Whilst Bayer Leverkusen may currently be languishing in mid-table and are far from being a Champions League contender, that wasn’t the case in 2002.
In the late 90s and early 00s Leverkusen were as big a threat to Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga as anyone else. The western German club finished second four times between 1997 and 2002 but never managed to capture their first title.
However even more impressively than their consistency in the league was their run in the 2001/02 season in the Champions League.
In the league Klaus Toppmöller‘s side threw away a five point lead with three games remaining to finish second to Borussia Dortmund and they came as close to winning the Champions League too.
An impressive team finished second to Barcelona in the first group stages in a group that also included Lyon and Fenerbahce. The Germans even beat Barca at home 2-1.
In the second group stage Bayer topped the table ahead of Deportivo la Coruna, Arsenal and Juventus. In the quarter finals they did away with Liverpool and in the semi finals they beat triple Premier League winners Manchester United on away goals.
And so the stage was set for a final in Glasgow against Real Madrid. The game is best remembered for Zinedine Zidane scoring possibly the best goal in a Champions League final, the volley from the edge of the area separating the two sides.
But we shouldn’t forget how good a side Bayer had then. The penalty taking goalkeeper Hans Jorg Butt was brilliant between the sticks, Brazilian Lucio would go on to win the World Cup that summer and a treble with Jose Mourinho’s Inter a few years later.
In midfield the German duo of Michael Ballack and Carsten Ramelow created an incredibly solid backbone that was also creative.
And they created for an attacking duo of the tricky Yıldıray Basturk in the number 10 role and the dangerous Oliver Neuville upfront.
A young Dimitar Berbatov say on the bench that night in 2002 and Brazilian Ze Roberto wasn’t available for the final.
Even back then Bayern Munich were busy knicking their rivals best players.
Halfway through the 2001/02 season the Munich side signed Ballack and Ze Roberto to pre contract agreements and the pair joined Bayer’s rivals on free transfers at the end of the season.