Manchester City will become the first English club to experience a Champions League knockout stage without the away-goals rule when on Tuesday they face Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of their last-16 showdown.
City, who took another giant stride towards retaining their Premier League crown with a 4-0 win over Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday evening, will travel to the Jose Alvalade Stadium looking to make an encouraging start to the knockout phase of the competition.
However, their showdown with the Portuguese outfit will feature a key difference to European knockout matches of the past, with away-goals rule no longer part of the tie-deciding criteria.
Back in June last year, UEFA confirmed that they had reached an agreement that would see the away-goals rule scrapped from the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League from this season onwards.
Making the decision to abolish the rule, UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin, speaking at the time, said: “The away goals rule has been an intrinsic part of UEFA competitions since it was introduced in 1965.
“However, the question of its abolition has been debated at various UEFA meetings over the last few years. 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 granting a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage.
“There is also criticism of the unfairness, especially in extra time, of forcing the home team to score twice when the away team has scored.
“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 made 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.”
UEFA did consider scrapping the rule back in 2018 but it failed to receive such significant levels of support as it did last summer.
Whilst City will be the first English club to experience the Champions League knockout stages without the rule in place, Manchester United will also experience for the first time when they face Atletico Madrid in the first-leg of their last-16 showdown in the Spanish capital next week.
Meanwhile, both Liverpool, who face Inter Milan in Italy on Wednesday night, and Chelsea, who will lock horns with Lille next week, will also have to adjust to the rule change, which is reported to have gained support from former United manager Jose Mourinho and current Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel in recent years.
With the rule having been removed, ties in which the two teams score the same number of goals over the two legs will not be decided on the number of away goals scored.
Instead, two 15-minute periods of extra time at the end of the second leg will be played to try and settle the contest. If the scoreline is to remain the same, a penalty shoot-out will determine the outcome of the tie and decide who progresses to the next stage of the competition.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.