As Liverpool prepare to take on Derby County in the League Cup on Tuesday night, we look back on the last meeting between the two sides nine years ago.
Liverpool in 2007
Liverpool were European giants and Rafa Benitez was at the helm as the Reds were firmly placed as one of the Premier League’s ‘big four.’
Fernando Torres’ move from Atletico Madrid to Anfield was one of the biggest transfers of the summer and Liverpool added multi-million buys for Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel to further demonstrate their intent for the upcoming season.
It was Benitez’s fourth season in charge and he’d already written his name in the Liverpool honours’ books when six minutes on May 25th 2005 changed the club’s history forever.
Liverpool were five-time European Champions after one of the greatest comebacks of all-time. A year later, Steven Gerrard repeated captain heroics to almost single-handedly win the Reds their seventh FA Cup and at the end of the 2006-7 season, Liverpool returned to the final of the European stage but AC Milan had their revenge on Benitez’ side.
European greatness had been restored but back at home, things were starting to run into turmoil and Liverpool fans witnessed one of the darkest eras in the club’s modern history.
Premier League form hadn’t mirrored Liverpool’s European success and off-field battles with new American owners eventually proved devastating for the club.
Tom Hicks and George Gillet’s £435m offer for the club was officially accepted on 6th February 2007 and promises for work on a new stadium were made instantly.
Gillet told fans ‘the spade has to be in the ground within 60 working days’ but the next 12 months would prove to be one of the worst years in the club’s history since the Premier League era began .
Broken promises, off-field frustration and financial concerns summarised a dark period in Merseyside and by the time Liverpool travelled to Pride Park to face Premier League strugglers, Derby County, Rafa Benitez’ frustration for his American Owners had fully come to fruition.
However, with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher, Dirk Kuyt, Pepe Reina and Steven Gerrard in the team, it was one of the brightest starting XIs Liverpool fans have witnessed in recent years.
The Reds were heading into the boxing day clash off the back of a terrific 4-1 thrashing against Portsmouth at Anfield but they’d lost to bitter rivals Chelsea and Manchester United in the two games previous and had already succumbed to a few costly draws earlier in the campaign.
The last time the two sides had faced in September 2007, Liverpool had embarrassed Derby County, hitting six past them at Anfield on very comfortable afternoon.
Liverpool had enjoyed patches of success in the league but the media were still unsure on Benitez’s pedigree as a manager in England and the Spaniard’s strain was clear to be see even during the clash with Derby on Boxing Day.
Derby County 1-2 Liverpool
Premier League, 26th December, 2007
Liverpool led at the half-way point after a strong start from the Reds gave them a fairly comfortable 1-0 lead.
It was golden boy, Fernando Torres who scored within 11 minutes of kick-off and the Reds had been fully in control throughout the first half.
Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard commanded the midfield, as they often did and Liverpool looked fairly solid at the back, with Derby failing to impose themselves on the game.
However, a lapse in concentration and complacency going into the second half meant the game turned into a nervy encounter and captain fantastic was required to seal a victory for Benitez’ men.
Heroics from Steven Gerrard
As he had done so many times already for Liverpool, it was one of those box-to-box runs from Steven Gerrard which eventually sealed a 90 minute winner for the Reds.
After controlling the first half with ease, Liverpool allowed Derby to get back into the game and after a period where the home side dominated possession, the Reds were punished for their lapse of concentration.
Jay McEveley took advantage for Derby, scoring in the 67th minute to draw the teams level. It was Derby’s first goal at Pride Park since the end of September and it threatened to spoil Liverpool’s afternoon.
Benitez, who felt the pressure of another costly draw looming, found himself in a scrap with Derby boss and former Liverpool academy graduate, Paul Jewell, just minutes later.
The goal-scorer McEveley had lunged at Andriy Voronin, much to the distaste of Benitez who squared up to Jewell and referee Alan Wiley was forced to intervene.
The strain on the Liverpool manager was evident and as minutes began running out for his side, it seemed Liverpool would be mourning yet another shock Premier League draw against the 20th placed side.
Derby were effectively down to 10 men for the final 15 minutes as Rob Earnshaw picked up a calf injury and all the home side’s substitutions had been used but they battled on to try secure a point.
However, Steven Gerrard had other ideas and the captain was unwilling to give up. As the Derby crowd protested a Fabio Aurelio tackle on Tyone Mears, Liverpool’s captain mounted a counter-attack through the middle.
After making space for himself on the edge of the area, he fired a thunderous strike which bounced back from the underside of the crossbar. Benayoun tried to feed Torres in but the striker was denied.
The re-bound was desperately clawed away by Derby’s striker McEveley but his attempted clearance fired straight into Gerrard and the ball bounced back into the goal.
Gerrard celebrated another match-winning goal and Benitez sighed in relief as his side recorded back-to-back Premier League victories.
Liverpool starting XI: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia (Benayoun), Aurelio, Alonso, Gerrard, Riise, Babel (Kuyt), Torres, Voronin (Lucas).
What happened next?
Liverpool had sealed a victory which should’ve been far more comfortable but Benitez aired concerns over his side’s ability to finish off games.
“We know Gerrard is box-to-box. It was important for us to get him further forward late in the game. I said to him, ‘stay a bit higher,’” explained Benitez post-match.
Liverpool recorded four consecutive draws immediately following the clash at Pride Park and it was essentially the Reds’ inability to win games that cost them the Premier League title.
They lost just four games that season, one fewer than title-winners Manchester United but 13 draws compared to United’s six with the ultimate difference.
However, a Champions League semi-final defeat against Chelsea meant Benitez finished the season off empty handed and the off-field turmoil surrounding the club’s owners had escalated into catastrophe.
Hicks and Gillett were barely on speaking terms, plans for the new stadium were abandoned after it was revealed the American owners had amassed a huge debt and fans were calling for them to sell their shares.
To rub further salt into the wounds, Liverpool sold Xabi Alonso in the summer of 2008, much to the displeasure of the fans. It would become the start of a six year period without silverware for the club.