Michael Owen dazzled and Alan Smith realised his beloved side were heading for the drop… nearly SEVENTEEN years later, Leeds are finally back in the Premier League as they travel to Anfield to face Liverpool once again
- The Premier League season returns this weekend as Liverpool face Leeds United
- It has been 17 years since the two sides last met in a Premier League fixture
- In October 2003 Liverpool ran out 3-1 winners at Anfield as Leeds’ misery began
- A draw followed in the reverse fixture, before Leeds lost their top flight status
The Premier League returns this weekend and with it comes a mouth-watering opener between the reigning champions of England and the winners of the Championship title.
Two stories of sleeping giants back battling in the big time, Liverpool and Leeds lock horns knowing the good times are finally back… but a 17-year gap between now and the last time this fixture was played shows just how much things have changed.
Join Sportsmail in travelling back to the Premier League season of 2003/04, to a time when the idea of oil money had only just sparked into life and the ‘traditional top four’ of English football was still in its pomp.
Liverpool vs Leeds, Anfield, 25 October 2003
Liverpool goalscorers: Owen 35, Murphy 57, Sinama-Pongolle 84
Leeds goalscorer: Smith 42
Gerard Houiller’s Liverpool went toe to toe with their northern rivals just a few months into the campaign, with his side bidding to bank an early buffer of points before the busy Christmas period and make a charge for Champions League qualification.
In the opposing dug-out, Peter Reid made his return to Merseyside as caretaker manager of the club, following the sacking of Terry Venables.
Liverpool brushed aside Leeds in October 2003, to get back to winning ways after three losses
The problems which ultimately crumbled the foundations of Leeds were only just becoming apparent, with a financial crisis burning like wildfire in the boardroom.
Leeds had already sold some prime assets including Rio Ferdinand, while former talisman Harry Kewell was now wearing the red of Liverpool – though did not feature in this match.
It’s quite easy to forget just how rapidly football moves through the eras. To add some perspective, a youthful Steven Gerrard started the match for Liverpool, on the right side of midfield and wearing the No.17 shirt.
Sami Hyypia still wore the captain’s armband for the Reds, though Gerrard’s influence even at this fleeting stage was apparent.
Liverpool lined up with a back three, with Igor Biscan dropping in as a supporting centre-half. A fresh-faced Steven Gerrard covered the right of midfield, while Michael Owen finally returned from an injury absence to get among the goals
Leeds flooded the midfield, but to no avail. There was an appearance for the teenage James Milner, who on Saturday will face his former club aged 34, as a reigning league champion
Getting into their groove early on, Liverpool seized momentum after John-Arne Riise headed the ball down to tee Michael Owen, who celebrated his return to the starting line-up after injury by lashing a left-foot volley into the top corner.
Leeds fought back on the cusp of half-time after local hero Alan Smith made amends for missing an early sitter by slotting the ball past Jerzy Dudek, after a set up from a baby-faced Jermaine Pennant.
Houiller’s Liverpool then reclaimed control in controversial circumstances on 57 minutes, courtesy of the quick thinking of Danny Murphy.
Murphy, on for the injured Vladimir Smicer just a few minutes earlier, fired a quick free-kick that squirmed horribly through the grasp of goalkeeper Paul Robinson.
Michael Owen was back in the team after injury and straight back among the Liverpool goals
The Leeds keeper looked set for a reprieve courtesy of a linesman’s raised flag, but referee Jeff Winter ruled there had been no interference from the three Liverpool players in offside positions.
Leeds were shaken, as their season threatened the first signs of implosion.
The lesser known Florent Sinama-Pongolle would compound matters, coming on as a late sub for Liverpool to replace Owen and put the finishing touches to the victory.
Emile Heskey’s deft flick was just beyond the reach of Robinson’s gloves, giving Liverpool’s young Frenchman an easy opportunity to poke it home.
