Bayern Munich might have beaten Real Madrid on penalties on Wednesday, but this was a game shaped by the away goals rule. It made the first half unexpectedly open, and it made everything else unexpectedly cagey. It made a decisive impact in Chelsea's victory over Barcelona on Tuesday as well. It is a bad rule that makes no sense in modern football.
It was introduced to the Cup-Winners Cup in 1965 and to other European competitions in the years that followed, primarily to avoid the need for replays, which were costly and difficult to organise. Back then it made sense: only 16 per cent of all European games ended in an away win and so the tendency was for teams to go to the away leg and look to keep the score down. A 2-0 defeat was seen as eminently recoverable. Three-goal deficits were, if not regularly overcome, then at least turned round often enough that they didn't seem cataclysmic. The away goals rule encouraged sides not to simply sit back but to seek a goal, to accept a 3-1 defeat as better than two; it encouraged some taking of risks.
Each of the last five seasons has seen between 30 and 35 per cent of games in European competition end in an away win. There is simply no need for the away goals rule anymore and it is distorting ties. "In competitions where conditions, home and away, vary greatly - in, say, the African Champions League - away wins remain very hard to come by," Ian Hawkey wrote in Issue Zero of The Blizzard (http://www.theblizzard.co.uk).
"Poor, or fearful, refereeing would count as a factor in Africa. So would vastly distinct standards of playing surface, or the fact that a pair of matches in two-legged tie might easily take place in different seasons: winter in Tunis is scorching summer in Cape Town. In those circumstances, the away goals rule clearly has a important compensatory value. But in the European Champions League, it scarcely does. Where the European Cup of the 1960s and 1970s was exotic, with a greater range of destinations and opponents, the modern format is repetitive, cliquey."
With better transport, a greater homogeneity of conditions and less variety if opposition, away trips aren't as terrifying as they once were. Wednesday's game at the Bernabeu was still settling down when Real Madrid took the lead from a penalty, a goal that gave them the lead on away goals. That sparked Bayern into action and the game lost almost all shape. It became chaotic, the defending shambolic, the only real structural point of note being that which emerged in the first leg that, with neither Arjen Robben nor Cristiano Ronaldo prepared to track back that flank - the Bayern right, the Madrid left - became a clear source of threat.
Last week it was Ronaldo's reluctance to track that led to the Bayern winner, Phillip Lahm overlapping to expose Fabio Coentrao. This week, it was Robben who cost his side a goal, although it should be said that Marcelo, preferred to Coentrao, looked far more comfortable - perhaps a facet of the fact he pressed on, taking the game to Bayern.
In the build up to the second goal, Marcelo was left free to wander forwards and take up a position about 10m in from the left touchline, 10m or so outside the box. When Toni Kroos went to challenge Sami Khedira, Madrid's defensive shape was generally good. The left-back, David Alaba had gone towards the ball, with Bastian Schweinsteiger dropping in to cover.
As the ball broke from the challenge Luiz Gustavo was in a natural holding position in front of the defence, Holger Badstuber went to close down Angel Di Maria, who'd drifted into the awkward space between full-back and centre-back. That left Jerome Boateng covering Benzema while Lahm should have been picking up Cristiano Ronaldo; as it was, Lahm had been drawn towards Marcelo, leaving Ronaldo free and with the time to measure his finish.
Bayern's attacking became yet more frenzied after that. Even before the second goal they had achieved a measure of dominance - if not control - similar to that achieved in the first leg and for similar reasons. Real's midfield was stretched - Khedira and Xabi Alonso deep with Ozil high up the pitch - while Bayern's was able to flow from front to back, with Luiz Gustavo snapping into tackles, Schwinsteiger shuttling forward and Kroos dropping back from the line of three in the 4-2-3-1. Kroos - a far more rounded and intelligent player than the weirdly overrated Thomas Muller - was excellent, constantly finding space of giving Bayern an extra man where they needed it. He even, at one point in the first half when Robben was getting frustrated at how little progress he was making against Marcelo, shifted over to the right to allow Robben into the centre, and it was from that right-sided position that he put in the cross that led to the Bayern penalty.
Once that had been converted and the scores were level, fear took over. Chelsea, having scored the away goal the previous night sat back knowing victory was in their grasp - and further knowing that nicking a goal on the break, as they eventually did, would mean Barcelona, despite being only one behind, having to score twice to avoid defeat.
This time, Bayern sat back because they had a level position at the Bernabeu, while Madrid were inhibited because they knew the concession of a goal would leave them needing to score twice so as not to lose. Any goal Bayern scored then carried a premium and that knowledge stifled the game. In the end, the game went to penalties because Bayern didn't dare risk the parity they'd fought so hard to achieve; and Madrid didn't dare risk conceding a goal worth more than a goal.
It was notable too how slow Madrid were on the break. Like Barcelona the night before, they lacked zip, making you wonder how much Saturday's clasico had taken out of them; Bayern, having already surrendered the championship had started only three first teamers in their win over Werder Bremen on Saturday. Ronaldo in particular, having scored his second, barely contributed, twice miskicking so badly he missed the ball entirely.
But whatever the underlying reasons, Bayern deserved the win over the two legs because their midfield shape was better. It's just a shame that the thrilling way in which that was manifested in the first half dwindled after half-time because of Uefa's adherence to an outdated and illogical rule.