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The system that cheated Chelsea

On Wednesday night, the last round of Champions League matches went under way, and Rafael Benítez prepared his team for his Champions League debut as Chelsea coach. However, despite their crunching 6-1 victory, they finished their group campaign in 3rd place behind Shakhtar Donetsk, who in turn lost their 16-match home winning streak as they fell 0-1 to Italian champions Juventus.

Rafael Benítez

Rafael Benítez — bittersweet victory against Nordsjælland

In fact, any commentators who hadn’t already worked out the maths for the placing would have found themselves scratching their heads trying to figure it out. Of course, the end result brought smiles to many of you readers, for the simple fact that this is a Bayern-oriented blog. However, it’s not the result that I have a grudge with: it’s the simple fact that the Champions League tie-breaker system is HORRIBLE. Let’s take a look at the tie-breaker rules in case two teams are on equal points:

  • Head-to-head points
  • Head-to-head goal difference
  • Head-to-head away goals
  • Goal difference
  • Goals scored
  • UEFA coefficient

So, Chelsea and Shakhtar both ended up with 10 points. Their head-to-head points were equal at 3, their head-to-head goal difference was 0, but Shakhtar had 1 more away goal to Chelsea in their direct encounter. Therefore, this meant that the entertaining show that Chelsea put on in their 6-1 victory was all in vain because some UEFA employees decided to put more importance on head-to-head away goals rule than goal difference in the league.

Is it that bad, you say? Well, let’s see how they would have fared if different leagues’ tie-breaker rules were implemented instead:

  • Argentina Primera Division: A play-off at a neutral stadium would have been required
  • Austrian Bundesliga: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Campeonato Brasileiro Série A: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Belgium Erste Klasse: A two-legged play-off would have been required
  • English Premier League: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • France Ligue 1: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • German Bundesliga: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Super League Greece: A play-off at a neutral stadium would have been required
  • Italy Serie A: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • J-League (Japan): Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Major League Soccer (USA): Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Primera División de México: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Netherlands Eredivise: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Polish Ekstraklasa: Shakhtar, thanks to head-to-head away goals rule
  • Portuguese Liga: Shakhtar, thanks to head-to-head away goals rule
  • Russian Premier League: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Scottish Premier League: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Spain La Liga: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Allsvenskan (Sweden): Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • Turkish Süper Lig: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference
  • AFC Champions League group stage: Chelsea, thanks to a superior goal difference

So, in 21 other leagues I researched, Shakhtar would only have placed above Chelsea in Poland or Portugal. Should Chelsea feel aggrieved? Well, one can argue that they knew the rules beforehand, but is it about time that UEFA revise these rules?

For all those sceptics out there, let’s bring up a rather-unlikely scenario.

Does Platini even give a damn?

Does Platini even give a damn?

Imagine a group made up of teams A, B, C and D. Team A would beat teams C and D 10-0 each match, both home and away. Team A would also beat team B 1-0 at home but fall to a 2-1 loss away from home. Now imagine Team B wins all the matches against teams C and D by a meagre 1-0. This means that Team A would have 15 points, 42 goals scored and 2 goals conceded. Team B would also have 15 points, but 6 goals scored and 2 goals conceded. Do UEFA seriously believe that in the knockout stage teams would be scared more of Team B than Team A?

Make it right please, UEFA, change the rules.

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  • MoFattal says:


    Good article. Your hypothetical case made some valid points regarding the ranking system. I have a couple of observations which might and might not agree entirely with your argument:

    1) Shakhtar knew beforehand that they’ve already qualified, so they couldn’t care much about what happened againt Juve. This played a huge role in determining the standings. The problem wasn’t mainly with the H2H away goals rule, it is more of having teams play indifferently in the last 1 or 2 matchdays. But to look at the result from a gereral point of view, Shakhtar and Juve are in fact the teams deserving to qualify. Winning by a huge margin against a level C team isn’t a true indication of the team’s capability. Chelsea was outplayed by both of them, and were actually lucky to escape with 4 points from them.

    2) I am of the opinion that H2H comparison is the best option for defining the ranks in KO tournaments. Goal difference is a good criterion, but how often do we see teams shifting down a gear or two when up against a weak opponent, even if the lead is small (1 or 2 goals)? In leagues, GD after 30-40 games is way more signifiacnt than a group stage of 6 games.

    3) I am a fan of H2H comparison, but in no way a fan of the away goal rule in general. This one is a crappy rule wherever it is used.

    • MUTU says:


      Good point about Shakhtar having already qualified, but I’m sure they’d rather have had that first place now, wouldn’t they? If they didn’t, then it’s even the more reason for that H2H away goal rule to be scrapped in favour of goal difference: It would have made then Shakhtar-Juve match much more interesting.

  • Dhuber24 says:


    IMO I don’t think the system really screwed Chelsea here, in fact it’s much fairer. Shouldn’t the results against the bigger teams in the group outweigh the smaller ones? I mean Chelsea shouldn’t be rewarded for beating the worse team in the group by 5 when their results against the other two top teams were poor. The system is designed to have the best teams progress and while Chelsea’s team sheet is full of star studded names, they simply didn’t deserve progression compared to Shakhtar who’d beaten them fairly

  • AvatarX says:


    It doesn’t matter who screw Chelsea (system or anyone else). The fact that they get screwed matters 😛

    Out of Champions League you lucky bastards !

    Even as a neutral fan I have absolutely no regrets in having this negative (in a matter of entrainment) team out…

  • dambun says:


    “So, Chelsea and Shakhtar both ended up with 10 points. Their head-to-head points were equal at 10”

    What do you mean by that Mutu?!!
    Their H2H points were not equal if my memory serves me well… They drew at London, but Shakhtar defeated Chelsea in Ukraine…. So their H2H points were 4-1 in Shakhtar’s favor… and that’s why they qualified (deservedly)

    • MoFattal says:


      No dude. In London, they scored a last second header from a corner kick and won 3-2.

  • supra969 says:


    system is fair to be honest

    why should someone be allowed to pass by because they scored 7 past some low-teir team

    anyways **** offf Chelsea

  • CheshireTsunami says:


    You act like Chelsea didn’t know the rules. They did. If they wanted to advance, maybe they should’ve not conceded 3 **** goals to Shakhtar at home. Or maybe they shouldn’t have lost to Juventus? There is no cheats. They went in playing with the same rules as everyone else.

    • MUTU says:


      Of course they knew the rules beforehand, but just knowing the rules doesn’t mean that the rules are automatically fair, or rather that they make sense. What I am calling for is a revision of the tie-breaker rules for future years and not for Chelsea to be allowed through.

      I know I’d be pretty disappointed should FC Bayern have been eliminated in the same way as Chelsea were.

  • lau03143 says:


    Agreed, the system should be changed. But I think the main reason for the original change to head to head was because the change was made in the qualifying which meant teams like Nordsjælland were giving the champions route into the group stages, it meant that you might get a team that are whipping boys and effectively always going to lose by big margins of varying degrees, so to take out their results, you make it head to head between the rest of the teams in the group.

    • MUTU says:


      … which is more of a reason to use goal difference. Any system that motivates teams into giving their 100% even when they are 2 or 3 goals up can only be good for football. The downside is that it makes it easier for corruption, i.e. paying the weak team some money to let in more goals than they’d usually let in.

  • Dalv says:


    bah, **** chelsea

  • fcbayernfanalbania says:


    What you say is right.UEFA must distinguish group matches from knockout stage matches. In a group it is the total that matters therefore the goal difference rule is more appropriate and induces teams to score as many goals as they can. In contrary the current rule leads to cautious play that isnt good for the viewers.