AVB FUMES, DROGBA BLOOMS

Victory provides ‘slap in the face’ for Chelsea’s critics

CHELSEA 3 vs VALENCIA 0

CHELSEA manager Andre Villas-Boas launched a blistering attack on perceived media “persecution” after swerving a premature Champions League exit and emerging as surprise winners of Group E.

Two goals and a vintage performance from Didier Drogba, plus a third from Ramires, eased the pressure on the Portuguese coach, who branded the crucial win over Valencia “a slap in the face” for his team’s critics.

Villas-Boas (inset) accused reporters of picking on Chelsea while giving Manchester City an easy ride and appeared to single out former Manchester United captain Gary Neville, who last month mocked David Luiz on Sky Sports.

“Nobody here would have put a bet on us finishing top but that’s exactly what happened and it’s very, very gratifying for the team,” he said. “They deserve a respect that they don’t get. They have been continuously chased by different kinds of people and different kinds of pressure, and maybe today they gave everybody a slap in the face.

“It has been over the top. To be fair, there is only one team in the country at the moment, which is Manchester City. I hope they qualify [for the last 16] sincerely, but the approach to them is: ‘If they qualify, they qualify; if they don’t, they don’t’. We don’t get that margin from you guys.

“People take perspectives that are out of this world. From criticising our players, from criticising our choices, from an ex-Manchester United defender that says ‘I wouldn’t want to be one of the Chelsea players today, it’s a difficult game for them’ – this is out of this world for me, I don’t believe this.

“This is a persecution of Chelsea, continuous aggression towards one club. We have become a target, we accept it, but you have to accept today was a brilliant win.”

Chelsea came into the game knowing that, realistically, only a win would avoid the ignominy of being eliminated at the group stage.

It made for a tense Stamford Bridge, exacerbated by Villas’ Boas’ gamble of dropping fans’ favourite Frank Lampard -- yet within three minutes Blues fans had exhaled a huge sigh of relief.

Daniel Sturridge, playing wide right, boomed a cross to the far post where Juan Mata gathered, scurried and fed Drogba, and he adjusted his feet before drilling a shot too powerful for goalkeeper Diego Alves to halt.

Valencia flickered with the threat of a quick equaliser -- Jordi Alba hit a post and David Albelda tested Petr Cech’s reach with an exocet 35 yarder -- but were so easily undone when Chelsea mounted their next serious attack.

Drogba drove into the visitors’ half, slid the ball towards Ramires, who shrugged off the flimsiest of challenges from defender Victor Ruiz and prodded in at the near post.

Drogba wasted a one-on-one chance to add the third in the 73rd minute, but moments later made amends and capped an outstanding display, running onto Mata’s threaded pass and rolling past Alves.