Tag Archives: Real Madrid

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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When is the perfect time to sack a manager?

Benitez never had his feet under the desk.  Source: Bleacher Report

Benitez never had his feet under the desk. Source: Bleacher Report

With the sacking of Rafa Benitez yesterday, it seems like there is no better time to look at when it is the right time to dismiss a manager of a football club.

For starters, it should be a difficult decision not done on a whim. Several disappointing results can sting but things can change dramatically in two months’ time and snap decisions have more often than not had pretty dire consequences.

At the same time, when problems arise that may not be fixable, you cannot fear pulling the trigger when change is needed. Even if it’s not seen on the outside or there is an opportunity to get someone better, clubs shouldn’t fear in making a short-term negative decision for a long-term gain.

In the case of Benitez at Real Madrid, it seemed like a marriage doomed to fail from the start. Taking over from a hugely popular coach in Carlo Ancelotti and seen as a poor choice by the fans, the former Liverpool boss was always walking on a tightrope from the minute he walked through the door.

He didn’t seem to have full control of the team, his style clashed with the players at his disposal and people called for his head at the first sign of trouble. Now, with no more options available, Zinedine Zidane takes control much sooner than expected and is thrown right into the deep end.

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice.  Source: The Telegraph

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice. Source: The Telegraph

Timing a firing can be so difficult, when the pressure to get results is high but the space to bring in new ideas that can work so limited. Without a break like the rest of Europe, where it seems like a logical time to change things, managers have to simplify things before gradually adding their own spin, which takes too much time.

Take a look at Chelsea sacking Jose Mourinho, who had clearly lost the effort of his team and could not find a way to fix things but was then sacked just before the hectic Christmas period. Whether it was right or wrong, Guus Hiddink had little time to fix things and only now does it seem like they are clicking into gear under the Dutchman.

The one to watch will be the rest of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United, when many other managers would have been dismissed immediately after a fourth loss and a dismal display against Norwich City on Boxing Day.

They may have picked up a few points since then and could be back on the up, if he recovers and creates any kind of success this season or even possibly next season, it may show that sticking by someone might be the best option.

Short-sightedness tends to come with those at the bottom, as we have seen with constant Sunderland managers over the past few years but without a plan in place, teams sink. Newcastle almost fell after not having a plan after Alan Pardew and Norwich took too long to swing the axe on Chris Hughton a few years ago, giving the job to a man who brought them down and was sacked six months later.

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan.  Source: The Telegraph

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan. Source: The Telegraph

Another example of that poor forward-thinking was the hiring of Tim Sherwood, an unproven manager that ended up saving Aston Villa on the virtue that other teams were worse. He then had a pretty poor summer, the team was not tactically prepared and now Remi Garde is running around in January to fix all the problems he created.

Some sackings felt needless, such as when Mauricio Pochettino took over at Southampton or when Quique Sanchez Flores became the Watford manager, but both have shown why that decision was made. They both had plans, they have a tactical nous that brings the team an identity they can follow and in the long run, both have worked very well.

In the end, long-term ideals need to take much more of a prominent standpoint over possible short-sighted advantages. Bringing someone in to save the club does not mean that same man can take you forward, therefore the thinking has to be that he can deliver for many years rather than for just this season, as it usually leaves a club in a mess.

There may never be the “right” time to sack a manager. The off-season would be much easier, much like in other sports, but with the risk of relegation or not succeeding so high, owners feel compelled to do something as soon as they spot a problem.

What needs to happen is for them to get it right in the first place, a man who will add structure to the entire organisation and build rather than a fire-fighter because, in the long run, that short-term thinking always lands clubs in trouble.

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