The mid-late 2000s saw English football leap to the forefront of European competition once again. Chelsea’s ascent into wealth under Roman Abramovich saw them reach the latter stages of the Champions League countless times; Manchester United were there or thereabouts; Liverpool won a Champions League and were involved in some classic ties and Arsenal even managed to reach a final.
The nadir of this was 2007/08. Three of the four semi-finalists in the Champions League were English and the only reason it wasn’t four was because Liverpool beat Arsenal in the quarters.
As all eyes turn to Madrid now for the all-English affair between Tottenham and Liverpool, it’s only right to case our eyes back at the only other all-English final between Manchester United and Chelsea in the Champions League from that season eleven years ago.
All eyes on Moscow…
Chelsea came into the summer of 2007 of the back of what they would class as a disappointing season under Jose Mourinho. Only an FA Cup win at a freshly reopened Wembley meant a bit of refreshing was needed for Mourinho’s squad.
The big departure was Dutch winger Arjen Robben, prized away from Stamford Bridge after three years by Real Madrid for £21 million. Other big names on their way out were Glen Johnson to Portsmouth, Lassana Diarra to Arsenal and Geremi to Newcastle.
The incomings proved to be hardly inspiring. The big summer signing was French winger Florent Malouda from Lyon for £13 million while Brazilian full-back Juliano Belletti arrived from Barcelona for a modest £5 million. They were complemented by the free transfer signings of Claudio Pizarro, Tal Ben Haim and Steve Sidwell – a killer’s row for Chelsea fans.
Up in Manchester, the reigning Premier League champions went for evolution rather than revolution. Spearheaded by a maturing Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex Ferguson looked to more young talent to add extra depth to his frontline in the form of Anderson and Nani from Porto and Sporting. Carlos Tevez’s complicated and confusing two-year loan gave United a third fearsome option while Owen Hargreaves added more in midfield. And Tomas Kuszczak signed.
On the out were fringe players – Kieran Richardson to Sunderland; Giuseppe Rossi to Villarreal; Alan Smith to Newcastle and Gabriel Heinze to Real Madrid while current United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retired as he struggled to recover from knee surgery.
The traditional curtain raiser, the Community Shield, pitted the two top teams in England from the previous season against each other and it proved to be a tight affair. A Ryan Giggs goal, his 142nd for United, put the Red Devils into the lead but a debuting Malouda levelled the scores. It would need penalties to separate the sides with Edwin van der Sar saving from Pizarro, Frank Lampard and Shaun Wright-Phillips to see United win 3-0 in the shootout.
However, early season form was surprising for United. Two draws against Reading and Portsmouth were followed by a derby defeat at the then-City of Manchester Stadium to leave them hovering near the relegation zone three games in. Three consecutive 1-0 victories would propel them up the table before their European adventure kicked off.
Chelsea, meanwhile, picked up the same amount of points as United in the opening six games but all was not well at Stamford Bridge. An unconvincing opening day win over Birmingham was followed up by a battle at Reading and an escape from Anfield with a point. Jose Mourinho was becoming increasingly frustrated with issues in the boardroom, reportedly surrounding the signing of Andriy Shevchenko the previous summer, and his new arrivals were not setting the world alight. Another tight win over Portsmouth was followed up by a 2-0 defeat at Villa Park and a drab goalless draw at home with Blackburn.
Still, no matter the issues going on, the Champions League beckoned…
Continuity and Change
The group stages would see much of the same for one club and a big change for another.
Chelsea were drawn in Group B and given a tough test against a Valencia side containing the two Davids – Villa and Silva – and a host of top quality players and a decent Schalke side. It was the other team that caused the Blues issues in the opening game. Norwegian champions Rosenborg came to Stamford Bridge and took the lead through Finnish defender Miika Koppinen. Shevchenko pulled one back for the Blues but it was a disappointing draw to open the account.
It wasn’t just two points dropped though. Mourinho would leave the club by ‘mutual consent’ although whether you choose to believe that is another matter entirely. The disagreements with Roman Abramovich and the rather sketchy start had prompted Chelsea to seek a new man at the helm. Rather than look for a big name, they promoted Moutinho’s assistant Avram Grant to lead the team.
Grant’s first taste of Europe was a daunting trip to the Mestalla to face Valencia. David Villa gave the hosts the lead inside ten minutes but a Joe Cole equaliser and Didier Drogba goal gave Chelsea all three points. Goals from Malouda and Drogba would give Chelsea a 2-0 win over Schalke before a goalless draw in Gelsenkirchen put Chelsa on the brink of qualification.
That was secured, along with top spot in the group, with a 4-0 thumping away at Rosenborg where Drogba got a brace before a home draw with a basically eliminated Valencia saw the group out.
