s not a surprise as you expect a stronger team to be heading on the plane first.

What is extremely interesting is when it comes down to the semi-finals, when the true big teams match up without a seeding advantage. Only one side that went away in the first leg has qualified for the final in the last 10 attempts, Real Madrid being the sole victor over Manchester City last season.

That shows that when it is whittled down to the crème de la crème, the law doesn’t matter. In fact, only one semi-final has required away goals in that span, which was the aforementioned Atletico win, while only one other has gone down to penalties.

In the end, UEFA are forced into a little bit of a corner. The rule is there, on paper at least, to encourage attacking play from the away sides in both legs but more often than not, it causes it in the first leg while the home side sit on anything they’ve gained in the follow-up match.

At the same time, no club wants to play extra time in midweek with a busy domestic schedule that has everyone vying for silverware too. It also tends not to matter in the slightest when it really comes down to the best of the best, so isn’t it a relatively amicable way to thin the herd early doors?

You could tweak it a little, potentially switching the seeding around to test the big teams but with clubs highly unlikely to want to force extra time and the rule needing to be applied fairly irregularly, they will stick to their guns. And so they should, It does encourage exciting ties in the long run and can keep teams in them for longer if they really give it their all.

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The crazy Christmas schedule needs to end

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Southampton have a crazy Christmas schedule that has shown it’s toughness in the last two games. Source: The Mirror

Southampton play Everton today at 3pm.

They lost 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion in the 3pm kick-offs on New Year’s Eve. They played three nights before that in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at 7:45pm.

Then the Saints go marching into Carrow Road to face Norwich City in the FA Cup before a midweek League Cup semi-final against Liverpool on the 11th. Burnely are then their foes at Turf Moor on the 14th of the first month of 2017.

6 games in seventeen days. A game every 2.8 days. Doesn’t that sound a little absurd to you?

Many will cry out that Christmas football is sacred and cannot be touched. Some will say that English football is a tough man’s game and doesn’t need the siesta seen by those less worthy on the continent.

When you a see a schedule like that for a team, it can’t be excused. In fact, every single team in the Premier League has at least an extra day’s rest than Southampton over the three games this week, a distinct disadvantage both for the now and for the future.

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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore doesn’t care as long as that truck of money doesn’t stop pulling up at his house. Source: chelseafootballnews.com

That goes for any team in the top flight who could have faced this kind of issue. To those that want to win the Premier League to those fighting to stay in it, they want to play at their full potential each game and that simply isn’t possible with so many games over a short period of time.

This also has a detrimental effect to the product you are watching. Is it any wonder that there will be a few lethargic, uninspiring displays and some terrible mental errors that could cost any team valuable points when they simply could have played them further apart?

What is even more absurd is how spread the games are this year through the period. There isn’t one day where every team is playing, all bowing to the whims of the ever-powerful TV deals that force them to move to their will to cater for their viewing public.

Injuries occur more often when playing in such a short space of time, which must put a real panic in teams that are already short-handed. Fatigue could also set in towards March, when regular internationals have been playing week-in, week-out since August or even since the summer for some, which is only amplified for those from South America who have had long flights on top of that.

Then there’s also the blame that this affects English players in major tournaments. With most of the national squad playing in the Premier League, the tiredness and lack of mental strength shown in the summer at least on the surface looks like it could be down to a long, arduous season, especially with most playing for a Tottenham Hotspur side that had to fight tooth and nail until the very end.

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Can a break really help the international side as well? Or is that just more hope than anything? Source: nytimes.com

So, what is the real answer to fixing the clogging of games at this time of year? Lifting the 3pm kick-off ban so that we can have more teams play on one day without a fuss? Or take a few weeks off either after the traditional Boxing Day fixture or after New Year’s Day to refresh the batteries?

I’d actually like for some real hard evidence to be conducted to prove how much it can affect a player and how important a short-term midseason break can be. It’s easy to point at international tournaments and the fact there’s been no English side in the Champions League final for four years, but before then there was at least one representative on eight out of nine occasions.

