Season Review 2001-02
Having finished third in the league in 2000/2001, Liverpool's reward was to start the new season early by playing a Champions League qualifier against Finnish Champions, FC Haka. With Haka's stadium considered too small for what was regarded as the biggest match in the club's history, the game was moved to the National Stadium and, fittingly, the Finnish captain, Sami Hyypia, was on the scoresheet, bagging a late goal in a 5-0 win.
The Charity Shield was next up, another early season match thanks this time to their FA Cup win the previous May. Manchester United were the opposition and despite a late fightback from United, Liverpool held on to record their third successive win over their great rivals in front of a sell out crowd in Cardiff.
The start of the season for most clubs was the third match of the season for Liverpool, who final got their league campaign underway with a far from convincing home win over West Ham, thanks to goals by Owen, who had now netted six times for the season. A comfortable 4-1 win against Haka completed Liverpool's route into the group stage of Europe's premier club competition.
A fifth piece of silverware was collected in Monaco, after Liverpool beat the European Champions, Bayern Munich, to lift the Super Cup. But disappointment was right around the corner and after a long unbeaten run, newly promoted Bolton managed to pick up all three points, helped in no small way by a last minute error by Sander Westerweld. It was to be Westerweld's last contribution to Liverpool's season.
Liverpool's stars were on International duty at the start of September and three players in particular made headlines around the world after their contribution to England's 5-1 demolition of Germany in Munich. Michael Owen scored a hat-trick, Steve Gerrard struck the best goal of the night from long range and Emile Heskey wrapped up the evening with a well taken fifth goal. Owen and Heskey had both also scored past Oliver Kahn just eight days earlier at Monaco.
Though after a week of being hailed as heroes, the Liverpool stars were quickly brought back to earth once back in a Liverpool shirt. Aston Villa's win at Anfield saw without doubt one of the worst performances of Gerard Houllier's reign, if not the worst. Played off the park by an Aston Villa side who weren't even in top gear themselves, Liverpool's misery was completed by the sending off of Gerrard for a bad challenge on George Boateng.
It was the worst possible preparation for a European match with Boavista the following week. Liverpool's debut in the Champions League was however a low key affair, with the days events in America overshadowing any football match. Too late to be called off, although the following days games were postponed, the game was played and finished as a 1-1 draw.
The Merseyside Derby at Goodison had been the ground where Liverpool began a long unbeaten run at the end of last season, and it was almost as important for them to get a win this time around. With just 3 points from 3 games, Liverpool had to start picking up points in order to avoid again slipping out of contention for the title before the New Year.
A 3-1 win after coming from behind helped them recover some ground on the sides at the top. One of those sides was Newcastle United, who had started the season well. Liverpool managed to secure a 2-0 win at St James' Park though, in their most impressive league performance so far.
A dull 0-0 draw at Dortmund and a couple of 1-0 wins, over Dinamo Kiev and Tottenham, thanks to goals by Jari Litmanen all prior to the Newcaslte match completed the month.
Following another International break, Liverpool where back in action against Grimsby in the first match of their defence of the Worthington Cup. Grimsby somehow held out until extra time though, thanks mainly to the heroics of goalkeeper, Danny Coyne. Then, after going behind in extra time, Grimsby still managed to claw themselves back into the game, and ex-Evertonian Phil Jevons struck a wonder goal from 35 yards with one minute left in the game.
Liverpool's next game was against top of the table, Leeds United at Anfield, and avoiding defeat was crucial to the Reds' own title ambitions. The result of the match was to seem irrelevant by full time however, as news emerged of Gerard Houllier's illness. The Liverpool boss had been admitted to hospital and within by the end of the weekend, Houllier was to have had life saving heart surgery, just weeks after Markus Babbel was struck down with a potentially life threatening virus. Despite the obvious setback of losing their boss, the Liverpool team flew out to Kiev on the following Monday for a Champions League match, which was won and was followed by a 4-1 triumph away to Leicester, with Robbie Fowler scoring a hat-trick, which were to be his final goals for the Reds. A draw and a win away to Boavista and Charlton respectively, Liverpool ended the month with a 2-0 win against Bundesliga high fliers, Borussia Dortmund. The win secured Liverpool a place in the final round, and also sent Dortmund out of the Champions League and into the UEFA Cup, where they went on to reach the final.
One of the biggest league matches of the season kicked of the month of November, as Man United visited Anfield. On the back of a poor run of form despite their big money signings, Man United were looking to record their first win against Liverpool for two years. A thoroughly dominant performance by Liverpool ended any hopes of that however, and John Arne Riise made an early claim for goal of the season with a ferocious first half free kick which added to an excellent opening goal by Owen. 3-1 was the eventual scoreline, and it moved Liverpool to within a point of the Premiership summit, a position where they finally found themselves after a draw at Blackburn the following week.