Manchester United’s group was as testing on paper. Group F saw United square off with Sporting, Roma and Dynamo Kiev and, in the end, they made it look easy. Ronaldo bagged the winner against his boyhood side in the opener while Wayne Rooney was the difference when Roma travelled to Old Trafford. There was a scare in Kiev when Rincon and Ismael Bangoura scored for Dynamo but a Ronaldo brace was enough for a 4-2 win while the reverse fixture was a 4-0 blowout featuring a Gerard Pique goal. That victory secured progression with top spot wrapped up with a game to spare thanks to a last-minute Ronaldo winner at home to Sporting. Only a Mancini goal in Rome prevented United gaining six wins from six in the group.
It’s a knockout
The Champions League returned in mid-February and both sides were locked in a hunt for the Premier League title with Arsenal. Sir Alex Ferguson had opted to not splash out on anyone new other than Manucho while, down in London, Chelsea attempted to address their goal issues with the signing of Nicolas Anelka from Bolton and added defensive steel with Zenit’s Branislav Ivanovic.
The knockout draw had not been kind to United. With both clubs seeded, United were given possibly the trickiest assignment in the form of French champions Lyon. It certainly looked that way for most of the first leg in France when Karim Benzema gave Lyon the lead. But, as was so often the case with Fergie’s sides, United salvaged a result with a late Carlos Tevez goal.
Chelsea, meanwhile, were given Greek powerhouse Olympiacos. Unlike United, the Blues cruised through the tie. The Greeks were banking on a strong performance in the first leg in Athens but Chelsea’s experienced side professionally played out a goalless draw. Back at the Bridge, first-half goals from Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard effectively killed the tie before Salomon Kalou finished the job. An easy 3-0 win and a quarter-final place secured.
The quarters threw up potential banana skins for both sides. United were given familiar foes in the form of Roma for their sixth meeting in the Champions League in just twelve months. Unlike the previous year, there was no goal blitz for the Red Devils but the job was done professionally and without fuss. The first leg in Rome saw the familiar tandem of Rooney and Ronaldo put United in a powerful position before Carlos Tevez was the difference between the two teams at Old Trafford.
Chelsea, meanwhile, had Turkish giants Fenerbahce to contend with. The first leg in Istanbul saw ex-Sheffield United and Brighton man Colin Kazim-Richards and Brazilian striker Deivid consign them to defeat. However, an early own goal from Deivid meant Chelsea had hope for the second leg. An early goal from Ballack was sending the Blues through on the night before a late Lampard strike ensured their progress.
The semi-finals threw up different tasks for the two sides. Manchester United were tasked with Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona. Despite an indifferent season in Spain, the Catalans had spent big in the summer securing the signatures of Yaya Toure, Thierry Henry and Eric Abidal. Those stars, alongside Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and a young Lionel Messi about to become the best player in the world, made them a frightening prospect.
As had been the case throughout their run, United started away from home. Remarkably, they could and probably should have been a goal up within a minute at the Nou Camp as Ronaldo put a penalty wide. Still, United put together a very good performance and left with a 0-0 draw. Old Trafford was rocking for the second leg and it almost ad the roof blown off 14 minutes in when Paul Scholes received the ball in midfield, shifted the ball onto his left foot and smashed one into the top corner. From there on, United held firm against a Barcelona side that seemed to lack that killer instinct. A trip to Moscow was secured.
Chelsea meanwhile came up against the familiar in Liverpool. The two teams had met in the Champions League in each of the three previous seasons – 2004/05 saw Luis Garcia’s famous ‘ghost goal’ sent the Reds to Istanbul; 2005/06 saw the sides put together in the group stage and produce two forgettable 0-0s while 2006/07 had seen Liverpool progress to the final once more, this time on penalties. This semi was to once again produce plenty of drama.
For the first time in the clubs’ semi-final meetings, the first leg was at Anfield. Liverpool were well up for the game and took the lead just before half time through Dirk Kuyt. Chelsea did well to nullify the danger of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard but were unable to break down a dogged Liverpool backline. That was until deep into injury time when a low, hopeful cross from Didier Drogba was inexplicably headed into the top corner of his own net by John Arne Riise. Advantage Chelsea.
Stamford Bridge saw an instant classic in the second leg. Both sides intended to attack and both Drogba and Torres had chances to put their side into the lead. It would be the Ivorian who struck first, smashing home a rebound from a saved Salomon Kalou shot. It gave Chelsea a half time lead but Liverpool came at them in the second half. Kuyt had a glorious chance before great work from Yossi Benayoun slipped through Torres to equalise. Extra time beckoned.
Sami Hyypia could and probably should have given Liverpool the lead early in extra time with a free header before a Michael Essien strike was ruled out for offside as Drogba obstructed Pepe Reina’s view. However, Chelsea would take the lead again. Hyypia was slightly too slow to get to a loose ball ahead of Michael Ballack in the area and Lampard stepped up to slot home, less than a week after the passing of his mother.
