Goalscorers: Sami Hyypia 11, Marcel Desailly 13, Jesper Gronkjaer 26
Chelsea: Carlo Cudicini, Celestine Babayaro, Marcel Desailly, William Gallas, Graeme Le Saux, Mario Melchiot, Emmanuel Petit, Frank Lampard, Jesper Gronkjaer (Mario Stanic 68), Eidur Gudjohnsen (Gianfranco Zola 72), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Carlton Cole 80)
Liverpool FC: Jerzy Dudek, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, John Arne Riise (Bruno Cheyrou 75), Djimi Traore, Salif Diao (Emile Heskey 45), Steven Gerrard (SENT OFF), Danny Murphy, El-Hadji Diouf (Patrik Berger 63), Milan Baros, Michael Owen
Referee: Alan Wiley, Attendance: 41,911
It was titled as the £20 million shootout and the chance to compete at Europe’s top table. Chelsea and Liverpool FC went head-to-head on the final day of the 2002-2003 season in effectively a direct play-off. The winner of the contest would end up in the following season’s UEFA Champions League. The loser would have to settle with the consolation prize of the UEFA Cup.
The advantage was with Chelsea at kick-off. The Blues had not lost at Stamford Bridge to their opponents since 1989 and a draw would be enough to take Claudio Ranieri’s side into the Champions League. Liverpool had to win to ensure a third successive season in Europe’s elite.
After a cagey first 10 minutes, the game exploded into life with three very quick but decisive goals. It was the visitors who took the lead in the 11th minute. Danny Murphy’s free-kick was met by a glancing header from the Liverpool skipper, Sami Hyypia. Hyypia escaped the attentions of Emmanuel Petit at the back post and powered his header past Carlo Cudicini. It was Liverpool’s first goal at Chelsea’s home since February 1999.
Their advantage would only last for one minute and 14 seconds. Liverpool didn’t properly clear their lines from a Chelsea free-kick. Jesper Gronkjaer placed the ball back into the danger zone and his cross was spot-on for Chelsea’s own captain, Marcel Desailly to square the match at 1-1. Desailly beat Salif Diao to the header and his effort clipped the inside of the post and went into the back of the net, much to the euphoria of Chelsea supporters.
Gerard Houllier’s team were firmly on the backfoot midway through the first half when they fell behind. Jesper Gronkjaer easily escaped the attentions of John Arne Riise and even though his standing foot gave way at the point of contact, he directed his shot into the bottom corner, leaving Jerzy Dudek with no chance. It was the most vital goal in Chelsea’s history with debts threatening to put the club’s long-term future in grave jeopardy.
Houllier threw Emile Heskey on at half-time and they were unlucky not to equalise. Cudicini made a rare handling misjudgement and Milan Baros scrambled home what he thought was a leveller. It was disallowed by the officials for a handball that was well-spotted.
As the game disappeared from the Reds’ grasp, Steven Gerrard saw red. A naughty high tackle on Graeme Le Saux saw the midfielder receive a red card in the closing exchanges. So, it was Chelsea who got the prize of Champions League football and two months later, a certain Russian billionaire called Roman Abramovich bought the club. Life in west London would never be the same again.