It’s true that the players and coaches would absolutely welcome a break, which for many on the continent actually means a week off then more preparation for the restart rather than three weeks dossing. It will give them a chance to restart themselves, for coaches to work their ideas into their teams and get ready for the second half of the season.

Whether it will happen any time in the future is the real question. With the TV companies and the Premier League big-wigs probably seeing it as a great opportunity to take advantage of no overseas competition, it would be difficult to see it coming to fruition any time soon.

But seriously, Southampton’s schedule over the next month is a joke. That can and should be changed next year, it’s isn’t fair in the slightest.

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Has The FA Cup lost its magic?

Oh Trophy, we art thou magic gone?  Source: The FA

Oh Trophy, we art thou magic gone? Source: The FA

In the wake of Chelsea’s 5-1 win against a Manchester City side littered with a number of debuting young talent on Sunday afternoon, a debate has begun as to whether the FA Cup has lost some of it’s magic.

The short answer is yes. The long answer is to follow but it’s also not really that surprising that even the oldest club competition in the world has lost a little of its shine, but it’s due to a number of factors.

Starting with the media and the hype of the competition, the moving of games for TV hasn’t helped at all. Place like the BBC are desperate to air an all-Premier League tie like the one on Sunday but with both teams also in Champions League action, neither were happy with the news.

The fact that the next round will very likely be competing with Premier League games, along with Football League games, means that some attention has been drawn away and can make a league like the Championship look like a mess. Some teams have played 29 games, some have played 32, which is going to cause a pile up of fixtures for a team.

The youthful Manchester City squad came under scrutiny.  Source: Sky Sports

The youthful Manchester City squad came under scrutiny. Source: Sky Sports

The competition itself hasn’t adapted out of stubborness and calls that it would harm it, but stagnating it hurts just as much. Replays are a nightmare for schedulers despite the money-rolling opportunities for smaller clubs, which is literally the only benefit other than for the fans of said club.

As I’ve already mentioned, scheduling them on a weekend also doesn’t seem to work when there’s league fixtures on too. Why not move them to the mid-week, when they’ll be appreciated more, or in a more drastic move, change the league fixtures to a mid-week?

It works in literally every other big European country. Spain, Germany, France and Italy all have their big club competition in the week, two of them even have two legs and the fact that the League Cup already does it means it shouldn’t be too big of a shift, especially as that finishes in late February.

We can still have it start on a big Saturday in January too, much like the Coupe de France does, before moving to a mid-week schedule before the final on it’s own Saturday. It may mean the semi-finals have to be away from Wembley as that would be a scheduling nightmare but it would help give the competition more prestige.

Was Pellegrini's team disrepectful or a sign of the times?  Source: soccernews.com

Was Pellegrini’s team disrepectful or a sign of the times? Source: soccernews.com

The cup’s importance has also dropped below the league for pretty much any team. Hull City of the Championship made 10 changes because promotion is much more important to them than a cup run and rightfully so, they aren’t likely to win it and the money they’ll get from going up will be enormous.

Big teams have to rotate at least because of how much are on their plate but even smaller Premier League teams do as they want to stay away from relegation. It’s always difficult to balance it correctly, the likes of West Ham have probably shown it the best, but the very top clubs have to make sure they make the Champions League and that means there tends to be an impact.

So how do you change things? A stipulation on having a certain amount of “first-team” players is absurd. It’s slightly insulting to those who do start, a club would simply promote them if they didn’t meet the criteria and it will promote teams keeping a large squad together.

A Champions League place is an interesting thought but too much of a risk to the co-efficent. The fact that it could have been won by Wigan a few years ago shows you how it could drastically harm the English league and no other country does it.

In the end, something needs to give. Manuel Pellegrini’s side was clearly a message to say that something needs to be done. It has a little bit of dust on it but with a few little shakes of a duster, it could become as good as new.

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