In the summer of 2017, Wayne Rooney ended his 13-year association with Manchester United, where he’d won five Premier League titles and become the club’s all-time leading goalscorer. He returned to his boyhood home, Everton. It was a signing that got fans excited at Goodison Park.
After making the dream return by scoring on his second home debut with a flying header to beat Stoke City on the opening weekend, Rooney had another milestone he was closing in on when he made his first visit back to Manchester.
Everton’s first away match of the season was at The Etihad Stadium and Rooney achieved a Premier League landmark in the 35th minute. From a sweeping counter-attack, Rooney made a late surging run into the box to meet Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s pass and sweep the ball into the back of the net. It was his 200th Premier League goal, becoming only the second player to achieve the feat after Alan Shearer.
Rooney’s goalscoring tally ended at 208 before waving goodbye to the Premier League in the summer of 2018. He will finish his playing career in the MLS, playing for DC United. He will go down as one of the Premier League’s greatest-ever players.
In the summer of 1996, the foreign revolution was starting to arrive in English football. This was none more apparent than at Chelsea where new manager Ruud Gullit was beginning to make his mark by signing players from the continent.
Italians Roberto Di Matteo and Gianluca Vialli had already arrived and a third Italian player would join the Londoners before 1996 was over. £4.5 million was paid to Parma for the small, but technically gifted Gianfranco Zola to arrive at Stamford Bridge.
Zola was a lynchpin of the Italian national side but had become frustrated at being forced to play in a deep-lying role for Parma in Serie A. Wanting to access a new challenge; there was just as much attention from the Italian press than from the English media when he was introduced as a Chelsea player.
He made his debut in a 1-1 draw at Ewood Park with Blackburn Rovers days later and made an incredible impact. Having been in the country for only seven months, he had won over the supporters, the neutrals and the football journalists, who crowned him the Football Writers’ Player of the Year for the season.
Zola left Chelsea in the summer of 2003, just a week before Roman Abramovich’s takeover of the club. He left after seven seasons of enthralling skills, exceptional goals and a set-piece expertise that was among the best in world football. His final gift was to help the Blues into the Champions League that helped Abramovich towards his takeover that turned the club into one of Europe’s real superpowers.
There are few players who can boast as good a Premier League record from the penalty spot than Southampton’s lynchpin for many years, Matt Le Tissier.
In fact, he took 48 penalties in his whole career and scored 47 of them. A 98% penalty success ratio during his playing days means he is considered as one of the greatest masters from 12-yards.
However, he did have one failure from the spot and it came in the very first Premier League season. Playing for Southampton at home to Nottingham Forest, he had a first half penalty saved by Forest goalkeeper Mark Crossley, who once saved a penalty from Gary Lineker in an FA Cup final.
Le Tissier did score past Crossley later in the match with a long-range effort but the visitors left The Dell with all three points, winning 2-1. It is the only mark on almost near-perfection from Matt Le Tissier in his battles with the penalty spot.
Liverpool FC last won the English league championship in 1990, before the Premier League came into existence. They narrowly missed out on the major prize with Brendan Rodgers in 2014, whilst Gerard Houllier took them close in 2002. On both occasions, the Reds had to settle for the runners-up position.
The same scenario occurred in 2009. Liverpool went into the calendar year with a useful four-point lead over reigning champions Manchester United. Manager Rafa Benitez seemed to have things under control. That was until his pre-match press conference ahead of a trip to newly-promoted Stoke City.
When asked a question about Sir Alex Ferguson complaining about Manchester United’s fixture schedule as they had a game in-hand due to their World Club Championship commitments, Benitez decided to turn the pressure up in an amazing and almost inexplicable rant – aimed at the referees’ respect campaign and TV fixture scheduling, insisting Ferguson doesn’t get punished for anything.
Part of his five-minute rage was: “All managers need to know is that only Mr Ferguson can talk about the fixtures, can talk about referees and nothing happens. We need to know that I am talking about facts, not my impression. There are things that everyone can see every single week.”
It had a negative effect. Liverpool could only draw at Stoke the next evening, whilst Manchester United beat Chelsea 3-0 24 hours later. Within a week, the Red Devils had gone to the top of the table and would eventually win their third successive Premier League title.
This was a press conference that backfired badly on Benitez. In truth, he had fallen victim to the manager who was the master at cranking up the pressure, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Fernando Torres cost Chelsea £50 million on transfer deadline day in January 2011 when he elected to join the Blues from Premier League rivals Liverpool FC. It is fair to say that Chelsea supporters rarely saw the best of the Torres that haunted defenders throughout the world from his Liverpool days.
