Man United Win 15th English Title
At the end of the 2002-03 Premier League season, Manchester United picked up their 15th English crown, which was their eighth title of the Premier League era. Alex Ferguson’s men finished five points clear of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal after 25 wins from 38 league matches. The Red Devils went 18 games unbeaten through the season and were involved in two of the highest-scoring fixtures of the 2002-03 campaign (both against Newcastle United, who finished in third place).
Sunderland had one of the worst seasons in Premier League history and were the first team to be relegated to the Football League. West Bromwich Albion also had a campaign to forget, while West Ham United were the third and final team to drop down to the second tier. Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers survived by the skin of their teeth. Exactly 1000 goals were scored this season, with Arsenal netting 85 of them and finishing as the top scorers, but that was no consolation for having to settle for the runners-up spot in the race for the title.
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United Fend Off Gunners
Man United and Arsenal were beginning to strike up a real rivalry. At the time, these two heavyweights were the top dogs in English football. Wenger’s men went into the campaign as reigning champions, but Man United wanted their trophy back. On 2nd March, Arsenal led the division by eight points, though the Red Devils finished in style to clinch the title by five points.
After draws with Manchester City and Bolton in February, United would go on to drop just two points from their remaining ten Premier League games. They drew 2-2 with the Gunners at Highbury on 16th April before ending with successive victories over Blackburn Rovers, Tottenham Hotspur, Charlton Athletic and Everton to edge clear at the top of the table.
As Man United ended in style, Arsenal finished their Premier League campaign with somewhat of a whimper. After a 2-0 defeat at Blackburn in mid-March, the London side won just four of their last eight matches. A 3-2 loss to Leeds United in their penultimate home fixture of the season handed the title to Man United.
Magnificent Season for Bobby’s Magpies
During his time at St James’ Park, Bobby Robson was a firm favourite at Newcastle, his boyhood club. After taking the Magpies to a fourth-place finish the season before and securing UEFA Champions League football, Robson took United even further in the 2002-03 campaign. They were never in the title race, but Newcastle went on to finish above the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool.
Newcastle ended the season with a very decent total of 69 points, which was enough for a third-place finish. In the process, the Tyneside outfit booked their spot in the Champions League once again. Despite suffering two heavy defeats to Man United along the way, it was a fantastic season for all involved with the club.
West Ham Not Too Good to Go Down
On paper, West Ham’s talented 2002-03 squad looked far too good to go down. David James was in goal, while the likes of Paolo Di Canio, Trevor Sinclair, Les Ferdinand and Steve Lomas were the experienced heads. The Hammers also had young sensations Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe and Michael Carrick among their ranks.
However, despite what seemed the perfect blend of youth, experience and talent, the Londoners were relegated on the final day of the season. They almost pulled off one of the Premier League’s greatest escapes under caretaker boss and Hammers legend Trevor Brooking. West Ham won three games in a row – beating Middlesbrough, Man City and Chelsea all by a goal to nil – but a 2-2 draw at Birmingham coupled with Bolton’s win on the final day saw the Irons go down on 42 points.
Ruud the Main Man for United
Man United and Arsenal were the main title rivals during the season, and their main men battled it out for the Golden Boot. It was a fascinating tussle between Ruud van Nistelrooy and Thierry Henry, with the Dutchman beating the Frenchman by just one goal in the end. Van Nistelrooy scored three Premier League hat-tricks along the way.
James Beattie had a remarkable season in front of goal for Southampton, who finished in eighth place in the table and qualified for the UEFA Cup after an FA Cup final appearance. Mark Viduka netted 20 times for Leeds, while Michael Owen scored 19 for Liverpool. Gianfranco Zola, Robert Pires, Harry Kewell and Paul Scholes all scored 14 goals apiece.
Relegations & European Qualifications
The fight for Premier League survival went to the wire, as Bolton pipped West Ham to safety by just two points. Sunderland had one of the poorest seasons in Premier League history and finished rock bottom, while West Brom were the other team to be relegated from the top tier.
Man United, Arsenal, Newcastle and Chelsea all booked their spots in the 2003-04 Champions League. Liverpool missed out on Europe’s top club competition but did enough to take fifth and qualify for the UEFA Cup. The Reds were also the League Cup winners, beating Man United in the final in Cardiff. Blackburn, Southampton and Man City also reached the UEFA Cup.
Which Teams Were Relegated?
Sunderland were the first team to drop down to the Football League First Division after an abysmal season at the Stadium of Light. Peter Reid and Howard Wilkinson were both sacked during a turbulent campaign, with Mick McCarthy taking over until the end of the season. The Black Cats won four, drew seven and lost a staggering 27 of their 38 league games to finish on a mere 19 points.
West Brom finished just seven points above Sunderland. The Baggies tasted victory only six times this term, crashing to 24 defeats along the way. Only the bottom side scored fewer goals, and they had the joint leakiest defence in the division. West Brom picked up just one win from their last 13 games.
West Ham had a real go under caretaker manager Brooking at the end of the season, but Bolton pipped them to survival with a final day victory over Middlesbrough. The Hammers got going in the latter months of the campaign, losing only one of their last 11. They secured successive wins over Middlesbrough, Man City and Chelsea, but a 2-2 draw with Birmingham at St Andrew’s on the last day sent them down. West Ham were particularly disappointed as their points total of 42 would have been enough for survival in any other Premier League season since it moved to a 20-team division.
Which Teams Qualified For Europe?
Champions Man United and runners-up Arsenal sealed their spots in the 2003-04 Champions League group stage.
Newcastle and Chelsea entered the Champions League third qualifying round.
Liverpool finished fifth and secured a spot in the UEFA Cup.
With the Reds already qualifying for Europe, Blackburn were awarded a UEFA Cup spot as the highest-placed team not to have already reached Europe.
FA Cup runners-up Southampton also qualified, as did Man City, who earned their place in UEFA Cup via the Fair Play route.