The skies turned a shade of grey above Anfield as the teams departed the pitch, with Reid remaining on the touchline with a thousand yard stare. It was to be a very long season indeed.
Caretaker boss Peter Reid looked miserable on the Anfield touchline, feeling the pressure
Leeds vs Liverpool, Elland Road, 29 February 2004
Leeds scorers: Bakke 29, Viduka 34
Liverpool scorers: Kewell 21, Baros 42
And so came the new year, as teams prepared to enter the home stretch of the campaign.
Just shy of 40,000 fans packed into Elland Road in hope of seeing their side spark some form of revival and kick-start a rapidly deteriorating season.
Leeds legend Eddie Gray had replaced Reid in the dug-out, and was tasked with what seemed like mission impossible in keeping his side in the top flight.
And so right on cue the opening could not have been much worse for Leeds. Liverpool settled into the game before former Elland Road idol Kewell hit the back of the net with an exquisite long-range effort and got Houiller’s men off the mark.
Dejection was apparent throughout the Leeds ranks, though determination quickly followed. Just nine minutes later Erik Bakke found an equaliser, before Mark Viduka latched on to Alan Smith’s aerial through-ball to lob goalkeeper Chris Kirkland.
Harry Kewell curled a sublime, long-range effort against his former club in the reverse fixture
The fixture reached a frenetic pace in the build up to half-time, as Milan Baros pulled Liverpool level with an excellent solo goal – his first for the club that season.
The Czech international displayed pure craftsmanship to slip past two Leeds defenders before firing a shot past Robinson and bringing the scores level.
Half-time appeared to panic both sides into submission, with neither wanting to leave empty-handed. Liverpool desperately needed points to keep alive their top four ambitions, while Leeds were simply scrapping for anything they could get.
A gritty second 45 produced no further goals and saw the score settled at 2-2.
The Premier League season 2003-04
So, what did these games mean in terms of the bigger picture?
Of course, it is well documented what happened for Leeds, with their fall from grace one of the most dramatic in English football history.
The Yorkshire club slumped to a 17th place finish and were relegated from the Premier League. Nobody at the time could have predicted it would have been 17 years until their return.
Arsenal scooped the league title and made history by not losing a single game along the way
Liverpool however were able to go on and achieve their objective. Houiller guided the side to a fourth placed finish on 60 points, four clear of fifth placed Newcastle.
This was to be crucial, given that the following season Liverpool would go on to shock the world and win the famous Champions League trophy in Istanbul, under new manager Rafael Benitez.
As for the rest of the division, Wolves and Leicester joined Leeds in taking the drop while Arsenal made history by winning the league title without losing a single match.
Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ side are yet to be matched in this regard.
The front cover of the Daily Mail carried the story regarding Rio Ferdinand’s looming ban
While Leeds plummeted and star names departed, it wasn’t quite good news for all of them. In his English record move to Manchester United the season prior, Ferdinand was riding an all-time high.
Only for his world to come crumbling down during this campaign, with the now infamous episode of missing a drugs test and receiving an eight months ban as a result.
This same year Manchester City left the historic Maine Road by moving to the City of Manchester Stadium, now known as the Etihad.
City had won rights to occupy the stadium following the commonwealth games, though it would be several years before they became even half the force they are today, with bountiful wealth and silverware.
In the same vein, Roman Abramovich’s billions were only starting to make slight ripples in English football. Chelsea had been acquired by the Russian Oligarch, though it would not be until the following season under Jose Mourinho that the league title was lifted.
Chelsea had been bought by Roman Ambramovich but the wild spending was yet to begin
And so Leeds faded, with many years spent in the wilderness. Now, under Marcelo Bielsa, they are back with real ambition.
Money has been spent, including the club-record purchase of striker Rodrigo from Valencia.
This time around, on Saturday, they face a Liverpool team who are finally back on their perch as champions of England, having secured the Premier League title faster than any other side in history.
It’s time for two titans to do battle once again.
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