Manchester United 3 Chelsea 1: Andre Villas-Boas last night said Fernando Torres should not be crucified for one of the worst misses in Premier League history, during the game which saw Manchester United secure their best start to a league season for 26 years.
Torres seemed to have redeemed himself after the nightmare start to his Chelsea career, with his second goal in 24 matches and a delicious feint and run around David de Gea to cap a fine performance. But his run concluded with him slicing the ball wide of the open goal before him.
Villas-Boas, who insisted last night that his side's performance had shown "we are up to the level of the champions," said he expected Torres to be slated for his miss. "You are all very nice in here with me and tomorrow you take a different stance," he said. "I don't know."
But the 33-year pointed to Wayne Rooney's skewed penalty – the striker's left, standing foot slipped as he struck the ball – in support of his £50m striker. "You have to be fair that the best world strikers missed great opportunities. It happened to Fernando but it happened to Rooney, too."
United's 3-1 win, which takes them five points clear of Chelsea, ended in the same type of refereeing controversy which typified recent games between the sides, when Sir Alex Ferguson accused Ashley Cole of being a reckless player, after his high tackle left Chicharito with a left shin injury which could keep him out for two weeks.
Ferguson reasonably asked why referee Phil Dowd, who booked Cole, did not therefore award United a second penalty. "I don't understand," the manager said. "The referee has booked him, but he hasn't given a penalty kick. I don't understand that and I must ask him [Dowd]. He's very reckless at times, Ashley Cole. He is committed of course, but he sometimes can go over the edge a bit and that was an example of that."
But Villas-Boas was equally unhappy with the officials, who overlooked the fact that Chris Smalling and Wayne Rooney were marginally offside before Smalling punished Frank Lampard and Jose Bosingwa's feckless response to Ashley Young's eight minute free-kick.
Luis Nani, whose destruction of Cole provided the first sense that he has the gifts to scale Cristiano Ronaldo's heights, was also inches offside when he assumed possession which, seven touches later, saw him score surely one of the goals of the season, from 30 yards.
"We tried everything to win the game but it was impossible," Villas-Boas reflected. "It just didn't fall our way – not just in terms of the goal scoring opportunities, but also the refereeing and linesman's decision. Not that I'm saying anything that will cause you to kill me. But I was really unhappy with the way the linesman performed."
When it was put to him that Cole was lucky not to have been dismissed, the Chelsea manager shot back: "Maybe he would not [have got] sent off if the linesman does his work. Maybe [Cole] would be a bit more clear in his work. Maybe if it is a 0-0 Ashley is a bit more in control of the situation."
The scoreline of a game which takes its place as one of the greatest contested between two Premier League sides, did not reflect the contribution and chances created by Villas-Boas's new, ambitious Chelsea. Ferguson, who purred over the "terrific" attacking flair, conceded that his players "kept botching it up" in the centre of the field. Loose passes meant that David de Gea was able to find redemption for his own stuttering United start, making two superb first half saves from the Brazilian Ramires.
"In the first half Chelsea could have scored two or three," Ferguson reflected. "Our football was terrific in the second half and we should have finished it off. We created more chances and more opportunities, fantastic opportunities. But they are always a threat because they have experience and kept at us."