Our next historical feature about a past match against our next opponents focuses on a showdown for Champions League football that had huge consequences for the Blues…
Liverpool’s visit to the Bridge on 11 May 2003 was dubbed the ‘£10m knockout bout’ as the riches of possible Champions League entry were at stake in the last league action of the season.
The hosts, a point ahead of the Reds, needed only a draw to secure fourth place and a ticket to the final qualifying round of the 2003/04 campaign. There were external pressures at play behind the scenes at Chelsea, however.
At the Royal Lancaster Hotel the night before the squad were ushered into a room to hear a talk by a US veteran of the Vietnam War, who stunned his audience with the traumatic story of how one of his platoon had sacrificed himself so his trapped comrades could escape. He ended by urging the players to die for their team-mates the following day.
The players were then addressed rather differently by chief executive Trevor Birch, who explained that recent cutbacks they had noticed were the thin end of the wedge, and that a financial crisis could engulf the club should they not secure Champions League football.
It is unclear which of the speakers proved more motivational, or whether it was the boisterous encouragement of a 42,000 crowd – completely oblivious to those behind-the-scenes events – but after an early setback the Blues duly did the job against Liverpool.
Sami Hyypia drew first blood with a header against the run of play, but two minutes later winger Jesper Gronkjaer crossed superbly and Marcel Desailly equalised with his head.
A point would have been enough, so Desailly’s ended up the ‘knockout’ goal, but just past the midpoint of the first half the Dane doubled his impact by scoring what would prove the winner with a curling drive.
Steven Gerrard’s late red card confirmed the inevitable, and after the final whistle the jubilant Chelsea players, knowing the secret part of their mission had also been achieved, performed a lap of honour, exhausted and relieved.