The second phase of the Champions League, like the first phase, kicked off at Anfield, with Barcelona the visitors. Despite going ahead though, Liverpool went into the break level with Barca, and after a couple of missed chances in the second half to put the game beyond the visitors, Barca replied with some breathtaking football in the final twenty minutes, giving the fans a rare glimpse of them at their very very best. Rochembah and Overmars added to Kluivert's first half goal to wrap up a 3-1 win and earn themselves a standing ovation by the Anfield faithful.
Sunderland were the next visitors to Anfield and failed to produce anything near the same quality of football as was seen by the Spaniards during midweek, but they did cause problems of their own, especially during a second half which Liverpool were forced to play with 10 men thanks to a controversial sending off of Dietmar Hamann in the closing stages of the first half. The game should have been finished off by Gary McAllister in the second half, but Liverpool were forced to sweat on their 1-0 lead until the final whistle.
There had been no shortage of off the field talking points at Liverpool since the start of the season, and another major talking point was hitting the headlines on the Monday evening following the Sunderland match. Liverpool admitted that a bid had been made for Robbie Fowler, and that the bid had been accepted. Within two further days, Robbie Fowler was a Leeds United player, joining David O'Leary's increasingly expensive squad who, like Liverpool, had ambitions of winning the Premiership title. Fowler was considered as the last piece of the jigsaw at Leeds, while Liverpool started to search for a replacement for the striker who had never been a regular starter since the signing of Heskey, and who had been in the news for the wrong reasons once too many times.
Owen and Heskey once again led the line at Derby, with the former scoring what proved to be the winner, and the latter giving away a penalty in the last minute, which brought out a superb save from Jerzy Dudek, who was proving to be one of the best keepers in the land since joining from Feyenoord. Dudek kept three more clean sheets in the next matches, against Roma, Middlesbrough and Fulham, with the 0-0 draw at home to Fulham being the first league game that Liverpool had failed to score in for 25 games. That run had ended, but it was a new Premiership record, although one which Arsenal were soon to smash.
The Fulham match was also the first game that Didi Hamann missed through suspension. His absence was to be far more noticeable in final two games which he was missing for. Chelsea 4 Liverpool 0 was not the thrashing that the scoreline suggested, but it was worrying how easy Chelsea managed to carve through the Liverpool defence without Hamann providing the extra cover. Liverpool had chances, and McAllister saw a penalty saved by Carlo Cudicini, who was named man of the match for his part in the victory.
The scoreline was a surprise, but the fact that Chelsea won the game was not. In 10 Premiership games at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool have yet to win. They have always done well against Arsenal though, who were the Reds next opponents. Six points clear of the Gunners, even Arsene Wenger was ready to write off Arsenal's chances if they were beaten. But it was Arsenal who came out on top, even with 10 men after the sending off of Van Bronkhorst. The gap between the teams was now just 3 points, and the match was to be a turning point in the season.
The month wasn't all bad though, and after receiving the Ballon D'Or for being named 2001 European Football of the Year, Michael Owen went on to score his 100th senior goal for Liverpool in the 1-1 draw with West Ham, and a Vladimir Smicer winner sealed the points at Villa Park.
The new year began in disappointing fashion, with Liverpool again dropping points, for the fifth time in six league games, and for the third home game running.
Bolton were the visitors on New Year's Day, and after Kevin Nolan had put Bolton ahead, it was down to Gerrard and Dudek to rescue a point for Liverpool, Gerrard for scoring a brilliant equalising goal, and Dudek for making a fine save late in the game, when Bolton actually looked more likely to win the match. It was five points dropped against the newly promoted side, who came very close to doing the double over the Reds.
January was also the month when Liverpool's defence of the FA Cup began, and ended. A fine performance in the third round against Birmingham was followed up by a poor performance away to Arsenal, who were only too happy to knock out the team who had shattered their dreams of lifting the cup the previous year. The talking point of the game though, was the three sendings off, most notably for the red card issued to Jamie Carragher.
After Keown had been dismissed for bringing down Owen as the striker was about to go clean through on goal, Dennis Bergkamp was issued with a card of the same colour for a truly awful two footed lunge at Carragher. Carragher then reacted to a coin being hurled at him, by throwing it back into the crowd. The red card was again brought out, Carragher duly apologised and half a dozen Arsenal fans all claimed to have been hit by the coin.
