2004/05 - Season Review
Before football had made even a tentative appearance in the 2004/05 campaign sex, drugs and money had already stolen the pre-season headlines.
Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand was impatiently serving out the last days of his eight month ban for missing a routine drugs test, Swedish lothario Sven-Goran Eriksson got caught with his pants down (again) and billionaire owner Roman Abramovich increased his bank-rolling of Chelsea.
The Russian brought his oil roubles to the West London club in 2003, but in the summer of 2004 he decided to really go for it. He axed affable Italian manager Claudio Ranieri and installed newly-crowned European champion and self-styled 'special one' Jose Mourinho.
The former Porto boss brought £33million duo Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho with him from Oporto and added Arjen Robben, Tiago, Mateja Kezman and Didier Drogba for another £39million. But far from throwing good money after bad the Russian revolution transformed the perennial title also-rans into the genuine article.
The new Blues' credentials were put under scrutiny at Stamford Bridge on the first day of the season. Manchester United, who had bolstered their own squad with the £28million capture of Wayne Rooney from Everton and a £6.9million deal for Gabriel Heinze from PSG during the summer, lost 1-0 to a scrambled Eidur Gudjohnson goal.
Although it was a narrow home win over a weakened United team it set the tone for the season. Chelsea were already three points ahead of one of their title rivals and would get accustomed to the 'nil' in the goals against column. Meanwhile, United uncharacteristically continued to struggle to score goals and limped into third place as the season drew to a close.
The Red Devils did manage an FA Cup final appearance but again failed to convert dominance into goals. Arsenal, the old enemy, lifted the silverware after a penalty shoot-out and gained revenge for three defeats at the hands of United during the season - including ending their record-breaking unbeaten run on 49 games.
Following the 2-0 defeat the self-belief, and some might say arrogance, that the run had fostered crumbled and the Gunners continued to drop points before losing again to Liverpool and being knocked out of the League Cup by Manchester United.
The emergence of some top-class young talent, for which manager Arsene Wenger has always had a good eye, helped Arsenal recover from their blip in form. Robin Van Persie, Mathieu Flamini, Philippe Senderos and most impressively Cesc Fabregas helped boost the Gunners into second-place.
Despite recovering the Gunners had lost too much ground and handed their title to London rivals Chelsea - but that wasn't all Mourinho wanted to prise away from Highbury. In January the Chelsea boss and chief executive Peter Kenyon were caught 'tapping-up' Ashley Cole, with agent Jonathan Barnett, in an attempt to lure the England international west.
The revelations came on the eve of Arsenal's rematch with United at Highbury, although the investigation lasted the rest of the season and resulted in a £100,000 fine for Cole, a £200,000 slap on the wrist for Mourinho and a £300,000 fine for Chelsea with a possible three point reduction. Wenger claimed it was all done to upset his squad.
The inquiry certainly didn't affect the Blues and with Football Writers' Player of the Year Frank Lampard chipping in with goals from midfield as PFA Player of the Year John Terry marshaled the meanest defence in the league Chelsea romped to the title, breaking records along the way.
The most points, the most clean sheets and the least goals conceded helped the Blues clinch their first title for 50 years, with a 12-point gap over second placed Arsenal.
Yet despite these admirable feats, the story of the season came from Liverpool, not London, where expected relegation fodder Everton not only avoided the drop and finished higher then neighbours Liverpool, but miraculously claimed the fourth league spot and the final Champions League qualifying place.
LMA Manager of the Year David Moyes laid the ground work for this achievement by very narrowly avoiding the drop in 2004 and then selling his best players - Rooney to United and Thomas Gravesen to Real Madrid. The unorthodox method worked a treat. Although the fact that Bolton and Liverpool couldn't seem to maintain a sustained challenge may have had something to do with it.
However, after the Toffees had claimed the final UCL qualifying place via the Premiership - seemingly at the expense of Liverpool - the Reds had the audacity to throw Everton's European place into doubt by unexpectedly reaching the Champions League final in Istanbul.
Under UEFA rules, if Liverpool managed to lift the trophy, but finished outside the top four in the league, they could only be allowed to defend their European title if the FA re-entered them into the competition at the expense of the fourth place Premiership team; in this case Everton, who would drop into the UEFA Cup.
