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UEFA Champions League Technical Report: Life after the away goals rule

The UEFA Technical Observers' review of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League season crunches the numbers of when and how goals were scored and mull what changed after the away goals rule was abolished.

Dárwin Núñez helped old club Benfica take the quickest route to goal among the quarter-final teams last season
Dárwin Núñez helped old club Benfica take the quickest route to goal among the quarter-final teams last season Getty Images

The UEFA Technical Observers attending every 2021/22 UEFA Champions League game have shared their thoughts on rising trends in the competition in the annual Technical Report.

UEFA.com focuses on how the end of the away goals rule may have effected the game.

Read the full Technical Report

If last May's Champions League final was the third in a row decided by a single goal – the longest such sequence since 1978–83 – there was no shortage of goals earlier in the competition.

As the newly published Champions League Technical Report records, the 380 goals scored last term represented the joint-third highest total since the competition’s current 125-game format was established in 2003/04. Only in 2017/18 (401) and 2019/20 (386) were more goals scored.

As for the most prolific team, Bayern München were top scorers for the third year running with 31 goals delivered at a rate of 3.1 per game. The team with the next-best ratio were Ajax (2.75), scorers of 22 goals in their eight matches.

As well as statistics, the 2021/22 report offers an analysis of how and when the goals were scored – and here are a few highlights...

When the goals were scored... 

For the first time since 2018, the most productive period for scoring was between the 61st and 75th minutes. That said, the final stretch of matches was highly significant as always: 23% of goals hit the back of the net between the 76th minute and the end of the second half, stoppage time included. This portion includes the 25 goals scored in that added period – up from 18 the previous season.

...and when it helps to score 

Just to underline the importance of late goals, ten of the 21 victories in the knockout stage were achieved with a goal from 70 minutes onwards. At the same time, the evidence of the entire season is that it pays to score first in a Champions League match given that the team who did that earned at least a draw in 88% of the 117 matches that featured one goal or more in 2021/22. To reinforce the point, the first-scoring side went on to win on 72% of those occasions.

Routes to goal

In its analysis of the way goals were scored in 2021/22, the Technical Report counts crosses and cut-backs as the most popular route to goal with a combined total of 89, representing 23% of the overall number scored. The second-most popular category was combinations (61). Meanwhile, 41 goals came from through passes and 23 from long or diagonal passes.

In the Zone: Ajax analysis

If top scorers Bayern were kings of the combination (with nine goals from that source), Ajax, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City all scored six goals from crosses, with Ajax, Madrid and City also each claiming an additional cut-back goal. In Ajax's case they could call on Dušan Tadić, who had a 40.4% rate of completed crosses, and Antony, who provided four assists.

Real's slower road to goal

UEFA's analysis also dwells on the speed of scoring and finds that of the teams who reached the knockout stage, Real Madrid took the longest route to goal on average. The average scoring sequence of Carlo Ancelotti's team lasted 16.2 seconds and comprised 5.3 passes. Seven of their goals involved nine or more passes and, in the case of Karim Benzema's brilliant opening header against Chelsea in the quarter-finals, this concluded a 59-second sequence. Madrid were clinical too, posting an xG (expected goals) total of 21.78 but scoring 29 times.

Highlights: Chelsea 1-3 Real Madrid

Madrid were not the only team who profited from intricate build-ups, Chelsea scoring six goals from moves of nine or more passes and Bayern München five. As for runners-up Liverpool, they required, on average, three passes across 9.5 seconds. It will be interesting to see the impact that summer signing Dárwin Núñez has on their goalscoring as with his strong front-running last season, his old club Benfica took the quickest route to goal among the quarter-final teams with an average sequence of 1.5 passes and 4.9 seconds.

No away goals

Finally, 2012/22 was the first season without the away-goals rule in more than 50 years and the UEFA report offers a reflection from the Technical Observer panel on the impact of this change.

It says: "Time alone will tell the longer-term impact but the immediate impression, to quote Frank de Boer, is that the first-leg matches in 2021/22 were 'more attractive' as a consequence of home teams no longer being so concerned about the cost of conceding."

If games were "more open", to quote the report again, the knockout rounds actually maintained a pattern seen in six of nine seasons before the pandemic (2010–19) with more goals in the second-leg matches than the first, according to the report.

For the record, of all the knockout ties last term only the Manchester City versus Real Madrid semi-final would have been decided by the away-goals rule had it still been in place.

Read the full Technical Report