The lowest point of his Chelsea career came in September 2011 at Old Trafford against Manchester United. Having scored his first goal of the season early in the second half, the Spaniard got the perfect opportunity to double his tally with seven minutes left to play.
Played through by Ramires, Torres beat the offside trap and rounded goalkeeper David de Gea. The goal was gaping infront of him. Somehow, he managed to slice his shot wide into a delighted Stretford End. Cue a serious amount of laughter from United supporters and Liverpool fans who had never quite forgiven Torres for his transfer.
Sky Sports analyst Jamie Redknapp said: “To use a golfing term, it was almost like a yip.”
It remains one of the worst misses we’ve ever seen in the first 25 years of Premier League football.
In July 1996, Newcastle United were still reeling from having thrown away a glorious opportunity to become champions of England. They held a 12-point lead over Manchester United in January, yet had somehow presided to lose the title to the men from Old Trafford by May. Kevin Keegan wanted to have one final throw at the dice to give the Geordie supporters the silverware they craved.
Alan Shearer was one of the hottest properties in world football. He had finished as top Premier League scorer for the past two seasons and just claimed the Golden Boot honours at the 1996 European Championship for England. It looked certain that he was going to leave Blackburn Rovers after his international heroics but where was he going to go?
Manchester United wanted to sign Shearer after missing out on him in 1992 and entered the race to get his signature. However, United chairman Martin Edwards stated that Blackburn refused to do any business with their former title rivals. However, Blackburn did decide to do business with Newcastle United.
It was Shearer’s boyhood club and his hero growing up was Kevin Keegan. On 30th July 1996, Blackburn received a world-record transfer fee of £15 million from Newcastle for Shearer’s services. He was coming home to Tyneside.
He became Newcastle’s record all-time goalscorer before retiring in 2006 but would never win any silverware for his hometown club. However, this signing was for the fans and Keegan’s last gift to them. He would resign as first-team manager in January 1997.
In January 1995, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was on the lookout for a new English forward to take the pressure off Eric Cantona. His team were not setting the pace in the title race and he wanted to shift the momentum away from league leaders, Blackburn Rovers.
It was anticipated that the player on the move would be the in-form Nottingham Forest striker, Stan Collymore. However, the Red Devils were about to cause a surprise which left everyone within football stunned. They broke the British transfer record to sign Andy Cole for £6 million from Newcastle United.
Cole had an incredible goalscoring record. He’d scored 68 goals in 84 matches for Newcastle, finishing with a phenomenal strike ratio rate of 81%. However, his relationship with manager Kevin Keegan had deteriorated and it was Keegan who was happy to sell his star asset, with Northern Ireland winger Keith Gillespie going in the other direction to St James’ Park. Ferguson admitted it was a “pleasant surprise” to get him and Cole said himself it was a “big shock.”
Keegan gave a passionate plea outside Newcastle’s ground to stunned supporters, defending the deal saying: “I felt we can take it on and you’ve got to allow me to do that. If it doesn’t work, I know what the implications are.”
When Cole left Manchester United for Blackburn in December 2001, he’d won nine major honours, including five Premier League titles and the UEFA Champions League. Newcastle United won absolutely nothing.
When Sir Alex Ferguson arrived from Scotland in November 1986, his mission was to make Manchester United successful again.
In 2002, he famously said: “My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their ******* perch. And you can print that.”
Seven years after his arrival, Manchester United won their first top-flight title in 27 years and soon afterwards, league championship after league championship followed. When he arrived, Manchester United had only seven titles. By May 2011, they had drawn level with Liverpool on 18 top-flight championships.
They travelled to Ewood Park on the penultimate weekend of the 2010-2011 season looking to make history and claim not only a 12th Premier League title but a record-breaking 19th crown which would take them to the top of the list as England’s most successful club.
It was a nervy afternoon with just a single point required to seal the title and they fell behind to a Brett Emerton strike. However, with 17 minutes left, Paul Robinson’s foul on Javier Hernandez saw a penalty awarded by referee Phil Dowd after some consultation. Wayne Rooney kept his nerve to dispatch the spot-kick, level the game at 1-1 and ensured Manchester United made history.
It was a great achievement and Ferguson’s mission was well and truly complete.
When Chelsea signed Frank Lampard from London rivals West Ham United in the summer of 2001, they knew they were getting a midfielder who was capable of scoring goals. However, no-one at the time could have imagined the achievements Lampard would go on to make in west London.