The FA's dilemma seemed somewhat irrelevant with Liverpool 3-0 down against Milan at half-time in the final. But then the Reds mounted the most unlikely comeback in Champions League final history; scoring three goals in seven second-half minutes before winning a penalty shoot-out.
As the red half of Merseyside welcomed home their heroes and wondered if their team would be allowed to defend their fifth title, the Blue half fretted over their own Champions League place.
As it happened neither should have worried. UEFA simply changed the rules at the expense of some poor old club that didn't have such an illustrious history and allowed both English teams to enter.
Manchester City hoped to land Liverpool's now vacant UEFA Cup place but they were denied. The Citizens, who ditched manager Kevin Keegan in favour of Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce during the campaign, had to be satisfied with eighth place.
Bolton Wanderers meanwhile qualified for Europe for the first time in the club's history after a sixth-placed finish in the league. Seventh-placed Middlesbrough joined them as England's only other representative in the UEFA Cup.
Newcastle United missed out on Europe after a poor start to the season under Bobby Robson and a dire end to the campaign under new manager Graeme Souness.
The former Blackburn Rovers boss did succeed in persuading talismanic skipper Alan Shearer to stay on for another year, but straight after that joyous announcement the club crashed out of the FA Cup, UEFA Cup and plummeted down the league.
The most memorable moment of the season came when Lee Bowyer and Toon teammate Kieron Dyer had a punch-up in front of 52,000 Geordies.
Following Bowyer's bust-up Newcastle were keen to offload the troublesome midfielder and Birmingham City seemed happy to take him. That was until a touching protest from some fans, angry about seeing such a controversial figure don their sacred blue shirt, scuppered the deal.
Birmingham had been looking for a midfield enforcer since former fans favourite Robbie Savage turned his back on the club to join his Welsh compatriot Mark Hughes, who replaced Newcastle bound Souness, at Blackburn Rovers.
The former Wales manager did well to drag Blackburn clear of relegation and in amongst the usual batch of clubs scrabbling around mid-table.
Tottenham Hotspur brought in a continental management structure with sporting director Frank Arnesen and coach Martin Jol (and a plethora of young talent) but only achieved mediocrity.
Aston Villa manager David O'Leary arguably got the best out of the smallest squad in the Premiership, as the Irishman was so fond of reminding us, but the Villans had to settle for a 10th place finish.
Charlton Athletic suffered their usual end of term capitulation, whilst Fulham and Birmingham City both suffered from patchy form and found themselves in the bottom half.
However, on the south coast events deviated from the mundane. Portsmouth owner Milan Mandaric brought in a director of football to work above manager Harry Redknapp despite 'arry's protestations. As Velimir Zajec arrived from Panathinaikos a furious Redknapp quit and assistant Jim Smith followed.
Pompey began to struggle and to add to their woes the dream team of Harry and Jim joined hated arch-rivals and fellow relegation strugglers Southampton. The duo instantly became villains and were subjected to a torrent of abuse on derby day and for the remainder of the season.
Portsmouth slipped under Zajec's stewardship and were eventually dragged out of the mire by French manager Alain Perrin. The Pompey fans then watched with glee as Southampton and their turncoat manager entered the last weekend of the season facing the drop.
On the final day of the campaign no team had yet been relegated and four teams; Southampton, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and Norwich City all faced the drop.
Norwich simply needed to win to avoid relegation, but unfortunately the Canaries chose the final game to capitulate and lost 6-0 to Fulham.
Southampton could survive if they got a result against Manchester United. The Saints took an early lead but goals from Darren Fletcher and Ruud van Nistelrooy condemned Harry and Jim to the drop.
Crystal Palace were hoping the goals of newly capped England striker Andrew Johnson would keep them up and when he gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead against Charlton, with his umpteenth penalty of the season, it looked good. But Jonathan Fortune hit an 82nd minute equalizer and Palace had to hope West Brom couldn't muster a win against Portsmouth.
The Baggies were tipped to go straight back down and when Gary Megson left the club in disarray in December they looked doomed. The board called on Bryan Robson, a legend as a player at West Brom, but his return as manager was greeted with much derision.
But over the next few months Robson guided the Midlands club into a position to fight for their Premiership survival and when Kieran Richardson scored in the 75th minute to secure a 2-0 win over Pompey on the last day of the season their survival was assured.
The Baggies became the first team in Premiership history to be bottom at Christmas and avoid the drop. The club's adopted anthem of The Great Escape proved very apt.