Between cup ties though, there was a mixture of results by the Anfield men. A poor performance away to Southampton in a 2-0 defeat was followed shortly by an even poorer performance at home to Southampton which saw the Reds booed off the pitch. With Liverpool one-nil up inside 10 minutes, and probably unlucky not to have been four up, they took the foot off the pedal and played out one of the worst eighty minutes of football that this team will surely ever produce, with Southampton eventually drawing level. If the Reds had not really got started, then the droped points would have not seemed as bad. But Southampton were so outplayed in the first 10 minutes that, had Liverpool kept up the same pressure and continued to attack, the game should have been all over by half time.
The reaction by certain areas of the crowd only seemed to make the players even more determined though, and with the next game being away to Man United, that was not a bad thing, and the one player who took the most criticism after the Southampton game, Danny Murphy, will have felt particularly pleased after the United game. With just five minutes to go in a game which had been pretty even, a fabulous Steve Gerrard pass was flicked over the head of Barthez by Danny Murphy. For the second year running, Murphy had been the only scorer at Old Trafford in a Liverpool win, and his critics were strangely quiet, for a short while at least.
A home win against Leicester on the penultimate day of the month earned Liverpool their first league win at Anfield in six weeks. They would go on to drop just two more points at home.
February 3 saw one of the most anticipated matches of the season. Robbie Fowler's Leeds would come up against Liverpool for the first time. Most as the pre-match hype was obviously surrounding Fowler, but as Phil Thompson and David O'Leary were quick to point out, the match was about much more than one man, with both sides having had a disappointing recent run, which was threatening to damage either sides' title hopes.
Unbeaten in their three previous league games against Liverpool, Leeds were confident going into the match, but an own goal by Rio Ferdinand put Liverpool ahead in the first half, and a stunning second half display by the Reds saw another three goals put past Nigel Martyn, resulting in Liverpool leapfrogging Leeds in the table.
The performance was impressive, especially considering Liverpool's form going into the match, but an even better display was saved for Portman Road the following week. A man of the match performance by Andy Marshall in the Ipswich goal was not enough to prevent his side from going down to a 6-0 defeat. "In all my years, I have never seen anything so close to footballing perfection," said Rodney Marsh of the performance. Three draws completed the month, one in the second Merseyside Derby of the season, and the other two in the Champions League, home and away to Galatasaray, both of which Liverpool should have won.
The Everton draw resulted in two valuable league points being dropped, while the failure to beat Galatasaray left Liverpool with a massive task ahead of them if they were to qualify for the Champions League quarter finals. A trip to the Nou Camp and a home game against the favourites for the Italian Championship were Liverpool's remaining fixtures and, unless other results went Liverpool's way, they needed to win both.
Nicolas Anelka followed up his goal in the Derby with a well taken finish against Fulham at the start of March, with Jari Litmanen adding the crucial second. Liverpool's excellent away form was showing no signs of coming to an end, and following another fine performance just days later, this time in a 3-0 win over Newcastle at Anfield, Liverpool's home form seemed to have recovered from a mid-season dip.
With no league game the previous weekend due to being out of the FA Cup, Liverpool had a week to prepare for the Barcelona match, although they had to play out the match without Owen, who was injured in the Newcastle match a week earlier.
Heskey, Litmanen and later Baros, making his Reds' debut, did well enough without Owen though, and Liverpool were perhaps unlucky not to take more than a 0-0 draw back to Anfield for the final game. Roma and Galatasaray drew in the other game, meaning that Liverpool would be guaranteed a quarter final place if only they could beat Roma by two clear goals.
An away win later, achieved against one of the Reds' bogey teams over recent seasons, Middlesbrough, and the final group game in the Champions League had arrived.
Described as 'St Ettienne Part II' by Phil Thompson, it turned out to be one of the greatest European nights in the club's history, as Litmanen and Heskey scored the goals which achieved the exact scoreline required by Liverpool to progress, with electric atmosphere at Anfield throughout the match.
The draw put Liverpool up against Bayer Leverkusen in the quarter finals, and if that wasn't enough excitement for one week, Vladimir Smicer popped up to score a 92nd minute winner against Chelsea, with the game looking to be heading for a draw, which would have been extremely costly to Liverpool's Championship hopes.
Man United suffered a shock home defeat to Middlesbrough on the same weekend, increasing Liverpool's chances of at least a 2nd place finish. A comfortable home win against Charlton kept Liverpool in the hunt for top spot, but a long unbeaten run by Arsenal showed no signs of ending and they ended the month a point ahead at the top, and with a game in hand.
