The 2021/22 Europa League semi-finals are upon us and similarly to the Champions League, they will involve notable changes to the rules, which kicked in this season.
In June last year, UEFA took the decision to abolish the away goals rule in the knockout rounds of all the European competitions. This includes Champions League, Europa League and the Conference League.
This new rule was implemented in June last year in all two-legged European ties. The away goals rule was introduced in 1965. The 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.
An example of a famous Europa League victory due to the away goals rule would be Valencia going through to the quarter-final after beating Werder Bremen on away goals in the 2009/10 season. The first leg at the Mestalla ended 1-1 and the second leg ended 4-4 in Germany. Valencia hung onto their away goals advantage after Claudio Pizarro scored for Werder Bremen with a couple of minutes before the end.
But there is no longer a need to work out how many away goals each team has scored to understand which team goes through.
Every goal scored in the two legs will count the same. If over the two legs the aggregate score is level, there will be two 15-minute periods of extra time and, if necessary, penalties.
Why did UEFA abolish the away goals rule?
In recent years, teams playing at home would focus on not conceding goals at all, which effectively meant they would sit back and not attack at all.
UEFA released a statement about the reason for change and explained that the home advantage levelled out over the years.
“From the mid-1970’s until now show a clear trend of continuous reduction in the gap of home/away wins,” UEFA stated.
“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.
“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 conceding a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage.
“There is also criticism of the unfairness, especially in extra time, of obliging the home team to score twice when the away team has scored.”
What does this mean for the Europa League semi-final ties tonight?
We will see West Ham take on Bundesliga side Frankfurt in the one semi-final as they try to comeback from a 2-1 loss at home.
Rangers will also be hoping to make a resurgence of their own as they look to recover a 1-0 deficit in the first leg to RB Leipzig.
As there are no away goals, West Ham will only have to score one to take the tie to extra time. Whereas in previous seasons if the Hammers only won 1-0, the scoreline wouldn’t have been sufficient to take the game to extra time as they would have scored fewer away goals.
Rangers can count themselves lucky that the rule is no longer in place. Again, in previous seasons, as the Gers didn’t score away from home. This would have put them at a major disadvantage, as it would only take one goal from Leipzig for Rangers to require three goals to get through. Now, because the rule is no longer relevant, if Leipzig score one, Rangers only have to score two.