He would win three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. One of the Premier League’s greatest ambassadors, Lampard always had a knack of scoring goals from making runs into the penalty area and also trying his luck from distance and often finding the target.
In May 2013, Lampard was approaching the end of his current contract and also closing in on becoming Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer. Against Aston Villa at Villa Park, Lampard equalled the record held by Bobby Tambling with his 202nd goal for the club. Close to full-time, he made another burst into the box and guided in Eden Hazard’s cross to achieve history. He now had 203 goals for Chelsea, becoming their highest goalscorer in the club’s proud and distinguished history.
It won Chelsea the points that afternoon and he signed a new one-year contract a few days later. He left in the summer of 2014, finishing with 211 goals and his name etched firmly in Chelsea’s history.
Arsenal and Liverpool FC were among the title challengers to Manchester United in the 1996-1997 Premier League season. They went head-to-head in March 1997 with the loser of the game at Highbury likely to be knocked out of the title race.
Liverpool were already 1-0 ahead through Stan Collymore’s strike when the controversial moment in this game occurred and also, remarkable sportsmanship at the heat of battle. Liverpool defender Mark Wright played a long-ball through for Robbie Fowler. Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman came charging out of his goal and Fowler went over under his challenge. Referee Gerald Ashby gave a penalty.
Amazingly, Fowler tried to challenge the referee’s decision, insisting no contact had been made by Seaman and he simply skipped over the attempted tackle and his momentum saw him fall over. Despite his pleas, Ashby insisted he wasn’t changing his mind. Fowler did take the resultant spot-kick which was saved by Seaman. Unfortunately for the England no.1 goalkeeper, Jason McAteer hammered home the rebound and Liverpool went home with all three points, winning 2-1.
Fowler received a UEFA Fair Play certificate for his sportsmanship approach. In 2017, he told the Liverpool Echo: “It wasn’t a penalty and because he was my mate from the England side, I just said it wasn’t a pen.”
After 102 years, West Ham United bid farewell to their historic ground of Upton Park. The Hammers were moving to The London Stadium for the start of the 2016-2017 season – home to the athletics at the 2012 London Olympics.
West Ham’s 2,398th and final match at the famous stadium was against Manchester United. United knew that a victory would not only spoil West Ham’s night but also put them in pole position to qualify for the UEFA Champions League at the expense of their local rivals, Manchester City.
Unsavoury scenes pre-match which saw the Manchester United coach pelted with missiles on its way to the ground saw kick-off delayed until 9.15pm. However, 34,907 fans saw a cracking football match which saw West Ham take an early lead through Diafra Sakho.
Two goals from Anthony Martial put the visitors infront in the second half but West Ham were not to be denied. Headers from Michail Antonio and Winston Reid in an 80-second spell gave them a deserved 3-2 victory.
The match was followed by a 45-minute display on the pitch in celebration of the history of the ground full of fireworks and London taxis! The ground was demolished later in the year and Hammers supporters and players have found life tough at their new home since.
13 months after the explosive encounter at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Arsenal, the sides squared up to one another again. Arsenal had gone 49 games unbeaten in the Premier League. They were looking to make it 50 matches at the home of their most competitive rivals. They also knew that a victory here would virtually rule Manchester United out of the 2004-2005 title battle before the end of October.
Referee Mike Riley was going to be in for a difficult afternoon. He tried to allow the game to flow but there were sly fouls and challenges all day, with Rio Ferdinand lucky to escape punishment for hauling down Freddie Ljungberg in a goalscoring position. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s studs-up challenge on Ashley Cole also went unpunished on the day but the Dutchman would be charged and banned later by video authorities.
In the 73rd minute, the Red Devils won a controversial penalty as Wayne Rooney went down under Sol Campbell’s challenge. Replays showed that Rooney had made a complete meal out of the minimal contact between the two England internationals. After the demons of the previous season’s fixture, Van Nistelrooy did well to keep his nerve, send Jens Lehmann the wrong way and fire Sir Alex Ferguson’s side infront. In stoppage-time, Arsenal fell for the classic counter-attack with Alan Smith playing Rooney in to seal the three points for Manchester United and end Arsenal’s historic run.
In the tunnel after the match, tempers boiled over between staff of both clubs. A slice of pizza was thrown at Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson by Cesc Fabregas, which wasn’t confirmed by the perpetrator until 2017 when he confessed on the Sky One panel show “A League of Their Own.” Wenger was fined £15,000 for comments made about Van Nistelrooy who himself was banned for three games for his challenge on Cole.