Calm and Cautious – American Scouser Podcast
After the sacking of Gerard Houllier and another disappointing season, Liverpool appointed Rafael Benitez on June 16, 2004. The Spaniard was brought to Merseyside from Valencia in hopes of delivering silverware for the Reds. After arriving, Benitez wasted no time, signing fellow Spaniards Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso. A rebuild was on the cards, and fans were optimistic about the future.
Finishing in fourth place the previous season, Liverpool was tasked with playing Austrian side Grazer AK in the first qualifying round of the Champions League. With 2 goals from captain Steven Gerrard, Liverpool was through to the group stage after two legs.
Liverpool kicked off their Premier League campaign with a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane and a 2-1 win against Manchester City at Anfield. However, the team was never able to get things going, managing only 2 wins from their next five. Small spells of good performances and wins came but were few and far between. Finishing the Premier League season in 5th place with 17 wins, 7 draws, and 14 losses, Liverpool’s domestic campaign was one to forget. The Reds also crashed out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round with a 1-0 loss to Burnley.
Liverpool started off well in the League cup, with a 3-0 win over Millwall. They went on to beat Middlesborough, Tottenham, and Watford before meeting Chelsea in the final. Liverpool opened the scoring in the first minute, but a Steven Gerrard own goal sent the game into extra time. Jose Mourinho was sent into the tunnel after taunting Liverpool fans, but his team still managed to go through after 2 extra-time goals.
Sparks Of Magic In Europe
Though Liverpool’s downfalls were explicitly highlighted in their domestic campaign, there were moments of magic that sparked them forward in cup competitions. Creative players like Luis Garcia and Steven Gerrard were a handful for any opposition, and they showcased their talents in Europe. After 2 group stage losses, Liverpool had to beat Olympiacos at Anfield. Going 1-0 down early, the Reds needed 3. An inspired comeback began with two scrappy goals from Sinama and Mellor before Gerrard’s thunderous strike from 25 yards sent Liverpool through to the knockout stage. Drawn against Bayer Leverkusen in the round of 16, Liverpool progressed 6-2 on aggregate. The next round wasn’t as easy, with Italian giants Juventus looking to knock Liverpool out of Europe. The Reds managed a 2-1 win at Anfield and managed to hold The Old Lady to a 0-0 draw in Turin. Next came the semi-final, where Jose Mourinho’s high flying Chelsea were strong favorites. With a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge, it was all to play for at Anfield. The atmosphere was electric, and after just four minutes, Luis Garcia scored the infamous “ghost goal” which sent Liverpool to Istanbul.
Against all odds, Liverpool were in the final of the European Cup. Standing in their way was AC Milan, a world-class team filled with elite players. The likes of Kaka, Shevchenko, Crespo, and Maldini knew they were favorites, and at the end of the first half felt as if they had one hand on the trophy. Carlo Ancelotti’s men were ahead after just 1 minute through captain Paolo Maldini, before 2 goals from Hernan Crespo gave them a 3 goal lead at the break. Liverpool looked down and out, but the traveling supporters continued to get behind the team. Within 6 minutes, Liverpool managed 3 goals from Steven Gerard, Vladimir Smicer, and Xabi Alonso. Milan were stunned, and it was all square at full time. Both teams were tiring, but Milan dominated extra-time and would have won it were it not for a couple of world-class saves from Jersey Dudek. Next came penalties, where Jersey Dudek’s infamous goal-line antics put off Andriy Shevchenko, bringing the European Cup back to Anfield. Rafael Benitez had delivered European Glory to Merseyside in his first season in charge of Liverpool, putting himself and his team in the history books.