His voice cracking with exasperated rage, Andre Villas-Boas escalated his war of words with the media yesterday, railing against Chelsea's perceived treatment at the hands of biased television pundits, scandal-mongering managers and, in particular, Gary Neville, the "comic and ridiculous" Manchester United defender-turned-Sky analyst rapidly becoming the Portuguese's bête noir.
Villas-Boas had taken the chance after his team's impressive 3-0 victory over Valencia on Tuesday night to suggest that the result had served as a "slap in the face" to all those critics who had participated in a campaign of "continuous persecution" of Chelsea over the last two months, a period in which the 34-year-old had overseen five defeats in 10 games.
At his club's Cobham training ground yesterday lunchtime, though, after appearing relaxed for much of his weekly press briefing, Villas-Boas went a step further, singling out Neville for particularly vituperative treatment in response to a number of comments made after the Premier League defeat to Liverpool last month and before Tuesday's Champions League tie.
"Comic criticism, and lack of in-depth criticism from top ex-professionals, when they take the route to the ridiculous, I think I have a word to say," said Villas-Boas. "Most people don't even bother with what they say. But if they opt for the ridiculous, I have to defend myself and my players. I have to be aggressive, I think that is fair.
"Most of these people have a past related to a single club, their favourite club, which in the end brings a likely biased position in their opinion-making. When they take the option of the ridiculous, it is unfair. You cannot approach a top Brazil central defender saying he is commanded by a kid with a PlayStation [as Neville did]. That is ridiculous. Be careful what you are saying. They are the most important team in the world. He is one of the best central defenders in the world.
"I know Chelsea have these people – maybe fewer – but you cannot be a top defender like he was, a top Manchester United defender like he has been, and take a ridiculous route. I would say this to his face with pleasure. You cannot speculate about Chelsea's dressing room [as Neville did before the Valencia tie]. What does he know about our dressing room? Does he even know how to get here [to Cobham]? Does he even know where Cobham is? You cannot speculate or invent, based on informants or speculation. I was watching television [when he said it]. I was gobsmacked."
Neville's analysis of Chelsea's fixture with Manchester City on Monday night, given Villas-Boas's evident fury, will no doubt make interesting viewing. The suspension of Luiz – thanks to a booking sustained for a foul on Demba Ba at Newcastle for which their manager Alan Pardew felt he should have been dismissed – does at least mean there will be no repeat of his criticism of the Brazilian. The loss of his central defender, though, clearly still rankles.
"Nobody focused on the fact that maybe Ba is offside on the challenge," he said. "Everybody opted to give him the red card straightaway. Alan Pardew made a big scandal out of it, but the guy is offside. And this is a manager who got a [dubious] penalty to draw 1-1 at Old Trafford making a big scandal out of it. Maybe the linesman should have done his work and maybe Pardew was lucky – he even got a free-kick out of it, and I got a yellow card and a player suspended. Maybe I should have got the card rescinded because the linesman did not give an offside."
Villas-Boas's impassioned outburst could, no doubt, be taken as proof that the Chelsea manager is starting to feel the strain of a season which he admits remains on the brink. Defeat to the Premier League leaders – and the country's "media darlings" – on Monday would, he acknowledges, in all reality mean "there is at least one team less in the running" for the title.
There were also comments that could be interpreted as signs of his increasing defensiveness. His admission that the Chelsea team he has produced in the last week in order to arrest the club's slide is not "the Chelsea we are creating, for sure" was one, as was his suggestion that he agrees with Didier Drogba's assessment that the striker can continue at the highest level for two more years.
"The club have to agree that players who perform and the players who should continue," he said, revealing that talks over a new contract for the Ivorian – whose existing deal expires this summer and who had been expected to depart the club – are ongoing.