The 2000-01 English Premier League title was won by Manchester United for the third consecutive season, once again proving to be too good for the competition in a race that was long over before the season end. Arsenal, Liverpool and Leeds United proved to be the best of the rest.
Manchester United, having been in charge of the league for the past two seasons, opted to make just a single key acquisition, opting for Fabien Barthez to replace Mark Bosnich in goal.
Arsenal, still United’s most prominent challenger, increased competition for places with the arrivals of the creative Robert Pires from Marseille for £7m, while Sylvain Wiltord joined from Lyon as the French double-winning side of World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 set up camp at Highbury.
Aston Villa’s recruitment policy also raised some eyebrows; they banked on David Ginola still having some life left in him after his career looked like tailing off, while Luc Nilis’ transfer could have promised so much, only for a horrendous injury to curtail the veteran’s career. Most interesting of all was the outlay of £10m for Juan Pablo Angel from River Plate .
Leeds, who would reach the Champions League semi-final, were also ambitious in the transfer market; Robbie Keane (£11m from Inter) and Rio Ferdinand (£18m from West Ham) were significant statements, while Olivier Dacourt and Mark Viduka would prove themselves to be indispensable first-term players.
Chelsea were also desperate to evolve from a top-four side into a bona-fide challenger, and they spent £15m on bringing Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink back from Atletico Madrid to spearhead their attack. Eidur Gudjohnsen and Mario Stanic were also added as the Blues added further firepower to complement Gianfranco Zola.
Promoted from the first division were Charlton as champions, followed by Manchester City, while Ipswich, after years of play-off agony, finally made it to the big time.
Both Manchester United and Arsenal started the season strongly, and indeed Arsenal took an early advantage courtesy of one of the most audacious goals in Thierry Henry’s back catalogue, flicking and volleying past a bamboozled Fabien Barthez for a 1-0 win at Highbury.
But that proved to be a rare blemish on United’s season, and they responded to the loss by collecting maximum points from their next eight matches, including a highly-charged Manchester derby where the shaven-headed David Beckham secured the win with a trademark bending free-kick.
Cracks, however, begun to appear in Arsenal’s approach. Everton and Leeds were able to claim their scalp in back-to-back weeks and as Christmas approached, Liverpool handed out a sound 4-0 beating before Charlton further added to their woes. Those results, plus a lack of any genuine threat from the rest of the league (Sunderland, with Kevin Phillips on fire, were third), meant that United had already amassed an 11-point lead going into the New Year.
It was little more than a procession from there onwards. United’s firepower was proving too good for the bottom half teams, and when Arsenal arrived at Old Trafford in late February, nothing less than a win would maintain the pretence of a title race.
The opposite was the case. United were devastating, with Dwight Yorke scoring a hat-trick in a 6-1 win that highlighted the chasm between the champions and the rest at this point in history. The title was eventually secured in April.
I always thought it would be hard for him to walk away from Old Trafford. He's lived and breathed Manchester United for so long that is has become a way of life for him.Ryan Giggs on Sir Alex Ferguson
The attention then turned to third spot and the final Champions League qualifying position. The race for that accolade was far closer, with established names such as Liverpool and Leeds competing with small teams enjoying superb seasons in the form of Sunderland and Ipswich Town.
Leeds and Liverpool both had their heads turned by the cup competitions; The former were swashbuckling their way through the Champions League, traversing the double group stage despite facing Barcelona, AC Milan, Real Madrid and Lazio along the way. Deportivo were then dispatched at the quarter-final stage before Valencia, and Gaizka Mendieta, proved too good. Liverpool were battling on two fronts, the FA Cup and Uefa Cup, having already won the League Cup earlier in the season. That distracted their focus and meant that, with five games remaining, Ipswich held the Champions League ticket. But defeat to Charlton with three to play opened the door for Liverpool, which they duly accepted by winning five and drawing one going into the final round of fixtures.
The Reds held a one-point lead over Ipswich and Leeds and knew that victory at Charlton would be enough. They obliged with a comprehensive 4-0 win to put the icing on the cake of an incredible season where Gerard Houllier’s men also added the FA Cup against Arsenal, and the Uefa Cup after an astonishing 5-4 win in the final over Alaves.
At the bottom, Bradford City couldn’t pull off another great escape and they finished bottom, Coventry City’s long run in the top flight ended, while Manchester City just didn’t have enough.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
The veteran forward enjoyed a renaissance at the end of his United career, scoring a series of key goals in their title win.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
The Scot took the unfashionable East Anglian club to within a single victory of qualifying for the Champions League.
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON
In a fantastic year for his boyhood club, Liverpool, Gerrard became the breakout star, cementing his place in the team over the next decade-and-a-half.
JIMMY FLOYD HASSELBAINK - 23 GOALS
The Chelsea forward celebrated his return from Spain and Atletico Madrid with a superb return on the Blues’ investment, scoring 23 times.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
GOAL OF THE SEASON
SHAUN BARTLETT won the award for his superb volley versus Leicester City, and while it is a great goal, it is not better than THIERRY HENRY’S flick up and volley versus Manchester United.
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
West Ham to LEEDS
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
United’s 6-1 dismantling of Arsenal at Old Trafford indicated how far ahead Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had moved clear of their rivals.