Villas-Boas fears for Torres after striker's shocking miss

Chelsea manager defends £50m forward after 3-1 defeat as Ferguson criticises 'reckless' Cole

Andre Villas-Boas, the Chelsea manager, last night said Fernando Torres should not be crucified for one of the worst misses in Premier League history in a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United yesterday which saw the champions make 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 around David de Gea to leave the goal at his mercy with seven minutes to go at Old Trafford and his side trailing by two goals. However, the Spaniard sliced the ball wide. Villas-Boas, who insisted 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-old pointed to Wayne Rooney's skewed 56th-minute 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 win, their fifth in succession, takes them five points clear of Chelsea and two ahead of Manchester City, who could only draw 2-2 at Fulham yesterday, and secures their best start since the 10-game winning run that began 1985-86. But, typically of this fixture, it ended with Sir Alex Ferguson accusing Ashley Cole of being a reckless player, after his high tackle left Javier Hernandez 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."

Villas-Boas was equally unhappy with the officials, who overlooked the fact that Chris Smalling and Rooney were marginally offside before Smalling scored United's first goal from Ashley Young's eighth minute free-kick. Luis Nani, whose destruction of Cole provided the first real evidence that he has the gifts to scale Cristiano Ronaldo's heights, was also inches offside when he assumed possession in the 37th minute which, seven touches later, saw him despatch one of the goals of the season from 30 yards.

"We tried everything to win the game but it was impossible," Villas Boas said. "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 did not reflect the chances created by Villas-Boas' new, ambitious Chelsea: 21 shots on goal to United's 12. Ferguson criticised his players, conceding they "kept botching it up" in the centre of the field. De Gea recovered from his own stuttering start at Old Trafford, making two superb first-half saves from the Brazilian Ramires.

"In the first half Chelsea could have scored two or three," Ferguson added. "Some of 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."

In his 100th United game Nani equalled his compatriot Ronaldo's 19-goal tally set in his own first 100 games, though Nani has 33 assist to Ronaldo's 12.

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