Andre Villas-Boas last night offered a Sir Alex Ferguson-style rant against the "continuous persecution" of Chelsea by the media, seemingly singling out Gary Neville's criticism of his side as "over the top" and suggesting his team's progression to the last 16 of the Champions League provided their detractors with a "slap in the face".
Two goals from Didier Drogba and one from Ramires ensured a comfortable 3-0 victory over Valencia and, combined with Bayer Leverkusen's failure to beat the Belgian side Genk, put Chelsea through as group winners, thus avoiding a potential clash with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid when the draw for the knockout round is made next week.
The win also served to ease the pressure on Villas-Boas himself, who has found his position under increasing scrutiny as his side's season has faltered. The Portuguese insists, though, that the criticism directed at players and manager alike has been blown out of all proportion as a result of a sustained vendetta against Chelsea from all quarters.
"I think the reaction [to Chelsea's form] has been over the top," said Villas-Boas. "There is only one team in the country at the moment and that is Manchester City, and I sincerely hope they qualify [for the next stage of the Champions League]. But the attitude has been if they qualify they qualify, and if they don't they don't. That's not the same as us.
"I will never criticise your editorial choices, but people have taken stances that are out of this world, criticising our players, criticising our choices. From a [former] Manchester United defender that sits on top of his preparation for the game and says he would not want to be a Chelsea player for a game like this, that it is a difficult game for them. This is out of this world. I don't believe this.
"This has been a continuous persecution of Chelsea, continuous aggression of one club. We have become your target. We have to accept it. But you have to accept that this is a brilliant win.
"It's against all odds. Nobody, or anybody here, would have bet on us finishing top, but it's happened and that's gratifying for the team. The team were excellent. It was a win of human values, responsibility, solidarity, strength of character, team spirit, ability to take criticism, resilience, and it was a great win for the Chelsea players. They deserve a respect that they don't get. We've been continually chased by different kinds of people, but we've given everyone, those critics, a slap in the face."
The 34-year-old acknowledged that he had abandoned the philosophy he had previously suggested would be "the last thing to die" at the club to ensure progression, though he bristled when asked whether playing with what John Terry, his captain, described as a "low line and a big man to hold the ball up" constituted a betrayal of his beliefs. "It was a different strategy, but the same philosophy in human values," he said.
Villas-Boas's attempts to downplay his decision to omit Frank Lampard – relegated to the bench throughout – are unlikely to defuse speculation surrounding the England international's long-term future, while Drogba, described as "fantastic" by his manager, refused to discuss his much-anticipated departure. "My future is not important," said the Ivorian. "What is important is the team. That is all that matters."
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