Chelsea’s most important win over Liverpool revisited ahead of Premier League tie
Champions League qualification was on the line at Stamford Bridge in an encounter dubbed ‘the £20m match’, with the Blues needing just a point to secure their place in Europe’s elite club competition.
The stakes were considerably higher for Claudio Ranieri’s side, nevertheless, who had racked up serious debt under chairman Ken Bates and were on the verge of defaulting a £75m loan that would have sent them into financial meltdown.
Yet with enormous pressure riding on their final outing of the season, the west London club got off to a nightmare start when Sami Hyppia headed Gerard Houlier’s visitors in front after 11 minutes, striking fear into the hearts of Bates and co.
Fortunately for the insolvent chief, though, Liverpool’s lead lasted a mere minute.
Captain Marcel Desailly swiftly levelled proceedings at the Bridge, firing a header of his own past Jerzy Dudek and into the back of the net.
And 13 minutes later Jesper Gronkjaer curled home what proved a £20m winner for the hosts, who held firm to acquire Champions League football for the first time in four years and relieve Bates of his debt-ridden ownership.
Mario Melchiot, who played at right-back for Chelsea on that sunny afternoon in May, 2003, exclusively told Starsport back in March that the squad were desperate to secure a return to the competition.
He said: “It was like playing a final game. At that time I’d already won the FA Cup, I won the double with Ajax when I came there so I was a young kid winning the league and the cup in one year, that was extraordinary. I knew the pressure that comes with it.
“Because if this club wanted to be part of the big boys, then we knew that the Champions League was a must every season.”
Lampard was also in Chelsea’s ranks that day, enjoying one of his early midfield duels with arch-rival Steven Gerrard, and 16 years on he is looking to end Liverpool’s 100 per cent start to the season as Blues boss.
The two clubs find themselves in completely polarising positions today; the Reds are seemingly in a two-horse race with Manchester City for the Premier League title this term and got their hands on the Champions League last year, while the odds are stacked against Lampard’s side even finishing in the top four amid their two-window transfer ban and without the brilliance of Eden Hazard.
They have already got the better of the Blues this season, beating them on penalties in last month’s Super Cup final.