The 2001 season was a special one for Liverpool Football Club. It was particularly memorable for me because it was the first season as a supporter that I had truly tasted success. No disrespect intended to the the 1995 League Cup triumph but this was another level up.
I decided to look back at the 2001 Uefa Cup final against Deportivo Alaves as I had many happy memories of that day. I missed the classic FA Cup final against Arsenal due to my own playing commitments so I was particularly excited for this one. I haven’t seen even many highlights of the game since so I thought it would feel fresh, yet nostalgic.
It had been an incredible run to the final that year. Liverpool had defeated Olympiacos, Roma, Porto and Barcelona on the way, a line up worthy of the Champions League (in fact remarkably similar to our run to the 2019 final!).
What stood out early is the incredible atmosphere in Dortmund. As usual, Liverpool fans make their presence felt. I did laugh when I had noticed that I had completely forgotten that the Alaves manager is simply called ‘Mané’. A positive sign no doubt!
The starting eleven for Liverpool featured many club legends and cult heroes. Jamie Carragher was still a left back and Steven Gerrard was playing right midfield and the prolific duo of Emile Heskey and Michael Owen were keeping my hero Robbie Fowler on the bench from the start.
The opening 20 minutes were as I remembered completely dominant for the men in red. Markus Babbel gave us perfect start with a goal off a Gary McAllister deadly set piece and not long after Gerrard hammered home after being unleashed by Owen. What I had forgotten was the decent save Sander Westerveld had pulled off at 1-0. Definitely a key moment.
The early onslaught forced Mané into a tactical change after just 22 minutes as he brought on an extra striker in Ivan Alonso which paid dividends almost immediately as the new man scored within 5 minutes of coming on. Talk about an impact sub! I was starting to recall what a mad game this was.
The next 10 minutes were definitely anxious. The momentum had swung in favour of the Spaniards and Westerveld had to make a couple more big stops. However, completely against the run of play we got a glimpse of how dangerous Owen once was as Didi Hamann set him free only to be cynically hacked down by Alaves’ comical goalkeeper Martin Herrera who somehow avoided getting his marching orders. Gary Mac made no mistake from the spot though and the two goal cushion was restored…
The start of the second half was less pleasing… Within five minutes Alaves had scored two, both by their star striker Javi Moreno. The second was a cheeky free kick placed underneath the wall, perhaps this is where Philippe Coutinho got his inspiration? I had flashbacks of the Sevilla final in 2016. What an absolute disaster. If Alaves had gone on to win this game, those five minutes certainly would have been their Istanbul story… thankfully though I was able to rest easy knowing things would get better, divine intervention perhaps?
Speaking of Istanbul, it was time for one of the heroes of that night to enter the fray as Vladimir Smicer was sent on by Gerard Houllier which in turn moved Gerrard to right back.
Just after the hour the time had come. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Perhaps frustrated by a couple of wasteful moments from Heskey, Houllier had decided it was Fowler time. I was immediately taken back to the feeling of anticipation I had in 2001. The cheer that greeted God still gives me chills. Perhaps most intriguingly, Mané also took this moment to withdraw Moreno. Still seems a bizarre decision to this day.
Then the big moment came. It was a goal even better than I remember. Started by Fowler, finished by Fowler. Once again Gary Mac was instrumental sending the key defence splitting pass through to Fowler and then the composure and clinical finish was a sight to behold. At this point it felt like destiny. I truly wish the final would have ended right then and there.
Honestly, the last 15 minutes were actually relatively stress free. Liverpool seemed as comfortable as can be. However a corner in the 89th was turned in but none other than former Manchester United flop Jordi Cruyff. Jordi had got absolutely no change out of Gerrard in the second half yet all it takes is one moment in football.
Onto extra time we went. Back in 2001, the Golden Goal was still the way extra session was played out. The element of Sudden Death certainly adds a different dimension to the period. The tension is palpable.
Alaves only upped the ante in their hack merchant style of tackling in extra time. Many promising moves were brought to a halt with little punishment until Magno was finally sent off for what was a truly ridiculous tackle given he was already booked for diving earlier on.
Understandably the rest of extra time was controlled by the Reds for the most part without really ever creating a clear cut chance. That being said, the fatigue was of course understandable.
For such a cracker of a game of football, the winning goal was a little bit anti-climatic. The wonderfully industrious Smicer won another foul and in doing so the Alaves captain Antonio Karmona also saw red. It was a beauty of a free kick from McAllister that was steered into his own net by Geli. At the end of the day though, it doesn’t really matter how you win just so long as you win! It was Liverpool’s first European trophy in almost 20 years. What a moment.
Gary McAllister was the deserving Man of the Match. For a man who was 36 years old that day, his performance was nothing short of astonishing. He is often remembered for his big moments on set plays but his influence on the flow of the game was still imposing. A special mention as well for a young Steven Gerrard who was quite brilliant as well. It was clear already at this stage how good he was going to be.
The final score of 5-4 was bordering on the ridiculous as said in commentary by Barry Davies. The win completed an a cup treble for the Reds in 2001. A truly amazing feat. Gerard Houllier had truly turned the club around and created a winning culture that had gone missing in the 1990’s.
I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching this match and I highly recommend giving it a go whether you have seen it before or not. The sight of seeing Fowler and Club Captain, the Finnish colossus Sami Hyypia lift the trophy is something to behold.