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Champions League technical report 5: Is extra time worth playing?

In this fifth extract from the new UEFA Champions League technical report, the expert panel note how few goals there are in extra time and wonder if it is even worth playing.

Bayern made the most of extra time against Juventus
Bayern made the most of extra time against Juventus ©AFP/Getty Images

Key numbers:
Goals in extra time (post-group stage only)
2015/16: 2 (from 3 games) – 1 out of 3 games settled
2014/15: 2 (2) – 1 out of 2 games settled
2008/09–2013/14: 4 (5)  – 2 out of 6 games settled
2002/03–2007/08: 10 (7) – 4 out of 11 games settled
1992/93–2001/02: 7 (5) – 3 out of 5 games settled

"No one wants to play extra time." This opinion, expressed by one of the UEFA technical observers the morning after the UEFA Champions League final, provoked considerable discussion on the extra half-hour.

In Milan, Diego Simeone might have been forgiven for having mixed feelings as the referee signalled the end of 90 minutes. In Lisbon, two years previously, he had seen his team concede an equaliser three minutes into stoppage time and then ship three more goals during the second period of extra time as Real Madrid poured forward, mercilessly running at (and past) his injured right-back Juanfran.

With all three substitutions already made in Portugal, the Atlético Madrid coach could do no more than resign himself to the inevitable. That 2014 final, however, represented an exception.

The 2016 final signified a return to the general rule. The search for another goal scored during extra time at a final stretches back to 1992 when, in the last final to be played before the competition was relaunched as the UEFA Champions League, a direct free-kick by Ronald Koeman gave Barcelona a 1-0 victory against Sampdoria at Wembley.

Between that day and the late avalanche in Lisbon, six periods of extra time had failed to yield a goal. It means that, whereas the 2,658 matches played in the UEFA Champions League's history have generated 2.68 goals per 90 minutes, 210 minutes of extra time failed to produce one. The obvious question is: why?

Fatigue would probably be the most frequent answer. In Milan, legs were aching and flagging. Attacks of cramp became more frequent. The movement of key players such as Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modrić was palpably less fluent, with the first two, as Peter Rudbæk put it, "having explosive elements in their DNA that make it difficult to maintain peak effort over 120 minutes".

On the other hand, fatigue is often proffered as an explanation for a greater number of goals. During the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League, 22.6% of the competition's goals hit the net during the closing quarter-hour and the periods of additional time after the 90 minutes. It was the most prolific period of games for goals to be scored. In that light, can fatigue legitimately be put forward as the explanation for the lack of goals during extra time? Or are attitudes a more plausible explanation?

Flashback: Koeman's 1992 blockbuster
Flashback: Koeman's 1992 blockbuster

Even though the golden goal (which abruptly put an end to the game as soon as the ball hit the net) has now been consigned to history, is the approach to extra time based on the priority of not conceding a goal?

As Mixu Paatelainen remarked: "Atlético didn't really use their legs to run at Real Madrid and kept the emphasis on 'balanced' attacking'." In other words, conscious of the counterattacking potential of Zinédine Zidane's team, they were reluctant to throw too many players forward.

David Moyes added: "I thought that, in extra time, both teams had accepted that the game would go to penalty kicks. I thought the game was stopped."

Curiously, extra time has been rare in UEFA Champions League history. Equally curiously, Atlético's campaigns are among the very few that have required the extra half-hour: against PSV Eindhoven in 2015/16 and against Bayer Leverkusen in the previous season. In both cases, the teams adhered to the traditional script and failed to score a goal.

Bayern see off Juve in extra time
Bayern see off Juve in extra time

The counter-argument is the extra half-hour between Bayern München and Juventus, which produced two goals and could hardly have been more exciting. The debating point is quite simply whether extra time is a waste of time and should be scrapped. In knockout rounds prior to the final, this would avoid one team having home advantage for the extra half-hour.

But what of the fans? In Milan, did the spectators at the San Siro not welcome the extra half-hour of entertainment? Or, bearing in mind the levels of risk-management which became apparent, was it low-level entertainment to offer to a more neutral global audience?

What is preferable in sporting terms – going directly to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, or giving the teams an opportunity to settle the issue in open play? On the other hand, what could be done to encourage teams to be more adventurous in extra time?

Would it be feasible, for example, to conduct the penalty shoot-out before the start of extra time? Had Atlético de Madrid gone into the extra half-hour knowing they had lost the shoot-out, would they have been more committed to attack?

At the same time, would it have over-clarified the tactical situation and encouraged Real Madrid to focus on defending their advantage? Are there other alternatives which could help to alter the tradition of goalless periods of extra time?

The above article appears in the new UEFA Champions League technical report for 2015/16: download now