Another Two-Leg Tie in the Offing

As we all know, FC Bayern takes on Zürich in the final play-off round of Champions League Qualifying Round. In the non-champions track, there are 10 clubs battling for 5 spots, with each contest taking part over the course of two legs. FC Bayern hosts the opening match, which takes place this Wednesday, August 17. We’ll be back tomorrow with a complete preview of that match. Then, regardless of the outcome, they will play again next Tuesday in Zürich. The club with the most goals over the two legs advances to the CL Group Stage.

This two leg-format, used throughout the CL knock-out stage as well, is great: it really allows the fans to see who the better team is, whereas in one game there’s a greater chance of a weaker team winning through a fluke. Also, the week between the games is fun, especially if the score is tied. But even if one team has a lead, a good team shouldn’t feel like they’re out of it - they have another whole 90 minutes to score next week, so you only generally don’t feel hopeless if you’re down 1 or even 2 goals. I don’t know of any fans that would be eager to scrap the two-leg format and go to a single-elimination tournament.

There is, however, something that I do hear a lot of complaints about: the Away Goals rule.  As you probably know, this rule provides that matches which remain tied after the second leg are won by the club that scored the most away goals.  There are some aspects of this rule that really work, and it certainly helped Bayern in our great 2009-2010 run.  But if you’re on the losing side (and sometime evens if you’re just a neutral observer) it leaves a weird taste in your mouth.

So, I’d like to briefly explore some of the possible alternatives.  Note that I do NOT have any information that UEFA is planning on changing this.  This is just for fun.  These are some options that I’ve discussed with other fans over the past few years, as important games have been decided by the Away Goals rule.  For each, I’ve provided a brief explanation of how it would work, along with a summary of the biggest advantages and disadvantages it would bring to the table.  I’d be interested to hear what everyone thinks - the one I’d prefer is pretty clear. 

(1) Leave it the way it is

Explanation - The current format, as described above - two games, most total goals after two games wins; in case of a tie, the club with the most goals scored on the other club’s home field advances. 

Advantages: It’s arguably more fair than a penalty shootout, and more in keeping with the true nature of a game (whereas a shootout just requires a handful of crude skills).  Also, it ratchets up the excitement, in that it allows a team that’s a goal behind to “pass” its opponent with one goal.  IE, consider a game where the visiting team is behind by one goal, and the number of away goals at the moment is equal.  If that visiting team then scores, they are now ahead (tied + a 1-goal advantage in away goals).  This is pretty much the only way to allow a team to go from behind to in-the-lead with one shot in association football, absent some crazy rule like certain shots are worth two points.

Disadvantages: Basically, it’s kind of stupid.  It’s no fun to watch two clubs battle for 180 minutes over the course of two weeks, with high energy and great offensive and defensive plays being made by both clubs, only to have the outcome decided by something so minor and arbitrary. 

(2) Go to a penalty shootout at the end of regular time

Explanation: Just what it says - after the end of the second game, if the score is tied, go to a best-of-5 shootout of penalty shots.  Whether goals were scored home or away would be insignificant.

Advantages: Penalty shootouts are exciting, in the sense that there’s a lot of suspense and the every inch is vitally important.  Makes for good TV.

Disadvantages: You’d be deciding the game on the basis of a very particular skill set that’s only distantly related to actual footballing skills.  Additionally, if the score was even, a weaker or less-talented club would resort to negative tactics for the last 30 minutes or more of game play, because a penalty shootout has a great degree of random chance (whereas the weaker, slower club would theoretically stand a far less than 50/50 chance of winning if they had to go secure a goal in open play).

(3) Go to a penalty shootout at the end of 30 minutes of extra time

Explanation: World Cup style - if it’s tied after both legs, go to two 15-minute periods of extra time.  If it’s still tied after that, go to the shootout.

Advantages: In addition to the general excitement of a shootout, you get the excitement of extra time plus the excitement of a shootout.  Also, you could argue that it somewhat mitigates the allows-weak-teams-to-park-the-bus angle, because you could say any team that wanted to avoid a shootout should have tried especially hard to be aggressive and take chances during the extra periods.

Disadvantages: All of the ones associated with penalty shootouts in general, plus another: it would seemingly give the advantage to the club that had home-field advantage for the second leg, because they’d end up with more of the playing time on their ground.

(4) Play a new tie-breaker game

Explanation: If the match is tied after both legs, blow the whistle and everyone goes home for the day.  Schedule a new game anywhere from 2 to 8 days later, with the winner of that one advancing.

Advantages: It would be fun - the days leading up to the extra game would be great to generate interest, and you could make a killing on added ticket sales and TV revenue.  It would really test the depth of each side.

Disadvantages: Completely unrealistic.  Most teams that are playing in multiple competitions already have their schedules mapped out to the day.  You would have to either re-schedule domestic competitions, which would annoy people, or reschedule later Champions League competitions.  Also, there would be the question of where to hold the deciding game (in other words, would one team get to host two games of the three?  If so, that’s a big advantage).

So, it couldn’t happen, although I’d note that the English FA does something not entirely dissimilar with the FA Cup. 

(5) SUDDEN DEATH!!!

Explanation: If it’s tied after two legs, everyone heads to the locker rooms for a 10-minute rest.  They come back out, the ref discards his stop-watch and blows the whistle for kick-off.  First one to score wins. 

The best analogy would be the NHL playoffs.  If you’ve ever watched the NHL playoffs, you know this is a positive comparison.

If one team scores within 2 minutes - great job, jolly good show, you win.  If it takes another 3 hours - hey, these guys are getting paid plenty.  If they’re so tired, maybe they ought to go score a goal.  Then they can go home.

Advantages: It would pretty much be the coolest thing ever. 

Disadvantages: A bunch of very minor complaints that would probably prevent it from ever happening.  The team that hosts the second leg would theoretically have an advantage, because they would get more of the total playing time on their home surface.  Managers would have trouble dealing with substitutions, because they’d always want to save one or two in the event of a sudden-death overtime.  Players would get too tired.  Spectators would get tired or cold or have to take their kids home.  Wahhhhh.

(6) Some other way of breaking a tie if the scores are level after two legs.

Explanation: You tell me.  In the comments.  Thanks for reading.

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