Chelsea were now inspired and more good play saw Nicolas Anelka set free down the right and he pulled it back for Drogba to smash home his second of the game. Liverpool were now pretty much done and looked uninspiring but they were given hope late on. Ryan Babel took aim from 35 yards or so and Petr Cech could only flap at his speculative shot as it hit the top corner.
It was too little too late for Liverpool though as Chelsea secured their place in Moscow.
By the time May 21 rolled around, Manchester United had beaten out Chelsea and Arsenal on the final day of the season to be crowned champions of England once again.
There were surprises in team selections from both Ferguson and Grant. Sir Alex had said that semi match winner Scholes was guaranteed a starting spot after missing the Champions League win in 1999 through suspension. The big shock was the exclusion of Park Ji-Sung with Owen Hargreaves playing on the right wing, Ronaldo moved to the left.
Avram Grant had injury doubts Drogba and Ashley Cole available but he chose to start Florent Malouda on the left ahead of Kalou and Michael Essien at right-back ahead of the fit Belletti on the bench and Paulo Ferreira who didn’t even make the squad.
The first half began in a cagey manner with neither side wanting to give an inch. They had battled consistently all season for the Premier League title and were aware of each other’s quality. 26 minutes in, that quality shone through.
Good interplay on the right wing saw Wes Brown have time to cross with his left foot and his deep ball was perfect for a free Cristiano Ronaldo to bury a header into the bottom corner. United led and were pushing Chelsea now with a Cech double save denying the Red Devils a second goal.
However, a stroke of fortune just before half time got Chelsea level. Michael Ballack lined up a strike from range which deflected off Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Edwin van der Sar in goal lost his footing and it was Frank Lampard who reacted quickest to tap home the equaliser.
The Lampard goal spurred Chelsea on but United held firm throughout the second half. They had only one scare late on though. Drogba, kept fairly quiet by Ferdinand and Vidic, slipped 25 yards out but picked himself up and hit a curling effort which came back off the post. It was the closest either side got to a goal before the full tie whistle.
Extra time continued the tension with both sides going close to another goal. John Terry had to be on hand to head the ball off the line to prevent Ryan Giggs from scoring while Lampard struck the bar. However, the real drama would begin late in extra time.
With around five minutes remaining, Chelsea put the ball out of play deep in their own half so players could stretch out their tired legs. Upon receiving the throw, United’s Carlos Tevez pulled out a little gamesmanship and knocked it out for another throw-in, five yards deeper than the original. This incited Terry and Ballack and soon referee Lubos Michel had a melee on his hands. He dished out yellow cards to Tevez and Ballack before brandishing a red to a bemused Drogba.
Television replays showed it was the correct call as the Ivorian lost his temper and slapped Vidic in the fracas. It was just the second red in a European Cup final (after Jens Lehmann in 2006) and Chelsea were without their main goal threat as penalties loomed large on the horizon.
With the shootout in mind, both Grant and Ferguson sent on a penalty taker late on -Belletti replacing Claude Makelele for Chelsea; Anderson introduced for Brown for United. United won the toss and elected to shoot first at their end.
Tevez, Ballack, Michael Carrick and Belletti (with his first and only touch of the final) ensured there was a 100% record at the start of the shootout before Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up for United. His kick was low and to Cech’s right but it was not well struck and the keeper saved it. Frank Lampard buried his to give Chelsea the advantage.
Owen Hargreaves coolly slotted his home to keep United in it before Ashley Cole was successful, putting all the pressure on United substitute Nani to score. The Portuguese winger had enjoyed an inconsistent debut season in English football despite his obvious talent but he showed nerves of steel to put all the pressure onto the broad shoulders of Terry.
The Chelsea captain had been their rock throughout the Abramovich era and it would be only fitting that he be the one to secure the ‘holy grail’ for the Russian oligarch. Terry strode up confidently, paced out his run up and… slipped.
The ball hit the post and bounced wide.
The teeming rain in Moscow for the shootout had made underfoot conditions tougher and Terry had fallen foul of them at the worst possible moment. It is not hyperbole to say that the slip cost Chelsea the 2008 Champions League. Edwin van der Sar had dived the wrong way. Had Terry not slipped that penalty was nestling in the net but, alas, it was not to be.
It was now sudden death. 4-4.
Anderson dispatched his penalty. 5-4.
Kalou – off the bench – sent van der Sar the wrong way. 5-5.
Giggs, setting United’s appearance record in Moscow, scored. 6-5.
Next up was Nicolas Anelka. The Frenchman had arrived in January from Bolton but hopes that he would fire plenty for the Blues had not materialised on the pitch. The form of Drogba had restricted him to largely substitute appearances much like on this night. He was a big player though with a Champions League medal to his name while at Real Madrid. He stepped up and hit a tame penalty which van der Sar saved easily.
The Champions League belonged to Manchester United.
Will 2019’s showpiece attract the same kind of drama and despair as 2008’s all-English affair? That remains to be seen. What is for sure, is that the Champions League always throws up the unexpected.