2002-2003: It’s a Ruud victory

Champions Manchester United Biggest Win West Bromwich Albion 0-6 Liverpool FC
Runners-Up Arsenal Highest Scoring Game Newcastle United 2-6 Manchester United
Third Place Newcastle United Top Goalscorer Ruud van Nistelrooy (25)
Relegated West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland Goals Scored 1000

Having seen Manchester United drop to third the previous campaign, Sir Alex Ferguson moved into the transfer market to plug a leaky defence. He paid a British transfer record of £30m to Leeds United to sign Rio Ferdinand. It would prove to be a decisive bit of transfer business.

Manchester United took their eighth Premier League crown in 11 seasons with an excellent run of form that saw the Red Devils unbeaten in the league after Boxing Day and drop just four points from February onwards. They started slowly, losing for a second successive season at home to Bolton Wanderers and suffering a harrowing 3-1 defeat to Manchester City in the final Manchester Derby at Maine Road.

By January though, they were in top gear. There were late victories over Chelsea and Sunderland, two demolition jobs on Newcastle United and a crucial 2-2 draw in a pivotal game at Highbury against Arsenal. The Gunners had set the pace in the early weeks and looked like the team to beat at Christmas. Injuries and suspensions caught up with them though in the final sprint. In the game with the Red Devils, Sol Campbell was sent off for an elbow into the face of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Arsenal followed this result up with a draw away to Bolton Wanderers and a 3-2 home defeat against Leeds which buried their title hopes.

Ferguson’s team were helped by great performances from a number of individuals. Paul Scholes sparkled, Ferdinand looked assured at his new team and Ruud van Nistelrooy was deadly all season. He scored three hat-tricks and ended with 25 Premier League goals, pipping Thierry Henry to the Golden Boot award. Henry did win the chase though for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and his solo 85-yard run and finish in the north London derby was rightly chosen as Goal of the Season.

Newcastle improved on their previous season finish to come third this time around and Chelsea took the final Champions League qualifying position, beating Liverpool FC 2-1 on the final day of the season to take their place at Europe’s top table. It was a massive match for the club with crippling debts threatening their long-term status. That would change when a certain Russian billionaire arrived a few months later.

Liverpool FC endured a miserable winter, going 12 Premier League games without a win which dropped them completely out of the running. Fifth was not what anyone expected at the club when the season began. Across Stanley Park, Everton launched Wayne Rooney onto the Premier League stage. He scored a wonderful goal to beat Arsenal in October, signed his first professional contract and won his first England cap as the Toffees finished a strong seventh.

At the wrong end of the table, Sunderland had a shocking season. They went through three managers, won a meagre four games and went down with just 19 points. West Bromwich Albion made an instant return to Division One and although they reached the often considered 40-point safety mark, West Ham United were relegated on the final day after drawing at Birmingham City.

After drawing a busted flush in 2001-2002, Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson’s hand improved as they tasted Premier League delight once more.