April 2002 was a make or break month for Liverpool. Having battled against the odds to qualify for the quarter finals of the Champions League, Liverpool now faced a tough tie against German league leaders, Bayer Leverkusen.
Bayer were written off by many, despite their position in the Bundesliga, where they were hot favourites to secure their first title, and also despite a 4-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in the league just a month earlier, shown live on British TV. The German outfit had instead been judged on their performances against Arsenal in Europe, games which had brought out the best of the Gunners, which made Leverkusen look very ordinary.
But ordinary they were not, as was found out in the second leg after a narrow Reds victory in the first leg, courtesy of a goal from the captain, Sami Hyypia.
Once in the BayArena though, Leverkusen showed what they are capable of. Needing a win by two clear goals, Leverkusen weren't given a chance of going through by most, but after taking an early lead and dominating the first half, Leverkusen proved that they were more than capable of competing with Liverpool. Abel Xavier's late first half equaliser should have been the crucial goal of the tie, but Leverkusen tore through Liverpool's back line twice in the 25 minutes following the break and the team in the semi finals at that point was indeed the German's. Litmanen's goal sent the away fans wild, but only for five minutes, when Leverkusen scored a fourth on the night. On another day, Liverpool would have done better with their chances, and would have been more solid at the back. But there was no doubting the better team and, while they may not be the best in Europe, Leverkusen looked like they could cause problems to anyone. Man United were the next team to find that out.
In the league, Liverpool played their last two away games of the season before the end of April, and both were places were points could be lost, and where many points havebeen lost over past years. A narrow win over Sunderland thanks to Michael Owen's shot which looped over Sorensen, was followed by a narrow 1-0 defeat to Spurs. The defeat effectively ended the title challenge, and while Houllier and Thompson refused to concede defeat until it was mathematically impossible for Liverpool to win the league, they knew that if Arsenal took at least a point in their game against Bolton in a couple of days, Liverpool would be facing another year wait to get hold of the Premiership trophy for the first time.
Bolton 0-2 Arsenal was the score which did end Liverpool's hopes of finishing top, and Arsenal were now just one game away from the title. Second place was also looking in danger of slipping away from the Reds, with Man United taking advantage of Liverpool's White Hart Lane slip-up by moving back into second. United would have to lose one of their remaining home games, against Arsenal and Charlton, if Liverpool were to have a chance of reclaiming second place.
Sandwiched in between the two away games was a home win against Derby, which saw Michael Owen steal the show with two goals and a golden ball to take home, after officially recieving the Ballon D'Or before kick off, for being named the European Footballer of the Year in December. The win meant that Derby became the second side to be relegated, following Leicester into Division One.
After a weekend off while watching Arsenal lift the FA Cup, Liverpool's final week of the season consisted of two home games against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Graeme Souness' Blackburn were first up and with the game taking place on the same night as Man United played host to Arsenal, Liverpool knew that there was a realistic chance of moving into second place going into the last game of the season.
The game was played at a fast pace, and despite going behind three times, Blackburn forced an equaliser on each occasion, setting up a nervous final ten minutes for the Reds' fans. With news of Arsenal's lead at Old Trafford, Liverpool desperately needed a winning goal. Emile Heskey, a player who had suffered much criticism over his season's goal tally, was the man for the occasion and after using his strength the create a scoring opportunity, Heskey fired a shot across the keeper to win the game with 4 minutes remaining on the clock. Desperate defending was required to see out the result, but Liverpool completed the job of accumilating another three points. Arsenal did the rest, beating Man United to clinch the title and in doing so, enabling Liverpool to move into second. All eyes were now on Liverpool v Ipswich.
With the league decided, Champions League and UEFA Cup places decided, and two out of the three relegated teams already confirmed, there was not an awful lot to be settled on the last day, but Liverpool and Ipswich both had plenty to play for. Liverpool were playing for second place and a guaranteed place in the group stage of the Champions League, without the need for a potentially awkward qualifying match in early August. Ipswich were playing for their Premiership lives, and also had to hope that Sunderland were beaten at home to Derby.
The atmosphere at Anfield was excellent throughout, and the players didnt let the fans down in recording a victory, although the emphatic manner of the win could not have been predicted.
After being the victims of Liverpool's best away win of the season, Ipswich were also on the end of Liverpool's biggest home win of the season, conceding a total of eleven goals over the two matches. The 'Tractor Boys' also became the second team of the season to be relegated at Anfield.
For Liverpool though, it was another season of success, even if no major trophies had been handed out at the end of the year. From finishing fourth in 99/00 and third last season, Liverpool improved once again. With just one place to go, Liverpool will no doubt be aiming for the same improvement next season.