There was late drama in Paris on Tuesday night, with Kylian Mbappé's 94th minute winner lighting up the clash of the titans between PSG and Real Madrid. However, the dire defensive setup of Real Madrid had many fans and pundits crying out for the return of the away goals rule.
Tuesday night's knockout games were the first since UEFA abolished the away goals rule in knockout football, and the effect many had feared was plain to see in Paris. Without an incentive to fight for a goal in the partisan Parisian stadium, Real were content to sit back and allow PSG to come at them.
In the end, it would come back to bite them, as PSG would seal a late win, but it was not the best reflection on UEFA's decision to get rid of the rule for this season.
PSG v Real Madrid: Away goals rule sorely missed in Paris
From the moment the knockout draw was made in December, the glamour tie stood out straight away: PSG v Real Madrid. The attacking talent on offer from both sides saw some of Europe's very best on offer: Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, and Angel di Maria for PSG and Vinicius Jr and Karim Benzema for Real Madrid were on offer from the outset in Paris.
The fact that Neymar and Eden Hazard weren't even on the pitch from the outset says a lot about the wealth of attacking talent available to the two managers.
And yet, as the XG shows, there was only one team even remotely interested in attacking in the Parc des Princes.
PSG (1.91) 1-0 (0.13) Real Madrid
— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) February 15, 2022
One clear reason can be pinpointed for their decision to soak up the pressure - UEFA's decision to remove the away goals rule from this season onwards in the Champions League, Europa League, and Conference League.
Going away from home in the Champions League is daunting enough. When it's a trip to Paris in the knockout rounds to face the might of PSG, it's perhaps understandable that a team would be wary of going forward and leaving themselves exposed.
The away goals rule previously gave teams an incentive to go for it away from home, with the potential for a goal at your opponent's stadium to have added weight come the end of the second-leg. Many iconic ties were decided on away goals - Barcelona's controversial triumph over Chelsea in 2009, and Manchester United's win at PSG in 2019 are just two examples.
There was no threat of Real Madrid following in the footsteps of those games, however. Los Blancos did nothing over the course of the 90 minutes to make the most out of the pace of Vinicius, the finishing of Karim Benzema, or the creativity of Luka Modric.
It's a worrying omen of what may be about to come in the Champions League knockouts, the absence of the away goals rule may well encourage defensive football as the competition goes on.
Jamie Carragher was among those on social media to slam the decision to remove away goals in the aftermath of the game in Paris.
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) February 15, 2022
I thought for a long time that away goals was outdated and should be abolished. Which it was. But now we’re in a world without it, it seems weirdly obvious that it had a value despite that and abolishing it has taken something away. https://t.co/9Fzz6aZKY9
— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) February 15, 2022
Oh yeah, think I remember now why the away goals rule was introduced all those years ago
— Tim Vickery (@Tim_Vickery) February 15, 2022
Can't help but feel like if away goals still existed and Real Madrid needed to score tonight, this would be a better game.
— Grace Robertson 🏳️⚧️ (@GraceOnFootball) February 15, 2022
The impact of away goals may have been controversial during it's time as a rule in the Champions League.
But, after the game between PSG and Real Madrid turned out to be such a disappointment, we may well be crying out for it once again before too long.